Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)

“You ain’t got your brother’s brains. It’s nothing personal, Rusty James, but nobody would follow you into a fight because you’d get people killed – and nobody wants to be killed.”


I watched The Godfather trilogy at 15. I watched Apocalypse Now at Uni when it was very late and it was the redux’ and I fell asleep and had to watch it again the following day. I had not seen this, but remember a conversation (ooo, a pun considering…) with friends Chris and Wes whereby the two followed a discussion about The Godfather by saying that Rumble Fish was brilliant. Embarressed, I never even knew such a film I kept my eyes peeled for it – always finding it in obscure shops like Music and Movies costing £10 plus … a ridiculous … until, as I was making my way for a till in HMV I found it for £3. I could now watch this ‘brilliant’ film and, in the future, take part in such conversations about Francis Ford Coppola. Then again, I haven’t seen Jack so maybe I have a long way to go yet …

What I reckon …

It does look stunning – thats for sure. Its shot in inspired-by-Fellini-and-Bergman black and white. Then again, looks like and arty-version of West Side Story with a man-on-man fight to begin also. The obvious link is also Bogdanovichs’ The Last Picture Show – a teenage story, shot in black and white. Made in 1971. This whole style reeks of influences moreso – a film-noir look enhanced with Lawrence Fishburne as this friend who dresses like a detective, thin-tie included, furthering this film-noir style as he walks along with his friends in alleys and leaving smokey silhouettes in the backdrop.

The story follows Rusty James (Matt Dillon) a not-so-clever, but popular character. In the same way I watched Toy Story and profiled Sid, Rusty James is influenced easily and is not the quickest of cats – maybe indicating SEN (Special Educational Needs). He looks up to his brother – the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke who looks alot like a young Bruce Willis) – a menace to society, we are led to believe. Thing is, we only see the policeman who despises him and the difficult upbringing the boys have had under their father, played by Dennis Hopper, a single parent who is an alcoholic. Wea re told of the ‘stories’ The Motocycle Boy knows of, but are now entirely shown his menace. Until we see him at the end as a character who is not just a menace – but mentally unstable.
The Motorcycle Boy is quite a tragic character. He is colourblind and is, bit-by-bit, destroying himself and ultimately does – but luckily does not destroy his brother.

I’m glad I have seen this and this is surely one of those films which too often gets unnoticed – Coppola makes some great films and this is ambitious enough to give a watch but, then again, it does at points drag. Looks too good to be seen as realism when the story itself has a connection to the audience that realism could have captured so well. Its based on the book by S.E. Hinton – an author I have read nothing of, but Coppola is a big fan of. To close, I think if films like Rumble Fish were more prevalent in cinema than the likes of the latest teen-rom-com than maybe cinema would be a better place.

Some great factors include a character Smokey, played by Nicholas Cage. This character is smart and provides a clear contrast to Dillons Rusty-James – you see how careless, clumsy and immature Rusty really is, while Smokey has more intelligence and is clearly mores street-smart than Rusty too.

Last point – Stuart Copeland provides the music and, funnily enough, I have got into The Police. Stuart Copeland is the drummer and, when you listen to a fair bit of The Police you realise how impressive that is. Copeland has also created the music for the stage adaptation of Ben-Hur (A show recently on in London’s O2) and, I assume this was in the early days of soundtracks he created. So much percussion and business adds to the atmosphere and provides an incredible backdrop for The Motorcycle Boy and his brother Rusty.

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