Rumble Fish

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Rumble Fish
Rumble Fish.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced byFrancis Ford Coppola
Doug Claybourne
Fred Roos
Screenplay by S. E. Hinton
Francis Ford Coppola
Based on Rumble Fish
by S. E. Hinton
Music by Stewart Copeland
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Edited by Barry Malkin
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • October 8, 1983 (1983-10-08)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million
Box office$2,494,480 [1]

Rumble Fish is a 1983 American drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It is based on the novel Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

In film and television, drama is a genre of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular subgenre, such as "police crime drama", "political drama", "legal drama", "historical period drama", "domestic drama", or "comedy-drama". These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.

Francis Ford Coppola American film director and producer

Francis Ford Coppola is an American film director, producer, screenwriter and film composer. He was a central figure in the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking.

<i>Rumble Fish</i> (novel) novel by S. E. Hinton

Rumble Fish is a 1975 novel for young adults by S. E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders. It was adapted to film and directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1983.


The film centers on the relationship between a character called the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a revered former gang leader wishing to live a more peaceful life, and his younger brother, Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a teenaged hoodlum who aspires to become as feared as the Motorcycle Boy.

Mickey Rourke American actor

Philip Andre "Mickey" Rourke Jr., is an American actor, screenwriter, and former boxer, who has appeared primarily as a leading man in drama, action, and thriller films.

Matt Dillon American actor

Matthew Raymond Dillon is an American actor and film director. He made his feature film debut in Over the Edge (1979) and established himself as a teen idol by starring in the films My Bodyguard (1980), Little Darlings (1980), Tex (1982), Rumble Fish (1983), The Outsiders (1983) and The Flamingo Kid (1984). From the late 1980s onward, Dillon achieved further success, starring in Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Singles (1992), The Saint of Fort Washington (1993), To Die For (1995), Beautiful Girls (1996), In & Out (1997), There's Something About Mary (1998), and Wild Things (1998). In a 1991 article, famed movie critic Roger Ebert referred to him as the best actor within his age group, along with Sean Penn.

Coppola wrote the screenplay for the film with Hinton on his days off from shooting The Outsiders . He made the films back to back, retaining much of the same cast and crew. The film is notable for its avant-garde style with a film noir feel, shot on stark high-contrast black-and-white film, using the spherical cinematographic process with allusions to French New Wave cinema and German Expressionism. Rumble Fish features an experimental score by Stewart Copeland, drummer of the musical group the Police, who used a Musync, a new device at the time. [2]

<i>The Outsiders</i> (film) 1983 drama film from the United States by Francis Ford Coppola

The Outsiders is a 1983 American coming-of-age drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, an adaptation of the 1967 novel of the same name by S. E. Hinton. The film was released on March 25, 1983. Jo Ellen Misakian, a librarian at Lone Star Elementary School in Fresno, California, and her students were responsible for inspiring Coppola to make the film.

Avant-garde works that are experimental or innovative

The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.

Film noir film genre

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1920s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.


Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the film begins in a diner called Bennys Billiards, where local tough guy Rusty James is told by Midget that rival group leader Biff Wilcox wants to meet him that night in an abandoned garage lot for a fight. Accepting the challenge, Rusty James then talks with his friends — the wily Smokey, loyal B.J., and tall, nerdy Steve - who all have a different take on the forthcoming fight. Steve mentions that Rusty James' older brother, "The Motorcycle Boy," would not be pleased with the fight as he had previously created a truce forbidding gang fights, or "rumbles." Rusty James dismisses him, saying that the Motorcycle Boy (whose real name is never revealed) has been gone for two months, leaving without explanation or promise of return.

Tulsa, Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, United States

Tulsa is the second-largest city in the state of Oklahoma and 45th-most populous city in the United States. As of July 2016, the population was 413,505, an increase of 12,591 over that reported in the 2010 Census. It is the principal municipality of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area, a region with 991,005 residents in the MSA and 1,251,172 in the CSA. The city serves as the county seat of Tulsa County, the most densely populated county in Oklahoma, with urban development extending into Osage, Rogers, and Wagoner counties.

