Rumble Fish

1983, Movie, R, 105 mins


If THE OUTSIDERS was a GODFATHER for teens, RUMBLE FISH was APOCALYPSE NOW. Filmed in dreamy black-and-white with an occasional dab of color, RUMBLE FISH is an unabashed art film. Deliriously expressionistic visually and aurally, it owes at least as much to the work of Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, and F.W. Murnau as to the juvenile delinquent sagas of the 1950s. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, RUMBLE FISH tells of a somewhat slow-witted but charismatic teenager, Rusty James (Dillon), who idolizes his elder brother, the Motorcycle Boy (Rourke). The Motorcycle Boy has repudiated his gang-leader past and disapproves of Rusty's fighting but really has no practical advice to offer his sibling. He's intelligent enough to know that he has done nothing admirable to earn his local notoriety; he's just a very cool dude in a way that his hot-headed and increasingly dopey younger brother can never hope to match. Rusty, though, is too blinded by hero-worship and addled by injury-induced deliriums and booze to see things clearly. The person most annoyed by the former gang leader's lofty reputation is Officer Patterson (Smith) who ominously watches the Motorcycle Boy from behind his jet black shades.

Coppola has never made a more beautiful film. The rumble sequence alone is a rousingly choreographed frenzy that deserves to be studied by generations of film students. Hinton collaborated with the director in adaptating her eccentric but profoundly moving novel for the screen. The resulting film is an amazingly sensitive recreation of the sensibility of the literary work. Burum's black-and-white cinematography utilizes deep focus and time-lapse effects to reflect the peculiar point-of-view of the protagonists. The fighting fish to which the title refers are in color though they float in a black-and-white pet shop window. The innovative score from Copeland (formerly drummer for The Police) plays a major part in creating mood, blending perfectly with Coppola's striking images. Often it sounds like ticking clocks, thereby heightening the sense that time is running out for these characters. Clocks are also a recurring visual motif.

RUMBLE FISH also contains some truly outstanding performances. Rourke gives what may be his most satisfying performance as the impossibly cool Motorcycle Boy. One never knows whether he is truly insane, as several characters assert, or just suffers from what his father calls "acuteness of the senses." Dillon shines through with a heartbreaking portrayal of a vulnerable teen increasingly lost in a mental fog. Lane is quite touching and believable as Rusty's long-suffering girlfriend, and Spano shows great range in an atypical role as Rusty's nerdy pal. Hopper is likewise superb, his ravaged but still beautiful face suggesting a fallen angel.

This is not a film for all audiences; indeed it is difficult to imagine to what audience it is targeted. Some wags even had the temerity to christen this minor masterpiece as "Mumble Fish." Give it a try. It might change your life. leave a comment

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