Back Seat Producers Season 07 Shows

BSP Episode 216: Rumble Fish

1st in this series of four Modern Black & White movies

Release date: 10/8/83

Universal Pictures

Directed by:

Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay by:

S. E. Hinton

Francis Ford Coppola

Based on the novel Rumble Fish, by S. E. Hinton

Produced by:

Francis Ford Coppola

Doug Claybourne

Fred Roos



Matt Dillon                 Rusty James

Mickey Rourke           Motorcycle Boy

Diane Lana                  Patty

Dennis Hopper            Father


Initial comments by the hosts:

Tony wasn’t sure what to expect, as he went into watching this movie with an expectation of seeing something more akin to The Outsiders, but by the end he really liked the whole presentation.  Darrell thought it was a pretty good movie but thought that; overall, the plot was convoluted.  You had to carefully pay attention to get everything out of it.  Tony also added to that by bringing up the how the score was part of the story; when the dialogue really didn’t matter much, the score rose.  The music showed you that hearing what they’re saying isn’t necessarily the most important part right now, and you needed to focus on what’s on the screen instead.

Jill loved this movie and said it is one of her all-time favorite Coppola movies.  There is so much going on, visually, there’s so much complexity, that you can (and should) go back and find things you didn’t notice the first time.

They discussed the use of black and white and what the meanings behind it might be, as there are numerous uses.  Is it primarily because Motorcycle Boy has not been able to see color since he was a child, or is it because, once you strip the color away, once you take away the “distractions” of color, you only see the contrasts because everything becomes sharper?  Even though it’s black & white, the story is shades of gray.  The only colors you ever see in the film are the red and blue rumble fish in the pet store and Rusty’s reflection in the police car at the end.

Jill mentioned that Coppola refers to Rumble Fish as his “carrot” for finishing The Outsiders.

Darrell added that Coppola wrote this screenplay on the Sunday he had off while doing the Outsiders.  He also used a lot of the same cast and crew, and filmed it right after The Outsiders was finished.

Everyone agreed that Mickey Rourke and Dennis Hopper were amazing.  Jill and Tony agreed that the scene with Hopper, Rourke and Dillon in the bar was one of their favorite scenes.  Jill also loved Tom Waits’ character.

Mickey Rourke reminded the hosts of Marlon Brando in the way he portrayed Motorcycle Boy.  He seemed distracted in the way he delivered his lines.  Rourke said that he approached the character as if he was “an actor who no longer finds his work interesting.” Darrell classified it as a gangster who just doesn’t want to be a gangster anymore; who’s outlived the reputation and realizes how stupid it all is.  Motorcycle Boy is also still very child-like, even though the character is said to be 21.  The cut of his hair, his level of play when he steals his father’s whiskey bottle, his laughter, the hugging scene on the mattress with his dad and brother; all still boy-like qualities.

Jill thought Matt Dillon did a really good job of showing pain without looking weak and showing angst without going over the top.  He reminded her of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, in the slow flow of his lines, and how it worked for Rusty James’ character.

The first rumble scene reminded Tony of “Beat It” and Jill of “West Side Story” in that it was such a theatrical scene.  Darrell thought the whole rumble scene was designed to look like a stage.  The boys are playing roles, they’re not being true to themselves and they’re playing at being 1950’s-esque gang members.  The movie is also designed to not let you know exactly when it’s taking place until you later get to the scene where someone is playing a video game and you hear the Pac Man music… and Diane Lane’s big 80’s hair!

Rusty James created a fictional life memory in that he’s still admiring the yesteryear gang brotherhood and he longs for the time “when the gangs come back,” as if that was the Golden Age.  He has an idealized vision of his older brother and what he did and that’s where the myth, in his mind, is born from.  Darrell talked about how everybody talks over Rusty’s head and he can’t make the connections to what is all means.  This added to the tension between him and his father and his brother, because they always seem to be talking “around” him and he’s sitting on the outside wondering what’s going on.

Tony said that the one scene that really drew him into the movie is the one in which Rusty James is beaten up in the alley way and then has an out of body experience and floats above everything.  This is where he had to reevaluate what the movie was saying.  It’s such a bizarre departure; it doesn’t fit with anything else that happens in the movie.  He stopped thinking about the linear story because it’s not as literal as what they’re putting up on the screen.  Nothing is being fed to the viewer; you have to look for your own answers.  Darrell commented that this is the driving force behind why Motorcycle Boy left Tulsa years earlier, to find his own answers.  Rusty James keeps saying that if he can just get out of here, things will change, but he’s so attached to the myth of his brother, gangs and his own fear, he doesn’t want to leave the world he knows.

Motorcycle Boy knows that he failed at his intended goal, although we never find out what that goal is or why he failed.  He only says that, “California got in the way.”  In the pet store scene, you realize that Motorcycle Boy knows he’s going to die, and he uses this to try to “force” Rusty James to be free.  He tells his brother to take his bike and go to the ocean; leave this place, find your own life.  Rusty James had previously said that he never had a reason to leave, and now his brother is giving him that reason.  Darrell didn’t care much for the scene as a whole, he thought the tension was a bit too “weird,” and he just didn’t like the way they put it together.  He understood that the scene was critical, but it wasn’t to his liking.

Time flow is a very key part of the story; there’s a clock in every scene, the lengthening shadows, moving clouds, ticking of clocks. Clouds crossing over through the pet shop window is an image that is burned into Jill’s head, from seeing it in the theater when she was younger.

It’s also agreed that one of the things that Coppola and Hinton do very well (Rumble Fish and The Outsiders) is to show the intimacy of male bonding and love between brothers.  It’s not something you see very often, but it’s handled very well in this film.

Francis Ford Coppola has said that Rumble Fish is one of his top five favorite films of his own.

Coppola was drawn to S.E. Hinton’s novel Rumble Fish because of the strong personal identification he had with the subject matter – a younger brother who hero-worships an older, intellectually superior brother, which mirrored the relationship between Coppola and his brother, August.  A dedication to August appears as the film’s final end credit.

Coppola initially intended to have an experimental score to complement his images.  As he began to work on it, he realized that he needed help from a professional musician… enter Stewart Copeland (The Police), who he asked to improvise a rhythm track.  It wasn’t long before Coppola let the far superior composer take over the soundtrack.  Copeland recorded street sounds of Tulsa and mixed them into the soundtrack with the use of a Musync, a new device at the time, that recorded film, frame by frame on videotape with the image on top, the dialogue in the middle, and the musical staves on the bottom so that it matched the images perfectly.

Your Producers for this episode were:

  • Tony
  • Darrell
  • Jill

This episode was recorded: 1/25/2012