Today: February 27, 2024

Rumble Fish

In possibly his most art house film of his career, Francis Ford Coppola takes the ideas of family he explored, so fluently, in The Godfather films to endlessly more personal levels in Rumble Fish.

In possibly his most art house film of his career,
Francis Ford Coppola takes the ideas of family he explored, so fluently, in The
Godfather films to endlessly more personal levels in Rumble Fish.

It is a film that often slips into obscurity in the canon of Coppola
films because of its more experimental and art house over-tones compared to the
grand gesturing of Apocalypse Now
and the Corleone Family. But, in
many ways, it is just as accomplished and while it leans heavily on an indie
spirit it does so with huge heart.

In a small Tulsa
town Rusty James (Matt Dillon) wants
to rule the streets. He gets into
fights, dates the prettiest girl in school, Patty (Diane Lane), but cannot quite find his place in the world. Part of the problem is the graffiti
around town announcing that; ‘The Motorcycle Boy Reigns’. And then The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) returns. He’s Rusty’s older brother but while
the fighting skills and the inspiring charisma are still there something has
shifted in Motorcycle Boy. He
wants out, the town’s too small for him but despite the cops watching his every
move he can’t abandon Rusty until he’s helped release him of the small town

Shot in sumptuous
black and white, with just the odd speckle of colour, Rumble Fish is a moving
and masterful work of existential exploration. Coppola is clearly using Jean-Luc Goddard levels of avant-garde execution. The young hoods demanding attention,
the whispered mentor figure and the iconic cool scream New Wave.

And yet while
Goddard’s Breathless has dated well,
to the point of being idolized, Rumble Fish at times suffers from an ‘80s
cliché. Rusty James’ attire is one
thing but some scenes look more and more like Martin Scorsese’s video for Michael
’s Bad. All smoked
filled alleyways and silhouetted cats prowling the darkness.

Yet the story, themes
and characters are mesmerising.
There is something nostalgically familiar about the romance between
Rusty and Patty, the sort of flawed teenage romance the likes of Twilight so horribly miss judge. Then there is the youthful desire to
belong, to be more than just another face in the crowd while always being on
the periphery of society. This was
Coppola going from the epic of Apocalypse and The Godfather to the gravity of
youth. The film was shot
immediately after his other teenage drama The
and seems to almost be the polar opposite of that film. There’s no great melodrama here,
instead a serene look at adolescence.

Crucial to this
is the central relationship between Motorcycle Boy and Rusty. One a Jimmy Dean like icon, all strong silent type fascinated by the
titular Rumble Fish, or fighting fish, at the local pet store. The other a hotheaded and naïve
kid. It is telling that Coppola
dedicated the film to his older brother Augie, someone he openly admits to
looking up to as a child.

Rourke, in his
good looking days before the boxing took its toll on his face, is a quietly
powerful presence from the get go.
Whispering his lines like a philosophising guru to his young brother,
it’s easy to understand why all around worship him so much. Dillon meanwhile is channeling
something of his brother’s (Kevin Dillon)
well-known Johnny Drama from Entourage. All ego and posturing, yet there is
something endearing about him. He
wants to blaze his own trail but more than that he wants to be seen as
something in his brother’s eyes.
Special mention should also go to Diane Lane. While her part is small she is a luminous presence
throughout and oozes endless not-so-innocent girl next door sass.

At times
self-indulgent, this is Coppola at his independently spirited best. His lingering lens and deep focus all
heightened by a stunning Blu-ray transfer making Rumble Fish pop like it did
back in 1983.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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