It’s an odd film. I can’t really think of anything quite like it and hey, that is never a bad thing. I first saw this as part of director, Alex Cox’s Moviedrome season on BBC2. It was in a double bill with its companion piece from that same year, The Outsiders - also from an SE Hinton book. While The Outsiders is rich in colour and, conversely, realistic in its feel, Rumble Fish is steely black and white and overtly stylised. It’s a superb double, by the way (probably best with The Outsiders first) most obviously due to the street gang subject matter but it’s also a real Venn diagram of talent involved: Hinton, Coppola, Matt Dillon,
Diane Lane, Tom Waits.
It is set in a not-too-distant urban future. We are told “the gangs aren’t around” any longer although the threat of violence is still very much in the air. Rusty James (Matt Dillon) is a young buck always looking for a drink/fight/screw (in no particular) order and is the younger brother of legendary renegade, Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Rusty James is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Big brother got the brains and is also quite the philosopher. Motorcycle Boy is colour blind and experiences intermittent deafness. He lives in a bubble but, contradictorily, experiences “acute perception” of the world. Dennis Hopper is perfect as their boozehound father.
It’s all cloaked in hallucinatory weirdness. Stewart Copeland’s debut score provides a perfect, otherworldly tone. First The Police, then this, then The Equalizer theme tune… is there no limit to this man’s talent? The soundtrack is pretty much wall-to-wall sound – something I’m not usually fond of but here, God bless you Mr Coppola, it works a treat.
You might be interested to know that this formed part of the inspiration – in terms of shooting gangs – for Joe Cornish when making Attack the Block. It’s very apparent when you watch Rumble Fish. Said shots of the gangs strutting their stuff are insanely cool and very beautiful.