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Rumble Fish DVD
Your August 2007 RMC Results Are In!

TAGLINE: Rusty James can't live up to his brother's reputation. His brother can't live it down.


We opened the evening with an appearance by Spinal Tap on a faux MIDNIGHT SPECIAL type show. Because it's an early clip of the guys, their hair is different, but...their stage antics are the same. Rock faces and cliches were turned up to, well, maybe even 12 as they rocked out with their song ROCK 'N ROLL NIGHTMARE. The piece was actually performed for a television show in 1978 called THE TV SHOW. Pretty cool. I nabbed it off a laser disk, but it's on YouTube. So's everything.

Inki at the Circus
Next up, SYLVESTER & TWEETY cartoons. From a VHS release in the early '80s, this offering had a few non-S & T toons. I'm speaking mainly of the warm yet uncomfortably racist INKI cartoons. In one, lead character Inki, an African native boy, deals with his situation at a circus (he starts out in a cage...yeesh). In another, he must match wits with a lion. Though the character of Inki is sweet, one can't help squirm a little at who he is, and how he's drawn.

And now on to our feature presentation...

What if Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Diane Lane, and Francis Ford Coppola gave us a movie and nobody came? There's no "what if" there. That's exactly what happened when RUMBLE FISH was released in 1983.

Critics and moviegoers were largely in sync with their hatred for this abstract, gritty teen spectacle. But I beg you to try it on for yourself and see if it fits. Here's how much I back this movie - It has Nicolas Cage in it, yet I still like it. And if you know me, you know how much that means.

Rumble Fish Gang, L-R: Nicolas Cage, Vincent Spano, Matt Dillon, and Chris Penn
After Coppola made THE GODFATHER, THE CONVERSATION, THE GODFATHER II and APOCALYPSE NOW, he made ONE FROM THE HEART, a daring and nutty movie shot indoors (yes, that was a plane landing). It bankrupted him. So instead of making more mainstream films, he kept outside with a double dose of S.E. Hinton adaptations - THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH.

Years before anyone ever heard of him, Jim Belushi had his biopic filmed by Francis Ford Coppola and it was called RUMBLE FISH. That's a joke, but there is indeed a parallel. RUMBLE FISH is the story of a guy who can never live up to his brother's reputation, and while trying, instead of perspiration he sweats desperation.

The Motorcycle Boy

With RUMBLE FISH, Coppola crafted an overly-stylized, black and white, wacky movie that pleases and misfires at the same time. Matt Dillon plays punky-tuff thug Rusty James (try doing a shot every time his name is mentioned and you won't make it through the first 20 minutes). When told another local gang leader wants to fight him, Rusty James is nothing but eager. For he desires to be like his legendary brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Rusty James lives in The Motorcycle Boy's shadow. He wants to be him so badly, yet can't understand why that will never happen. And to add insult to bodily injury, The Motorcycle Boy saves Rusty James more than once. And in a way, saves him big time at the end.

At a pet store, The Motorcycle Boy, who is colorblind, watches rumble fish swimming in an aquarium (we can see them in color, the only color in the movie). They're called rumble fish because they love to fight. They'll see their own reflection and die trying to fight it. Which brings me back to the rumble- a surreal ballet featuring water, steam, Expressionist shadows, sounds, shards of glass, blood, and a side of WEST SIDE STORY. It's a beautiful piece of filmmaking. And it's where Rusty James' life starts to really take a turn for the worse.

S.E. Hinton wrote the book and co-wrote the script (with Coppola). And get this, she has a cameo as a hooker. She also wrote the books that led to the way overlooked movie TEX (also starring Matt Dillon) and THAT WAS THEN...THIS IS SHIT (I mean...THIS IS NOW).

The "experimental" music by POLICE drummer Stewart Copeland is often too obtrusive and, well, bad. But the cast is wonderful.

Rusty James (Dillon) and Patty (Lane)
Dennis Hopper plays (surprise!) the drunk dad, Tom Waits the coffee shop counterperson, and Diane Lane as Rusty James' girlfriend Patty (ah, if only my address was 69 Diane Lane). There's even a small part for 12 year old Sofia Coppola, billed as "Domino", as Patty's kid sister. I have to say she was charming.

Sometimes RUMBLE FISH's metaphors are heavy handed, like when The Motorcycle Boy frees animals from their cages. Or better, when Rusty James sees his reflection in a car window and punches it (remember that rumble fish aquarium thing?), turning into color for a flicker of a moment. But there are also many interesting and sometimes trippy elements in this film. Take Mickey Rourke's wafer-thin line delivery; the volume is made hotter creating an eerie effect to his dialogue (I think that was intentional?). And the KOYAANISQATSI-like clouds. Even the smoke and steam I usually hate in movies seems to work well here.

As I mentioned up top, this movie sank to the bottom of the sea when it was released. But take a look around now. It turns out there are schools of Rumble Fishies out there that adore this movie. In fact, I found more people who like it than not. So I guess it's now time to ask - Is RUMBLE FISH a brave film or is it a pretentious film? The answer to that is - yes.


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