In this deeply personal tale of estrangement and reconciliation between two rebellious brothers, set in a dreamlike and timeless Tulsa, Francis Ford Coppola gives mythic dimensions to intimate, painful emotions. After releasing the classically styled The Outsiders earlier the same year, the director returned to the work of S. E. Hinton, this time with a self-described “art film for teenagers.” Graced with a remarkable cast headed by Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, and Diane Lane; haunting black-and-white visuals that hark back to German expressionism and forward to Coppola’s own Tetro; and a powerful, percussive score by Stewart Copeland that underscores the movie’s romantic fatalism, Rumble Fish pulsates throughout with genuine love and dread.
Rumble Fish was the third novel by S.E. Hinton to reach the big screen in two years with Matt Dillon occupying a starring role in each. Dillon was reunited with director Francis Ford Coppola after the latter wrapped production on The Outsiders in early 1983. Coppola quickly began making preparations for Rumble Fish a mere two weeks later. Coppola had a filmmaking family, including numerous cast and crew members who joined him on the new production, which was also shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The filmmaker wanted Rumble Fish to serve as the stylistic antithesis to The Outsiders, which was photographed by Stephen H. Burum in Technicolor and CinemaScope to give the story an epic feel. Burum opted for Rumble Fish to have a narrower frame using the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The wide angle lenses fixated on the characters gave the image a closer, more intimate perspective on their existential issues. Burum also photographed the film in black and white to lend the setting with a bleaker and more brooding tone.
As Rumble Fish opens, Rusty-James (Matt Dillon) goes to Benny's pool hall, his favorite hangout where he fraternizes with his good friend Steve (Vincent Spano) as well as acquaintances like Smokey (Nicolas Cage) and B.J. Jackson (Christopher Penn). Midget (Larry Fishburne) arrives with a notice that Biff Wilcox is challenging Rusty-James to a fight, which he accepts. The Dillon character appears to be on the verge of knocking Biff out cold when he becomes distracted by the reappearance of his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Rusty-James gets gashed in the stomach with a knife but his brother tends to him and gets them all out of the scrum.
Coppola's movie is about broken families, brotherly bonds, and the formation of surrogate families. The mother of Rusty-James and the Motorcycle Boy left her sons in order to get away from their drunkard father (Dennis Hopper). The brothers attempt to reconnect with their dad but he's still far removed from reality to help them out and give direction. Rusty-James has both an on/off again and love/hate relationship with his girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane), who's a step above him in class. She knows that he's prone to trouble but sympathizes with his plight and knows there's some good in him. Patty's younger sister, Domino (Sofia Coppola), is a pest when she's around the couple and has a bigger crush on Rusty-James than her teen sibling. There's a poignant moment on the couch where Rusty-James is seated in the middle and puts his arms around Patty and Domino, signifying the family he hopes to have one day. While he looks up to the Motorcycle Boy, his idol growing up, Rusty-James also has a brotherly bond with Steve, his voice of reason and the most sensible and ethical teen character in the film.
Rumble Fish had a mixed reception upon its US theatrical release in the autumn, 1983 probably because it was so bold and experimental. Burum's deep focus cinematography is impeccable as is the production design and sets built by Dean Tavoularis. Matt Dillon is pitch-perfect as Rusty-James and has excellent chemistry with Diane Lane, who was his real-life girlfriend for a time. In addition to a stalwart performance by Mickey Rourke, there are also solid supporting turns that anchor the film by Vincent Spano, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, Tom Waites, Dennis Hopper, and Larry Fishburne. It all adds up to one of Coppola's most personal films and one that he dedicated to his brother, August.
The following text appears inside the leaflet included on this release by the Criterion Collection:
"Supervised by director of photography Stephen H. Burum and approved by director Francis Ford Coppola, this new 16-bit 4K digital transfer was created on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management."
Criterion presents Rumble Fish in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this AVC-encoded BD-50. I own the UK Blu-ray put out by Eureka's Masters of Cinema from a few years ago and can attest that the two feature different transfers. Eureka licensed a print from Universal that likely originates from the master that the studio used for its 2005 Special Edition DVD. The Eureka looks considerably brighter with a higher contrast than the Criterion. However, the Eureka is filtered and has more print artifacts. As overseen by Burum and Coppola on the Criterion, the darker image befits the mood of the film. More, the picture is variably cropped in different places on the Eureka compared to the Criterion. A discerning viewer would have to squint to see any dirt in the frame on the US transfer. The Criterion does have a little chroma noise but it's not distracting.
