Rumble Fish ★★★★

This time around, I gave the commentary track a listen. It was a solo track, Just Francis Ford Coppola talking about the picture, recorded sometime in 2005? (He references Sofia Coppola filming Marie Antoinette at one point on the track) but Coppola is an engaging, warm and informative presence on these things, so it never felt slow or lagged.

1) It doesn't hurt that this seems to be one of, if not FFC's favorite of his own films--he references the fact that when he started out, his first film was a 'black and white horror film' (Dementia 13?) and he'd always wanted to make more Black and White films, but never had the chance until Rumble Fish fell in his lap, when he was shooting The Outsiders--he saw Motorcycle Boy's color blindness giving him the angle to justify shooting it in black and white, and there are a lot of moments on the track where he talks about how much he liked shooting it, or how much he enjoyed working with the actors, etc, and visualized it as a sort of 'art film for teenagers' a gateway drug to the possibilities of cinema for youngsters, if you will. He also ruefully notes that the film, made virtually no money and was probably his biggest financial loss apart from 'One From the Heart'. He also mentions how it's more difficult to get Black and White pictures made because investors and producers see them as less profitable in the ancillary markets. There's a lot of wistfulness here, fitting the tone of the film, but he's not regretful at all.

Some other interesting nuggets from the commentary track:

2) One of the main themes of the film is time (it's not exactly subtle) and how people seem imprisoned by it. In that sense, FFC muses how he often put his children into his movies and saw it both as a personal convenience to spend time with them while working, and also as a fancy sort of home movie-he reacts pretty darn joyfully every time Sofia is on screen, and muses about how she's a kid in this while at the same time he's talking about her, grown up, oscar winning, and filming a movie of her own. Time's Arrow!

3) Also, speaking of the Coppola clan, Nicolas Cage is in this in his first major role--FFC references Cage's father, Augie(sp?) Coppola as one of the inspirations for the film treatment of the story, and Cage has his hair dyed and is wearing the jacket his father actually had in his own gang throughout the early scenes of the picture.

4) FFC also talks at length about the brotherly relationship between Rusty James and the Motorcycle boy and how that was part of his motivation, as well as Rusty's anxiety over knowing his brother's going to come to a bad end and being unable to prevent it. Somewhat poignantly, FFC talks about a particularly vivid nightmare he had of running to save his brother from being caught by a mob and thrown into a deep manhole, and being unable to--he had some of that same sense of anguished nightmare fatalism at the finale of this picture.

5) The coda at the ocean is...one element that FFC seems a little iffy on. He doesn't quite come out and say he's unhappy with it, but he leaves it up to the viewer. There's a sense the very ending of the film is one element he might change.

6) There are a lot of actors in this from other FFC productions who Coppola was happy to work with again. He talks a bit wistfully about Bergman being able to call up his band of actors to make a bunch of films and how this was sort of the closest he came to that. Laurence Fishburne, for example, played a character who wasn't in the book, but who FFC visualized as a sort of angelic figure. Essentially the entire role was improvised. Actors and crew from the Outsiders were drawn on here as well, of course, but also Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits (One from the Heart) Michael Higgins, (The Conversation) etc.

7) Coppola talks a bit about his technique with actors--wanting to rehearse, but also give the actors space for improvisation, to play off and react to each other. He discusses how it works and adds layers to a scene, how the actors performance is stronger when they're able to DO things, over the scene where the brothers go to visit their father (Hopper) and Rourke tries to take Hopper's bottle away--the fight over the booze was improvised, and Matt Dillon reacted to the other characters.

8) Coppola's go-to word for 'difficult' actors here is 'Exotic' -he references both Hopper and Rourke (in largely fond, glowing terms) as exotic performers--talking about Hopper in particular, there's a clear deep fondness, but he also describes his technique for dealing with Hopper, which is basically to hide in his trailer and direct him from a window-there's a funny story about Hopper banging on the door (From Apocalypse Now?) And yelling 'I know you're in there!'. Likewise, he mentions one of the little tricks of Rourke's technique is to bring a little trinket or totem to the set for shooting, show the director and keep it in his pocket, and then concentrate on the item throughout the shoot, rather than his lines.

9) S.E. Hinton has a cameo here, playing the woman who tries to pick up the boys during their night out just past the movie theater.

10) That entire sequence (The brothers going out for the night on the town in the black neighborhood) FFC talks about in somewhat glowing terms, describing it as a place where he'd like to live and pointing out that it's one section that not only ISN'T in the novel, but doesn't actually exist--that they went into an abandoned portion of Tulsa and built it from scratch.

11) There's a funny story about FFC calling his friend Chris Marker (yes, that Chris Marker) to come and help him shoot the picture by running the second unit. Marker apparently showed up, roamed Tulsa, got disgusted by the city and the buildings(!!) told Coppola that there was nothing worth shooting, and flew back to France (!!!). So Coppola did all the second unit work himself. He pretty clearly disagrees with Marker when it comes to Tulsa's photogenic properties, but he doesn't seem upset about it at all.

12) Another bemusing moment is the party scene involving Rusty James and his friends rolling around with a pack of scantily-clad girls. Coppola mentions Cage in particular being nervous and sensitive about it (if you watch the scene, he's under three or four ladies who are 90% naked and slippery for about 10 seconds of screen time) and Coppola seems kind of surprised by the amount of nudity in the scene. 'My films usually aren't that sexy' he says, mentioning how nervous and awkward he gets about asking actors and actresses to take their clothes off.

13) Finally, a neat little story about art and the way you just never know---at the end of the film during the scene where the brothers rob the pet shop, (Spoiler, it's more than 35 years old) Coppola mentions on the track, while Rourke is letting the birds out of their cages, that he found the scene really striking to shoot and when he'd read the book he'd really connected with it. He also mentions that he'd put a similar scene into a James Caan movie (The Rain People) back in the 60s, where a character frees as many animals as he can from a (badly run) pet store. So he asked Hinton where she got the idea from, and she said she couldn't remember the name of it, but it was an old movie from the 60s she'd seen with James Caan---leading Coppola to muse on how inspiration's funny and had led to him filming the same scene twice, or imitating himself.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Rumble Fish, it's a really good movie.

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