Rumble Fish (1983)

One of my favourite Coppola movies made during that sweet-spot period in his career (the 80s) where he just tried to see how weird and experimental he could get until the bankers shut him down.

Shot back to back with The Outsiders (both are based on novels by S.E. Hinton) and retaining the same crew and much of the cast, Rumble Fish is surreal and expressionistic where that movie is sprawling and operatic. Part Orson Welles, part German Expressionistic nightmare, the monochrome photography is phantasmagoric. It not only looks like nothing else Coppola had made up to this point but like no other American movie in 1983. The technical innovations are quietly revolutionary and the film’s atmosphere – a rippling pond of dream stupor – is constantly arresting. Like all Coppola’s movies it has a fascinating sound design too, which gleefully blurs the line between diegetic and non-diegetic without any consideration for logic. It’s all about feeling and suggestion. Even the score by Stewart Copeland – all metallic noises and ticking edges – feels way ahead of its time. 

A host of Coppola regulars fill out the cast. Matt Dillon and Diane Lane (heart eyes) return from The Outisders along with Apocalypse Now alums Dennis Hopper and Laurence Fishburne. I also love how Tom Waits became Coppola’s good luck charm as he appears in almost everything he made from the 80s onwards. This is also one of Mickey Rourke MKI’s greatest performances. The whole thing is so stylised and the performances are likewise tuned to a heightened state. Some are incredibly quiet and gentle, others are furiously hectic. Every part of this movie adds to its aesthetic and even when the actors feel like extensions of the art-direction, it works. 

Whenever anyone assumes Coppola simply retreated into making tosh after Apocalypse Now, I always point them towards Rumble Fish (and the equally ambitious One From the Heart) to show that he continued taking huge risks and pushing himself artistically long after 1979, they just failed to connect with people. It’s no surprise that Coppola considers this film (and The Conversation) his favourites as it heavily foreshadows similarly insular and avant garde late-period works such as Tetro and Twixt. Like most films Coppola made post-Apocalypse, this film is in desperate need of reappraisal. I know it recently got a Criterion release but the buzz around that seems a lot quieter than I expected. He may have made his masterpieces in the 1970s, but the 80s period is full of endless riches worth your time. Rumble Fish is the jewel in that crown.

Watched on Eureka Masters of Cinema blu-ray

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