Rumble Fish (1983)

R | 94 mins | Drama | 9 October 1983

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HISTORY

According to Antoine Wilson’s 2003 biography, S. E. Hinton, director Francis Ford Coppola was introduced to the novel, Rumble Fish (New York, 1975), while filming his screen adaptation of Hinton’s first book, The Outsiders (New York, 1967). Midway through production on The Outsiders (1983, see entry), Coppola was eager to follow-up the film with another Hinton project, and asked the author to recommend a different story from her catalog. Upon reading Rumble Fish, Coppola hired Hinton to collaborate with him on the script and they wrote on Sundays, their day off from The Outsiders, to have the project ready as soon as The Outsiders was completed. Coppola planned to remain on location in Tusla, OK, and use many of the same cast and crew as The Outsiders, including actor Matt Dillon, director of photography Stephen H. Burum, and production designer Dean Tavoularis. At that time, Walt Disney Productions was preparing to release Hinton’s Tex (1982, see entry), also starring Matt Dillon, and actor Martin Sheen had acquired screen rights to Hinton’s 1971 novel That Was Then, This is Now, as reported in a 12 May 1982 Var article.
       Rumble Rish was originally printed as a short story in 1968, not long after The Outsiders was published, and Hinton was inspired by a 1967 magazine photograph of a young man and a motorcycle, according to S. E. Hinton. A magazine photograph of “The Motorcycle Boy” is replicated in the film. Although Hinton initially developed ... More Less

According to Antoine Wilson’s 2003 biography, S. E. Hinton, director Francis Ford Coppola was introduced to the novel, Rumble Fish (New York, 1975), while filming his screen adaptation of Hinton’s first book, The Outsiders (New York, 1967). Midway through production on The Outsiders (1983, see entry), Coppola was eager to follow-up the film with another Hinton project, and asked the author to recommend a different story from her catalog. Upon reading Rumble Fish, Coppola hired Hinton to collaborate with him on the script and they wrote on Sundays, their day off from The Outsiders, to have the project ready as soon as The Outsiders was completed. Coppola planned to remain on location in Tusla, OK, and use many of the same cast and crew as The Outsiders, including actor Matt Dillon, director of photography Stephen H. Burum, and production designer Dean Tavoularis. At that time, Walt Disney Productions was preparing to release Hinton’s Tex (1982, see entry), also starring Matt Dillon, and actor Martin Sheen had acquired screen rights to Hinton’s 1971 novel That Was Then, This is Now, as reported in a 12 May 1982 Var article.
       Rumble Rish was originally printed as a short story in 1968, not long after The Outsiders was published, and Hinton was inspired by a 1967 magazine photograph of a young man and a motorcycle, according to S. E. Hinton. A magazine photograph of “The Motorcycle Boy” is replicated in the film. Although Hinton initially developed The Outsiders and Rumble Fish concurrently, they were conceived as separate stories. However, Coppola drew visual connections between the two by filming The Outsiders and Rumble Fish back-to-back with the same production teams, and many viewers concluded that the pictures marked a “new category of non-sequel sequel” in American filmmaking, as noted in the Nov 1983 edition of Box.
       However, director of photography Stephen H. Burum, who oversaw both pictures, told the May 1984 AmCin that the films were conceived as “opposites.” Coppola believed Rumble Fish was an evolution of themes raised in The Outsiders, indicating transformation from innocence to adulthood, and he punctuated the differences with visual clues. While The Outsiders was shot in color and staged theatrically, with the camera taking on the audience’s objective perspective, Rumble Fish was filmed in black and white to portray the point of view of the colorblind Motorcycle Boy and his doting sibling, “Rusty James,” who wished to see the world through his brother’s eyes. Burum explained that The Outsiders depicted large-scale “classical and pictorial” compositions to reflect the sweeping passion and idealism of teenagers, whereas Rumble Fish used close-up shots and hand-held cameras to position viewers within the dark, psychological world of the film’s protagonists.
