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  Rumble Fish The Fallen Idol
Year: 1983
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Diana Scarwid, Vincent Spano, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne, William Smith, Michael Higgins, Glenn Withrow, Tom Waits, Herb Rice, Maybelle Wallace, Sofia Coppola, Tracey Walter
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Seventeen-year-old Rusty James (Matt Dillon) shows up at the local diner and billiard hall to hear the news that Biff Willcox (Glenn Withrow) means to fight with him. Rusty wants a good turn out at the rumble, so asks his friends to attend and bring as many people as possible, because he knows Biff will be doing the same. Later that day he meets his girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) as she walks to the school bus, and tells her that he'd like to come over to her house that night before he goes into battle, and she agrees, although not exactly willingly. So the evening settles over the city, and Rusty is sleeping on Patty's sofa when she, unimpressed, wakes him up and he asks what the time is. It's a quarter to ten, and his appointment was supposed to be at half past nine, but little does he know there will be someone at the rumble who he has been wanting to see again for a while...

Rumble Fish was the second S.E. Hinton novel that director Francis Ford Coppola filmed, and it was started immediately after work had finished on the previous film, The Outsiders. Coppola had been encouraged by teenage fans of both him and Hinton to tackle these books, and while they weren't big hits, this film in particular being a box office disaster that was never given much of a chance, they did amass a cult following. Debate rages, well, murmurs, over which is the better film, but for my money the second film was where Coppola got it right, dressing up the script by him and Hinton with a wealth of visual tricks and pretentions to make for a grander experience.

That visual approach is immensely stylish, shot in gleaming black and white all except for the tropical fighting fish in the local pet store and a brief shot of Rusty's reflection in the police car window at the end. Elsewhere, Coppola suggests a place out of time with his shots of speeded up clouds and a clock face in every scene. The reason the film is shot this way is to approximate the world view of The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), who is not only completely colour blind but has been rendered almost deaf as well, all due to the gang fighting of his youth. I say youth, though he's still only twenty one; but who is he?

He's the older brother of Rusty, and everyone calls him The Motorcycle Boy, even the cops who dislike him, specifically Patterson (William Smith) who remains singularly unimpressed with his local hero status. Don't tell that to Rusty, however, as the teenager idolises his brother, who makes an entrance back into his life in suitably dramatic fashion. When the rumble is going on that night, which boosts Rusty's ego because he feels he's following in his brother's footsteps, it's all going Rusty's way until Biff cuts him deeply with a shard of glass. Then The Motorcycle Boy is there, on his motorbike appropriately enough, which he lets fly straight into Biff, thereby ending the brawl.

Rusty is delighted that his brother has returned from California, and he longs to be a legend like he is, yet the truth is that for all his rough charm, Rusty is a needy idiot, constantly wanting validation for what his brother now dismisses and heading all systems go into a dead end life. The boys' father (Dennis Hopper) is a no-hoper alcoholic, and you can see this is a glimpse of Rusty's future. Yes, this is a gloomy film of hollow victories, but Coppola's handling of the material raises it to higher level, with sequences such as Rusty's out of body experience, where he flies past the home of Patty after she has spurned him, standing out as audacious risk-taking. Rusty, naturally, is supposed to be metaphorically linked to the rumble fishes in the pet store who when lacking anything to fight will hit their own reflections, but you're left with the impression this is needlessly romanticising him. Nevertheless, the film's classy and distinctive look works in its favour. Music by Stewart Copeland.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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