Plot: What’s it about?
Rusty James (Matt Dillon) tries to live up to the reputation of his older brother, but filling those boots isn’t as simple as it sounds. He is the leader of a local gang in a poor industrial town, not the kind of turf most gangs would covet in the first place. When his brother The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) was the leader, his power was well known and his rule was definitive. But he has been gone for months now, so Rusty has tried to step up, but things are different now. Rusty doesn’t just see his brother as his brother, he sees him as his hero and he wants to find his own place on that level. A “no rumble” treaty is in place thanks to his brother, but Rusty violates that pact and gets violent with a rival gang member. When The Motorcycle Boy returns, he has to teach his brother some lessons, as well as learn some himself.
The films of Francis Ford Coppola have, on the whole, garnered much acclaim, but not all of his work has been well received. In the case of Rumble Fish, the film was booed by the audience at its premiere and was treated to a host of blistering critical coverage. I think the backlash was due in part to how experimental the film in some ways, which I happen to like. We see so much of the same stuff in movies, it is good to see someone try a new approach, which is what we have here. The film is shot in black & white, in order for us to see the world as it is seen through a character’s eyes. This is a bold move and one that I think works well, since you have to walk in someone’s boots, so to speak, to understand their perspective. I don’t think Rumble Fish is a great movie, but it has great style and deserves a better reputation.
Video: How does it look?
As anyone who has seen this can attest, this is a very unique-looking film and certainly one of Coppola’s more “artistic” choices when it comes to how it’s presented. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image has been given a new 4K re-master which was supervised by Coppola (among others) during the process. We know what to expect when it comes to Criterion and their visual efforts, and that remains true with Rumble Fish. Presented in black and white (with some spots of color), this film simply looks gorgeous in every sense of the word. Blacks are rich and dark, shadows seem very well-defined, detail has been enhanced and sharpened and the film, though grain still persists, has a more smooth quality and texture about it. Having last seen this film on DVD some time ago, the resulting image of this Blu-ray is a marvel indeed.
Audio: How does it sound?
Two main mixes are present here – the first being a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 mix and an accompanying 5.1 mix as well. The surrounds add depth to the environment, especially in more active scenes, but also in the lower key sequences. This soundtrack isn’t about power, but when the material needs a boost, this track can more than provide that. But the sound is natural for the most part, so the audio rarely comes off as thin or forced. The film does have some stylistic traits in terms of audio, so if you notice some quirks, rest assured, they are intentional. This disc also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Interviews – The primary influencers in and around the film discuss their involvement in the film.
- Francis Ford Coppola – Francis Ford Coppola discusses the visual look and feel of the film as well as the plot and structure. He also tells us of the technology and how it affected the look of Rumble Fish.
- S.E. Hinton – Author S.E. Hinton discusses the idea of the book (and subsequent film) as well as some anecdotes about Matt Dillon’s casting.
- Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – Another new interview features Matt Dillon and Diane Lane as they discuss their characters, working with Coppola and the rigorous shooting schedule.
- Stephen H. Burum and Dean Tavoularis – Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and production designer Dean Tavoularis give us the lowdown on the shoot, some of the artistic choices in the the film and some of the influences that prodded these choices.
- Roman Coppola – Associate producer Roman Coppola talks of some things about the film, working with his father and a few other eccentricities during the filming.
- “Mickey Rourke, California, February 1984” – The French TV program Cinema cinemas features Mickey Rourke as he discusses working with Francis Ford Coppola. Originally broadcast on March 7, 1984.
- City Lights – If you want to see how much they’ve aged, we get some archived interviews with stars Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, and Vincent Spano, and producer Doug Claybourne.
- Audio Commentary – A very candid and personal audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola starts us off, as he talks about how and why the movie was created. Coppola admits this is perhaps his favorite of his own films, because it was a personal project, one very close to his own heart. He spends a lot of time on the cast and the score also, so he covers a lot of ground in this session. This is the same track that was present on the Universal DVD.
- Theatrical Trailer
- On Location in Tulsa – From a 2005 documentary, this features some of the pre-production footage and a look around Tulsa.
- Rumble Fish: The Percussion-Based Score – Along the same lines as the above feature, composer Stewart Copeland, Francis Ford Coppola, and sound designer and mixer Richard Beggs discuss the film’s soundtrack.
- Locations: Looking for Rusty James – Chilean filmmaker Alberto Fuguet (Invierno, Velódromo) traveled to Tulsa where the film was shot and produced a documentary about the impact the movie had on his life.
- Back in Tulsa
- First screenings
- The effect of film
- Shaping lives
- Important movies
- Deleted Scenes – Six total, each with a new introduction by Francis Ford Coppola.
- “Face the Fact”
- “Is Your Mother Dying?”
- Stealing Hubcaps
- Feelings and Ideas
- “Write the End”
- Princess of Troy
- Camus for Kids – Film historian Rodney F. Hill takes a look at the work of Coppola and in particular some of the artistic and visual choices he made with this film.
- “Don’t Box Me In” – A video for the film features composer Stewart Copeland and vocalist Stan Ridgway.
- Leaflet – Critic Glenn Kenny’s contribution in leaflet form for the film.
The Bottom Line
Rumble Fish was widely chastised by critics and audiences when it debuted in the early 80’s. But time has been good to this film and if you look at the cast, many of the stars are still working today. It’s visual style is one that I happen to like and thought I feel the film itself isn’t the best (I prefer The Outsiders if you’re talking about the S.E. Hinton films), it’s held up well. As usual, Criterion’s treatment of the disc is second to none, so if you are a fan – you’re in for a treat.