       Although Coppola achieved box-office and critical success with his 1970s films including The Godfather (1972, see entry), The Godfather Part II (1974, see entry), and Apocalypse Now (1979, see entry), his career hit a setback with One from the Heart (1982, see entry), a high-budget musical-drama in which Coppola innovated “Electronic Cinema,” an onsite video-editing technique. The film’s failure to recoup its cost at the box-office left both Coppola and his Zoetrope Studios bankrupt, but the company remained in business to produce Hammett (1983, see entry) and The Outsiders. Four days before principal photography ended on The Outsiders, an 11 May 1982 DV article announced that Zoetrope planned to move forward with Rumble Fish despite ongoing financial problems. At that time, the company refused to disclose the film’s budget or the source of its financing, though a 19 May 1982 Var column speculated the money may have come from a recent six-picture foreign distribution deal with Producers Sales Organization (PSO), which included The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Six weeks later, a 30 Jun 1982 Var article announced that Universal Pictures had acquired domestic distribution rights for Rumble Fish through a negative pickup deal in which Zoetrope was guaranteed payment upon completion. With finances secured, principal photography was set to begin 12 Jul 1982 in preparation for an anticipated fall or early summer 1983 release.
       Continuing to use Electronic Cinema on The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, Coppola set up a portable studio in the gymnasium of a Tulsa high school for the two productions. As stated in the Nov 1983 Box, a rehearsal cut of Rumble Fish was shot entirely on video before principal photography began. Filming took place during a two-week rehearsal period at the Tulsa gymnasium, with actors performing in front of a blue screen. While Coppola blocked each scene of the picture on video, music composer and performer Stewart Copeland was brought to rehearsals as a “rhythmic consultant,” according to the May 1984 edition of Rock World. Copeland, an admirer of Coppola, wished to expand his role in the picture and offered to punch up the video demos with musical sound effects. Copeland told Rock World that he punctuated the film’s theme of “time running out” with aspects of musical time and mechanical instruments, looping the sounds of watches, jackhammer, printing presses, typewriters, and percussive instruments including timpani, bells, chimes, and a synthesizer. Instead of using drums for rhythm, Copeland created musical beats by overlapping and repeating sampled noises. According to Copeland, this type of crossover between music and sound design was new to American filmmaking at that time, and provided a contrast to standard orchestral compositions.
       As noted in the May 1984 AmCin, Coppola used black and white film in Rumble Fish to create atmosphere in the same way he used over-saturated color in One from the Heart – a “look” which production designer Dean Tavoularis described as “not unreal, but not quite real, either… a look that was impressionistic and sometimes even surreal.” According to director of photography Stephen H. Burum, visual inspiration for the film included F. W. Murnau’s German film The Last Laugh (1925), Orson Welles’s Macbeth (1948, see entry), and Johnny Belinda (1948, see entry), as well as Decision Before Dawn and Viva Zapata! (1952, see entries). Studying these pictures, Burum selected short lenses to create greater intimacy with the action, using mostly 25mm, with 35mm for close-ups and 18mm for shots with forced perspective. A 9.8mm lens was also used for “high, raking” shots with exaggerated perspectives. In keeping with source material, Rumble Fish was shot on Eastman Plus-X black and white film for exteriors, and XX black and white film for interiors and night scenes. Contrast was enhanced by painting shadows on the backgrounds instead of manipulating light sources, and shadows were placed at forced and unnatural angles to accentuate “uneasiness, that something is a little bit off from reality.” The near-death sequence in which Rusty James rises out of his body and levitates over the city was not an added effect during post-production, but rather created during the shoot with “50/50 front-surface mirrors.” The filmmakers used a dimmer to bring up one image as the other disappeared. Matt Dillon, in the role of Rusty James, was rigged to a body mold attached to an articulated arm that controlled his movement, and he was “flown” above the set with wires.