The following text also appears on the inside of the same leaflet on the Criterion:
"The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm original magnetic print master track and approved by Coppola and sound designer Richard Beggs. The alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack was created in 2003 from dialogue, music, and effects stems and approved by Coppola. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX. Please be sure to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver when listening to the 2.0 surround soundtrack."
Both the 2.0 track and the 5.1 remix are very clean with excellent depth and fidelity. Dialogue is clear and coherently presented along the front speakers. Stewart Copeland of the British rock band the Police delivers a rhythmic and percussive heavy score that provides a stadium sound-like atmosphere with pulsating sonic booms on the surround channels. Criterion has offered optional English SDH for the feature.
Criterion didn't elect to offer an alternate track with music and effects only, which appears on the UK disc.
Criterion has ported over several of the bonus materials that were included on the 2005 Universal Special Edition DVD and recorded some new interviews. However, Criterion drops the movie's production notes that appeared on Universal's first DVD and were reprinted in the booklet of Eureka's UK BD. Also missing is the American Cinematographer article on the film that was also reprinted in the latter.
Audio commentary featuring Francis Ford Coppola. This feature-length track with Coppola was recorded for the SE DVD and contains a number of production stories and anecdotes about making Rumble Fish.
New interviews with Coppola, author and co-screenwriter S. E. Hinton, associate producer Roman Coppola, and actors Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. Criterion shot a slew of new interviews with Francis Coppola (HD, 19:16), Hinton (HD, 17:57), associate producer Roman Coppola (HD 7:59), as well as Dillon and Lane (HD, 21:09), who appear in the same recording studio but are interviewed separately.
New conversation between Stephen H. Burum and production designer Dean Tavoularis (HD, 30:41). These two creative artists discuss the visual design of Rumble Fish, touching on art/set decor, framing and lenses, and films that Coppola screened for the cast. Burum does much of the talking.
Pieces from 2005 about the film’s score and production (upscaled to HD, 24 min. total). These are two vintage behind-the-scenes featurettes. In "On Location in Tulsa," footage of pre-production is shown along with remarks from Coppola and his crew. In "The Percussion-Based Score," composer Stewart Copeland, Coppola, and sound designer/mixer Richard Beggs recall the unconventional soundtrack created for the film.There is also footage from the original scoring sessions back in 1983.
Interviews from 1983 with Dillon, Lane, actor Vincent Spano, and producer Doug Claybourne (upscaled to HD, 21:09). Titled "City Lights," these contain interviews with Dillon, Lane, Spano, and Claybourne from a French TV special. They're presented in English with burned-in French subtitles.
French television interview from 1984 with actor Mickey Rourke (upscaled to HD, 8:46). Rourke is interviewed inside a car as he talks about what he brought to the film. The interview is in English but there are ingrained French subtitles.
Locations: Looking for Rusty James, a 2013 documentary by Alberto Fuguet about the impact of Rumble Fish (HD, 1:29:28). In this feature-length documentary, Alberto Fuguet travels to the original locations in Tulsa where Rumble Fish was filmed and speaks to how it impacted his generation of Chileans/South Americans. The doc is in Spanish and subtitled in English.
New piece about the film’s existentialist elements (HD, 20:33). Titled "Camus for Kids," this piece delves into Rumble Fish's existentialist elements by film historian Rodney F. Hill.
“Don’t Box Me In” music video (upscaled to HD, 3:36). The original 1983 video for the ballad "Don't Box Me In" that features composer Stewart Copeland and vocalist Stan Ridgway.
Deleted scenes, with a new introduction by Coppola (upscaled to HD, 23 min.).
Face the Fact
Is Your Mother Dying?
Feelings and Ideas
Write the End
Princess of Troy
Trailer (upscaled to HD, 2:15). Universal's original theatrical trailer for the film.
PLUS: An essay by critic Glenn Kenny. A fold-out poster with the aquarium scene on one side and a lengthy essay on Rumble Fish within the larger context of Coppola's career, on the other side.
Rumble Fish is a very worthy companion to The Outsiders and arguably the best of the four adaptations made from Hinton's books. Criterion has given the movie a new 4K scan and provides a remastered stereo audio track and a 5.1 remix. Both picture and sound presentations are nearly flawless. Criterion has also assembled a collection of old and new supplements that deserve the tag of "Mega Special Edition." For fans of Coppola and the cast, this is a Must Own.