Rumble Fish ★★★½

Coppola never rested on his laurels. After having the decade he just had in the Seventies- two Godfathers, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now!, all instant classics- he could have spent the rest of his career making prestige 'coffee table movies' for the respectable bourgeois film audience. Instead he veered way off into weird, offbeat subjects and avant-garde stylings to make One From the Heart, The Outsiders and his follow up, Rumble Fish. Aimed at more adventurous youthful audiences, these films incorporated highly stylized techniques borrowing from German Expressionism, surrealism, Italian neo-realism and the French New Wave. He shot in a high-contrast black and white film, making what we see subjective to Mickey Rourke’s ‘Motorcycle Boy’ color blindness, and by extension that of Matt Dillon’s Rusty-James, who so identifies with his older brother.

However, such calling to attention of weird angles and strange cinematography and the archetypal characters- Nicholas Cage as Rusty-James’ 2nd Smokey who’s always second-guessing and angling to lead the gang, Chris Penn as B.J who’s a loyal dog, Vincent Spano as Steve who’s got a foot in the non-gang world who reminds Rusty-James of the better angles of his nature, and Laurence Fishburn as Midget the bearer of good/bad news- creates an intellectual rather than emotional experience watching this film. Their scenes and dialogue are deliberately functional. There really is no depth to their relationships and I can’t imagine there is life with these people once director Coppola yells ‘cut’. Diane Lane and her little sister Donna are exceptions. Lane is Rusty-James’ long-suffering gf Patty who eventually cuts the downward, brother-worshipping Rusty-James out of her life and in those scenes you’d find the emotional crux of the film.

You get to see a post-Apocalypse Now!, pre-Hoosiers Dennis Hopper as their alcoholic and depressed father. Hopper is beginning his career upswing and is excellent in the role. Tom Waits is the coffee shop/poolhall manager, doesn’t do much but he looks cool doing it in a cool divey neon-lit joint. The film was shot in Tulsa OK with a lot of grit and urban decay- a great backdrop for a story about the end of an era. Great percussive soundtrack by The Police's Stuart Copeland reflects the jagged, possibly decaying, sanity of Motorcycle Boy.

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