RUMBLE FISH (1983)- Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
With the premier of THE ARTIST this year, we thought it relevant to reflect on this amazing classic, shot beautifully in B&W by Stephen H. Burum (The Untouchables, The Outsiders, Carlito’s Way). As usual, timing is everything. The early 1980’s were the beginning of Blockbuster movie-making – Lucas and ILM ruled the silver screen with vibrant color and special effects, certainly not to their discredit – Coppola was a close friend and colleague.
Not the best time to release a B&W gem of an experiment like Rumble Fish. This is not a product of the Hollywood machine – this is a deeply personal project. Based on the S.E. Hinton Novel – Coppola produced the film shortly after directing THE OUTSIDERS, which really took “first place” in our collective minds. I would certainly say both films are a bit like fraternal twins (RUMBLE FISH being the true “outsider”), with a stellar cast to offer, some in their infancy: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper and Dianne Lane, with Lawrence Fishburne, Nicholas Cage, Chris Penn and Tom Waits in the “wings”.
Here we see Coppola unhindered: taking the raw, youthful anger of Matt Dillon (only 19 at the time), in stark contrast to Mickey Rourke, playing his aloof, half-deaf color-blind brother – whose relationship we see reflected in the black and white color-pallet. The ever-moving clouds and smoke balanced with the iconography of the clock, appearing in almost every scene, reflects time as both ever-moving yet ever present, and Stewart Copeland’s almost hypnotic score supplements the themes effortlessly.
We see how the experience of “growing up” alters one’s perception of time: Rusty James is so reckless – so eager to become his brother – fighting to gain his experience. He is surrounded by it, but innocent to the impact of it. It’s a story of characters sick with loss – the loss of their mother, the loss of stability, the motorcycle boy’s loss of sight, sound and mental faculty are iconographic in the very bones of the film. Rusty James, for all his rage and pursuit of violence, is, at heart, the only innocent in this family, and is recognized as the only one who can escape it. Innocence (or ignorance) is truly bliss, best expressed in his drunken father’s response to Rusty’s yearning to “be like his older brother”. Dad (brilliantly played by Dennis Hopper) answers with a look of disdain: “You should pray to God not.”, striking him, “You poor baby. You poor child.”
- Jason Piekarski, creative director