#869 Rumble Fish
1983 // USA // Francis Ford Coppola
Criterion Collection (LINK)
I have been constantly struggling with the filmography of Francis Ford Coppola, the man who directed the formidable Godfather (1972), I find myself either loving his films tremendously like Apocalypse Now (1979) and Godfather I and II, or simply dismissing them as if their existence matters nothing, and Rumble Fish belongs to the later group. An adaption of S. E. Hinton’s novel of the same name, Rumble Fish is a film described by Coppola as “an art house film for teenage”. It’s true that the narrative and characters are defined vaguely and enigmatically unlike the ubiquitous straightforward Hollywood drama. The delinquent younger brother Rusty-James (Matt Dillon) doesn’t have a definite objective to achieve at the end of the film, except his innate desire to become a legend as his idolised older brother, the ex-gang leader “The Motorcycle Boy” (Mickey Rourke) whose real name is never revealed since his existence is as mysterious as his name.
Coppola utilises The Motorcycle Boy as a personification of existentialism, and intends to make a mirror image of Albert Camus by it. The Motorcycle Boy has gone missing for two months and comes back repudiating his former gang life, acting aloof, unconcerned of surrounding. The black-and-white cinematography by Stephen H. Burum is a direct manifestation of The Motocycle Boy’s color blindness, while the floating cloud occupying the day light sky or Rusty-James’s near death experience with his soul levitates out of the body add an extra layer of hyper-realism. It’s not the soul-searching coming of age story, the film never attempts to offset or illustrate the pain of growth even with the introduction of the alcoholic, incompetent father (Dennis Hopper).
Instead the film wants to reach a moment of transcendence and self-redemption by The Motorcycle Boy’s last ferocious act in breaking free the animals in the pet shop, including the “rumble fish”, highlighted by the singular use of red and blue color of the fish in a monochromatic film. It’s the act of pursuing freedom, though it’s as futile as Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a mountain, can prove his existence. However, just like Rusty-James wants to act like his bigger brother, the film tries too hard to be different that Rumble Fish plays like an art film rather than being an art film. Coppola is too conscious in channeling the style of French New Wave and the German Expressionism that they all come together as an imposing product. Stewart Copeland’s percussive score is, in my opinion, as annoying as the repetitive shout-outs of the name of “Rusty-James” in the film. It’s the aftertaste of the pretentiousness obscuring me from developing a fondness to the film. Coppola has already achieved immortality with his previous works, the existence of Rumble Fish would not be too much a trouble after all.