Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish is turning 30 years old this Monday. While its theatrical release was October 21, 1983, the film made its debut at the New York Film Festival earlier in the month, on the 7th. Since then, it has taken on more of a cult status rather than joining the classic ranks of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. That’s a pity, because it’s arguably as good as Coppola’s most well-respected hits. The teen angst picture stars Matt Dillon as a kid trying to live up to the reputation of his brother, “The Motorcycle Boy” (Mickey Rourke). And it has always been a favorite of mine. In fact, the sole poster framed in my apartment is a one-sheet from the film. It’s just that great.
At the time, it was Coppola’s most experimental movie. It’s a bizarre trip into this hellish place where everything is soaked in dread and smoke. The only place a man can find some calm is a diner run by Tom Waits. When you have to find refuge with Tom Waits, then you know you’re in trouble. It’s a rough picture, especially compared to Coppola’s other, more sentimental (and in color, more accessible) S.E. Hinton adaptation about troubled kids from the same year: The Outsiders. Out of the two, the slightly earlier film is the one that garnered more accolades, but in my book Rumble Fish is the superior movie.
Narrowing the film down to six scenes was tough, because every scene in the film is enjoyable in its own right. Diane Lane, Chris Penn, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, and a suave Lawrence Fishburne all make appearances, so of course each moment is a delight.
We’ve selected a handful of favorites from what could be found, but as always please tell us the scenes you love from the movie below.
You Wanna Fight?
There’s a simple freneticism to this fight that most major set pieces sorely lack. That score, those bold images, and the clean camera movement add up to a hypnotic action sequence that isn’t only style over substance. We see a new side of Rusty James in this scene. He’s not a dumb kid, he knows how to use everything at his disposal to win a fight. However, he’ll always need a little help from an old face…
Ladies and Gentleman, The Motorcycle Boy
Lights flashing. Motorcycle revving. Faces in awe. That is how a grand introduction is done, people. In 40 seconds we come to learn a lot about The Motorcycle Boy: he’s devilishly good-looking, he was likely once fighting in Rusty James’s place; we see how other people see him, and what happens when you mess with his brother. That quick reaction shot to his brother getting sliced says it all.
Nobody Likes Substitute Teachers
A horrific sequence where nothing overtly horrific takes place. You see these two unpleasant characters in such close capacity, with a jerk kid belittling a helpless heroin addict. Cassandra’s a fascinating side character that Rusty James doesn’t understand. He never got The Motorcycle Boy’s attraction to her, but it’s obvious: she’s a sinking ship, someone that understands Rusty’s brother. She says Motorcycle Boy didn’t really come back, and she’s right, because The Motorcycle Boy isn’t that man who returns.
Swimming With The Fishes
What The Motorcycle Boy truly relates to are rumble fish, hence the title. They’re fighting themselves, similar to how The Motorcycle Boy is fighting this grandiose image others have built up of him. He’s a young guy with problems, not the legend his brother so wants him to be. The color-blind badass may not see the colors of the fish, but since those fish are all The Motorcycle Boy sees himself in, that’s what we see the full colorful picture of.
California Really Isn’t A Beautiful Wild Girl on Heroin
“California’s like a beautiful, wild girl on heroin.” Just a terrific line. When The Motorcycle Boy describes California, of course he can’t simply say “it’s nice,” “not bad,” or “whatever.” He has to describe California in the coolest way imaginable, and that he does. While I would never refer to California as a “beautiful girl,” The Motorcycle Boy paints the state as a self-destructive woman, which is a feeling he comes to know all too well by the end…
“We Really Don’t Want Any Trouble”
It takes a big ol’ smack to the head for Rusty James to see he’s kind of a loser. Throughout the movie he’s a cloying punk who cheats on possibly the coolest girlfriend a kid could have: a girlfriend played by Diane Lane. Does he learn anything here? Maybe, maybe not. Rusty James may not comprehend he’s a loser during this stunning sequence, but anyone viewing this moment does. When he returns back to his body, he’s once again rescued by his brother. Rusty James is always a punk kid in distress.