       Although the film is black and white, there are several scenes that incorporate color elements: the pet shop sequence in which the Motorcycle Boy is mesmerized by the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens), or “Rumble Fish,” which are depicted in color, and the scene of Motorcycle Boy’s murder, which is accented with flashing red lights. Fish also appear in color at the beginning of the picture. Explaining that Motorcycle Boy was color blind, and that black and white was his natural way of seeing the world, Burum stated that color film was used to indicate the character’s breaks from reality, and an “emotional schism” in both the Motorcycle Boy and Rusty James. The colored fish effect was created by filming the main action in black and white, then projecting the footage on a rear projection screen. Placing the Betta fish in front of the black and white projection, the scene was shot again in color. Release prints were hand-assembled to accommodate the color inserts.
       According to Box, Coppola included a take in the final cut that was damaged by the lab, and it can be viewed in the picture with sprocket marks on one side.
       Coppola’s daughter, Sofia Coppola, made uncredited appearances as a baby in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, but she was first listed onscreen by the alias “Domino” for her roles in The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Sofia Coppola, as “Domino,” receives an “introducing” credit in Rumble Fish, even though the film was released after The Outsiders. Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married (1986, see entry) marked the first time Sofia Coppola was credited onscreen under her real name.
       In the print viewed for this entry, Coppola is listed “Francis Ford Coppola” for his director credit, but “Francis Coppola” for executive producer and screenwriter.
       End credits conclude with: “This film is dedicated to my older brother, August Coppola, my first and best teacher.”
       End credits include the following acknowledgments: “The producers wish to gratefully thank: The citizens and businesses of Tulsa and Sapulpa, Oklahoma, for their patience, generosity, and kind assistance throughout the production of this motion picture,” and, “Special thanks: The Oklahoma Film Commission—Jim and Mary Nell Clark; Agamenmon Adrianos; Audiofidelity Enterprises, Inc.; Ben Breslauer; David Carrol; Alex Carter; Sean Daniel; Don Donigi; Roy Gardner; Hart Getzen; Herb Hower—Action Cycles; Barry Hirsch; Mayor Inhofe of Tulsa; David Korda; Bryce Marshall; Donna Martine; Cathy Masom, Chris Memke, Moody’s Jewelers of Tulsa; Debra Morrissette; Governor George Nigh of Oklahoma; Corky Overton; John Peters; Phil Radcliffe; Vic Ramos; Greg Sheldon; Richard Soames; Solow Glass Company of Tulsa; Robert Spiotta; Steve Starosta; Laura Kate Stevens; Steve Sutter; Everett Tippen; Jane Vickerilla; Wayne Wagner; and Mary Wilde.”
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
May 1984
pp. 52-26.
Box Office
Nov 1983
pp. 10-11.
Daily Variety
11 May 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 1983
p. 4, 13.
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 1983
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
7 Oct 1983
p. 10.
Rock World
May 1984.
---
Variety
12 May 1982
p. 445.
Variety
19 May 1982.
---
Variety
30 Jun 1982.
---
Variety
12 Oct 1983
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Francis Ford Coppola presents
A Universal release
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
First aid
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Lamp op
Lamp op
Lamp op
Key grip
Best boy
Dolly grip
Dolly grip
Grip
Dir of photog, Eff unit
Asst cam, Eff unit
Prod supv, Eff unit
Grip, Eff unit
Computer cam op, Eff unit
Computer cam eff, Eff unit
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
1st asst picture ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Graphic des
Set artist
Leadman
Set dressing coord
Set dresser
Set dresser
Prop master
Prop asst
Set painter
Const coord
Const foreman
Const foreman
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Women cost supv
MUSIC
Mus comp and performed by
Tempo ed
SOUND
Sd des
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Dial coach
Sd mixer
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd eff rec
Sd eff rec
Sd eff rec
ADR system
ADR system
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec visual eff
Spec visual eff
Title des
DANCE
Spec choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Zoetrope Studios casting
Extra casting
Extra casting
Prod coord
Asst to the prods
Prod auditor
Film finance representative
LA office coord
Auditor's asst
Loc mgr
Systems librarian
Secy to Mr. Coppola
Secy to Mr. Coppola
Systems eng, Electronic Cinema
Video eng, Electronic Cinema
Tech, Electronic Cinema
Tech, Electronic Cinema
Zoetrope Systems by
Scr supv
Teacher
Pool adv
Talent liaison
Prod aides
Prod aides
Prod aides
Prod aides
Student observer
Physical adv
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Projectionist
Loc catering
Loc catering
Loc catering
Loc catering
Craft service
Pub relations consultant
Press liaison
Post prod services
Process coord
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
COLOR PERSONNEL
Release prints by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton (New York, 1975).
