Thursday, November 19, 2009

a pinball in a machine, rusty james

Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton's "Rumblefish" - expanded in 1975 from her original short story first published in 'Nimrod: 1968', the University of Tulsa's literary journal - succeeded where its bigger budget sibling, "The Outsiders", so obviously failed. Shot entirely in the monochrome of REM sleep, save for those few frames with superimposed colour on captive fighting fish, the film through its parts achieves more than its end result.

A knowing homage to the French New Wave with its echoes of surrealism and the E
xpressionist cinema of F.W. Murnau and Robert Weine; in addition to the more familiar cinematographic borrowings of Orson Welles, "Citizen Kane" and "Night of the Hunter", in particular.

As a teen drama in much the same mold as "West Side Story", the finished article is a quiet triumph of superior casting - including Dennis Hopper - and atmosphere over narrative content, retaining the choreographed performance of a stage adaptation within a few nicely observed set pieces. Not so much a straight reworking of "Romeo and Juliet" as an epilogue of sorts where all the marginal characters have succumbed to less noble motives or dramatic ends. Concise and defined where "The Outsiders" is embarrassingly slight. And hysterical.

That's not to conclude that in totality it does not suffer from its own overblown dénouement.
Those melodramatic flourishes, though, are largely forgivable. Despite this, it was resoundingly rubbished when it it premiered at the New York Film Festival.

Warner Brothers, reluctant to distribute "The Outsiders", passed on "Rumblefis
h" entirely. Paramount Studios, in turn, were shaken by how much the final edit deviated from the commercial norm.

The soundtrack by Stewart Copeland has worn better, maybe, in the quarter of a century since its original release.

Coppola was insistent that the score be experimental in tone. Recording ambient street noise in
Tulsa - where both "The Outsiders" and its successor were filmed - Copeland later mixed the results over and under a battery of instrumentation, layering sequenced parts in synch with video footage and dialogue with the use of a Musync, the cutting edge of studio technology in the early to mid eighties.

Jesus. If I can forgive this film its minor conceits, I am prepared to forgive Stewart Copeland his role in The Police.

Buell Neidlinger: double bass;
Art Krahble and Lory Westin: french horn;
Mel Martin: saxophone;
Pavel Strings: strings;
Stan Friedman: trumpet.

Engineered by Bill Belknap; Jonney Jeronymides;
Kathy Morton; Richa
rd Beggs; Robin Yeager.
Musync engineered by Robert Randles.

STEWART COPELAND: BROTHERS ON WHEELS from "Rumblefish (Original Soundtrack)" LP (A&M) 1983 (US)
STEWART COPELAND: FATHER ON THE STAIRS from "Rumblefish (Original Soundtrack)"
STEWART COPELAND: MOTORBOY'S FATE from "Rumblefish (Original Soundtrack)" LP (A&M) 1983


Ramone666 said...

I always thought this was the better of the two by far. Never realised the soundtrack was Steward Copelands though.
Have you ever read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind on the late 60´s/early 70´s movie industry? Very much recommended, it features a lot of Coppola.

ib said...

Yes. I think if Orson Welles had chosen to make a film about disaffected youth it would have looked a lot like 'Rumblefish'. Not necessarily one of his best, but passable and a little too earnest and stagy. 'The Outsiders', by comparison, screened more like a sequel to 'Dirty Dancing'; not just for its inclusion of Patrick Swayzee, either.

A truly dreadful movie.

I haven't read 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls'. I will look out for it. I like Coppola a lot. Sam Peckinpah more so. Robert Altman, too, and at least he's still going. That whole period in film making has never been surpassed, I don't believe.

Ramone666 said...

Exactly. Both are in the book. Haven´t seen too many Altmans (I remember the one with Tom Waits as very good) but Peckinpah´s the man. Wild Bunch, Alfredo Garcia, Patt Garrett, High Country. They don´t make ´em like that anymore alas.

@eloh said...

I have no idea sometimes what people are talking about. Then I look at the year and. . .sorry, I was otherwise occupied.

I do have a love of old movies.

I did not know that Rumblefish had been made into a movie, I'll have to try to find it.

On the other hand... Citizen Kane, to me, was the first really deep movie. One where you had to have some brain cells to enjoy.

Night of the Hunter . .has such a other worldly feel to the whole movie. I love it (and) it creeps me out. Robert Mitchem was the first Jason.

ib said...

'Night of the Hunter' might have been the first ever movie I saw which terrified me. Robert Mitchum's unhinged turn gave me the chills too; the switchblade flicking open against Shelly Winter's throat in the dead of night, and his 'speaking in tongues' outside the chicken coop.

"Lea-aaaanin', Lea-aaaanin'..."

Chilling stuff. I practiced that hymn for months afterward. It was the first time I'd ever heard it. I rather fancied getting "love and hate" tattooed over my fingers when I got old enough, too.

George Massouris said...

i study this film with my year 12 class... they love it

Your driver said...

I've never seen Rumblefish. I'll have to admit that I loved The Outsiders because it looked like all the bad boys in town when I was too little to be one of them. A boy can dream though, can't he? Before hippies, hoods and rah rahs were the only (white kid) game in town. Oh how I dreamed of being a hood.

ib said...

Good subject for a year 12, George.

I gather the film is not a faithful rendition of the book; which adopts its narrative in flashback. Coppola had much input on the screenplay, although it was a collaboration to a degree.

For sure, Jon.

Not least because all those hoods modeled themselves on "the man in black" in all those staged Hollywood westerns. What better an anti authoritarian blueprint ?

Swapping a charcoal horse for a Harley as the ultimate totem; duster jackets for leathers; chiseled boots for something more robust and useful in a rumble.

Keds or an imitation of the same for the rest of us.

James Drury in the tv run of "The Virginian" almost had me fooled as a kid for a while; Buck, too, in "The High Chaparral".