director Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola’s artsy, avant-garde approach to an S.E. Hinton novel gets the Criterion treatment. And fair enough. For the Hollywood mainstream, this was avant-garde in 1983.
A beautifully stylized aesthetic runs over every frame of Rumble Fish, which Coppola made on the heels of a more conventional take on S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (also 1983). Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and Coppola channel Orson Welles, Expressionism, and aspects of European cinema of the 1950’s and 1960’s, turning Tulsa, OK into abstracts and back again into storefronts, alleys, and dirty back roads.
This is a teen film, but so set-back and removed that it’s an aesthetic experience before anything else. And it’s gorgeous.
Mickey Rourke, right off Diner (1982), and as fresh-faced as you can imagine, is Motorcycle Boy, older brother and legend in younger brother Matt Dillon’s mind. While all Dillon can think of is fighting and becoming his own minor league legend, Rourke’s Motorcycle Boy is somehow already broken inside after a trip to California, seeing the mother that abandoned them, and winding up in a magazine. What tortures Motorcycle Boy is never really fully named, though the metaphorical colored fish that he tries to dump in the river are a clear and colorful metaphor.
I watched this with my 13 year old daughter, who found it a bit confusing, but like it.