AUTHOR
SONGS
Stewart Copeland performances, courtesy A&M Records
Queen Ida and Her Zydeco Band, courtesy Queen Ida
Stan Ridgeway vocal performance, courtesy IRS Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 October 1983
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival screening: 7 October 1983
New York opening: 9 October 1983
Los Angeles opening: 14 October 1983
Production Date:
12 June--fall 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Hot Weather Films
Copyright Date:
5 January 1984
Copyright Number:
PA193533
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Black & white with color sequences
Duration(in mins):
94
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27047
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Delinquent teenager Rusty James lives in the shadow of his esoteric and colorblind older brother, “The Motorcycle Boy,” whose illustrious gang leadership once helped defend the interests of neighborhood youths. Since the Motorcycle Boy’s reign, however, gangs have fallen out of fashion in favor of more solitary pastimes, particularly drug addiction. Renouncing his violent past, the Motorcycle Boy declared a truce, abandoned his post as gang “president,” and left town without revealing his destination. Rusty James misses his brother and the kindred spirit of gang life. He pushes his friends to revive street culture, but the boys are wary of Rusty James’s weak intellect and poor leadership skills. Hoping to inherit the Motorcycle Boy’s glory, Rusty James challenges a rival named Biff Wilcox to a fight and recruits his friends to join the “rumble,” despite their hesitation to break the gang truce. The night of the fight, Rusty James is preoccupied with Patty, his Catholic school girl friend, and arrives late to the contest, but he takes over the “rumble” to battle Biff single-handedly. As Rusty James is cheered by his friends, the Motorcycle Boy resurfaces unexpectedly and reminds the crowd about the gang treaty. Although the Motorcycle Boy’s soft-spoken voice has a calming effect on his disciples, Biff uses the lull to slash Rusty James’s belly with a shard of broken glass, and the Motorcycle Boy is forced to defend his brother. While Biff stumbles away in defeat, police Officer Patterson arrives at the scene and is vexed by the return of the Motorcycle Boy, whom he reviles as a menace. He vows to expel the Motorcycle Boy ... +


Delinquent teenager Rusty James lives in the shadow of his esoteric and colorblind older brother, “The Motorcycle Boy,” whose illustrious gang leadership once helped defend the interests of neighborhood youths. Since the Motorcycle Boy’s reign, however, gangs have fallen out of fashion in favor of more solitary pastimes, particularly drug addiction. Renouncing his violent past, the Motorcycle Boy declared a truce, abandoned his post as gang “president,” and left town without revealing his destination. Rusty James misses his brother and the kindred spirit of gang life. He pushes his friends to revive street culture, but the boys are wary of Rusty James’s weak intellect and poor leadership skills. Hoping to inherit the Motorcycle Boy’s glory, Rusty James challenges a rival named Biff Wilcox to a fight and recruits his friends to join the “rumble,” despite their hesitation to break the gang truce. The night of the fight, Rusty James is preoccupied with Patty, his Catholic school girl friend, and arrives late to the contest, but he takes over the “rumble” to battle Biff single-handedly. As Rusty James is cheered by his friends, the Motorcycle Boy resurfaces unexpectedly and reminds the crowd about the gang treaty. Although the Motorcycle Boy’s soft-spoken voice has a calming effect on his disciples, Biff uses the lull to slash Rusty James’s belly with a shard of broken glass, and the Motorcycle Boy is forced to defend his brother. While Biff stumbles away in defeat, police Officer Patterson arrives at the scene and is vexed by the return of the Motorcycle Boy, whom he reviles as a menace. He vows to expel the Motorcycle Boy from town once and for all. The Motorcycle Boy guides his bleeding brother back to their dilapidated apartment and douses the boy’s wound with vodka stashed away by their alcoholic father. When Rusty James inquires about his brother’s disappearance, the Motorcycle Boy reports that he spent the past several months in California, and regrets he was unable to see the ocean. Sometime later, Rusty James mends well enough to partake in a debaucherous evening with his friend Smokey. The boys break into a lake house with a group of young women, and Rusty James makes love with one of the girls. The next day, Rusty James is expelled from high school and deserted by his girl friend, Patty, who is outraged to learn about her lover’s lake house escapade. Dejected, Rusty James invites the Motorcycle Boy for a walk across the river that separates gritty urban life from the middle class. As the Motorcycle Boy wanders into the city, Rusty James trails his brother’s footsteps and is joined by his awkward, book-smart childhood friend, Steve, who does not fit the mold of a gangster but stays true to Rusty James nevertheless. Along the way, the Motorcycle Boy stops to remember his youth, and reveals he was not always colorblind. His vision changed at around six years of age, when Rusty James was just a two-year-old. At that time, their mother divided the family, moving away from home with the young Motorcycle Boy while leaving toddler Rusty James behind. However, she was too unstable to care for the Motorcycle Boy and returned him to his father before disappearing for good. The Motorcycle Boy tells Rusty James that their mother’s actions resulted in their father’s alcoholism, and Rusty James’s separation anxiety. Referring to his recent trip to California, the Motorcycle Boy explains he saw their mother in the crowd of a television awards show, and went to Hollywood to find her. Delighted and repelled by the Motorcycle Boy’s quest to find their long-lost mother, Rusty James learns that she married a film producer and invited the Motorcycle Boy to live with her. Weaving his way through downtown crowds, the Motorcycle Boy leads Rusty James and Steve to a pool hall, and the boys become intoxicated while the Motorcycle Boy slips away. Alone in a dangerous part of town, Rusty James and Steve stumble back toward the river through a dark alley, where they are attacked by hoodlums. Rusty James is knocked unconscious, but the Motorcycle Boy comes to the rescue yet again. Sometime later, Rusty James recovers, only to learn that his crusade for neighborhood sovereignty is in peril. His friend, Smokey, orchestrated the lake house party to end Rusty James’s relationship with Patty, and to secure Patty’s affections for himself. Although Rusty James is dethroned by the ruse, he is impressed by Smokey’s ingenuity, and hates being outwitted. When Smokey reminds the boy that he will never be as competent as his brother, Rusty James searches town for the wayward Motorcycle Boy and finds him in a pet store, staring at brilliantly-colored “rumble fish.” The Motorcycle Boy explains the creatures are aggressive and must be kept in separate tanks to prevent them from killing each other. Holding a mirror to the aquarium glass, the Motorcycle Boy says the fish are incapable of recognizing their own reflections, and will battle their image as if it was an enemy. He insists the fish should be released into the river, since they will not fight outside captivity. Just then, Officer Patterson bullies the boys to leave the store, and Rusty James fears his brother is on the verge of a psychological breakdown. The boys walk through the night to a bar, where their father drunkenly explains that people with unusual perceptions of the world, such as their mother and the Motorcycle Boy, are not as crazy as they seem. Outside the tavern, the Motorcycle Boy steals a motorcycle and drives Rusty James back to the pet store. There, he breaks down the door and frees the animals. Rusty James begs his brother to take him under his wing and establish a new gang, but the Motorcycle Boy is intent on releasing the fish into the river. Apologizing to Rusty James for being a poor hero, the Motorcycle Boy orders his brother to leave town with the stolen motorcycle and follow the river to the ocean. Despite Rusty James’s protests, the Motorcycle Boy stumbles toward the river with the fish tank, but he is shot by Officer Patterson before reaching the water. Terrified, Rusty James races to his dead brother’s side, collects the scattered fish, and deposits them in the river, where they swim away without fighting. Although police detain Rusty James, Officer Patterson tells them to let the boy go and he runs away. As neighbors and friends gather at the riverside, Rusty James fulfills his brother’s last wish and drives to the ocean. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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