Rusty James visits his girlfriend, Patty, then rendezvous with his cadre and walks to the abandoned garage lot, where Biff and his buddies suddenly appear. The two battle, with the fight ending when Rusty James disarms Biff and beats him almost unconscious. The Motorcycle Boy arrives dramatically on his motorcycle and his appearance distracts Rusty James who is slashed by Biff in the side with a shard of glass. Incensed, the Motorcycle Boy sends his motorcycle flying into Biff. The Motorcycle Boy and Steve take Rusty James home (past Officer Patterson, a street cop who's long had it in for the Motorcycle Boy) and nurse him to health through the night. Steve and the injured Rusty James talk about how the Motorcycle Boy is 21 years old, colorblind, partially deaf, and noticeably aloof — the last trait causing many to believe he is insane.

The Motorcycle Boy and Rusty James share the next evening with their alcoholic, welfare-dependent father, who says that the Motorcycle Boy takes after his mother whereas, it is implied, Rusty James takes after him. Things start to go wrong for Rusty James: he's kicked out of school after his frequent fights. Despite Rusty James's desire to resume gang activity, the Motorcycle Boy implies that he has no interest in doing so. Rusty James has sex with another girl and Patty rejects him.

The two brothers and Steve head across the river one night to a strip of bars, where Rusty James enjoys briefly forgetting his troubles. The Motorcycle Boy mentions that he located their long-lost mother during his recent trip while she was with a movie producer, which took him to California although he did not reach the ocean. Later, Steve and Rusty James wander drunkenly home, and are attacked by thugs, but both are saved by the Motorcycle Boy. As he nurses Rusty James again, the Motorcycle Boy tells him that the gang life and the rumbles he yearns for and idolizes are not what he believes them to be. Steve calls the Motorcycle Boy crazy, a claim which the Motorcycle Boy does not deny — further prompting Rusty James to believe his brother is insane, just like his runaway mother supposedly was.

Rusty James meets up with the Motorcycle Boy the next day in a pet store, where the latter is strangely fascinated with the Siamese fighting fish, which he refers to as "rumble fish." Officer Patterson suspects they will try to rob the store. The brothers leave and meet their father, who explains to Rusty James that, contrary to popular belief, neither his mother nor brother are crazy, but rather they were both born with an acute perception. The brothers go for a motorcycle ride through the city and arrive at the Pet Store where the Motorcycle Boy breaks in and starts to set the animals loose. Rusty James makes a last-gasp effort to convince his brother to reunite with him, but the Motorcycle Boy refuses, explaining that the differences between them are too great for them to ever have the life Rusty James speaks of. The Motorcycle Boy takes the fish and rushes to free them in the river, but is shot by Officer Patterson before he can. Rusty James, after hearing the gunshot, finishes his brother's last attempt while a large crowd of people converges on his body.

Siamese fighting fish species of fish

The Siamese fighting fish, also known as the betta, is a popular fish in the aquarium trade. Bettas are a member of the gourami family and are known to be highly territorial. Males in particular are prone to high levels of aggression and will attack each other if housed in the same tank. If there is no means of escape, this will usually result in the death of one or both of the fish. Female bettas can also become territorial towards each other if they are housed in too small an aquarium. It is typically not recommended to keep male and female bettas together, except temporarily for breeding purposes which should always be undertaken with caution.

Rusty James finally reaches the Pacific Ocean (something the Motorcycle Boy failed to do) and enjoys the shining sun and flocks of birds flying around the beach.


Diane Lane film actress

Diane Colleen Lane is an American actress. Born and raised in New York City, Lane made her screen debut in George Roy Hill's 1979 film A Little Romance.

Dennis Hopper American actor and film director

Dennis Lee Hopper was an American actor, director, writer, film editor, photographer and artist. He attended the Actors Studio, made his first television appearance in 1954, and soon after appeared alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956). In the next ten years he made a name in television, and by the end of the 1960s had appeared in several films. Hopper also began a prolific and acclaimed photography career in the 1960s.

Diana Elizabeth Scarwid is an American actress. She is best known for her portrayal of Christina Crawford in the cult classic Mommie Dearest (1981). She earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the 1980 film Inside Moves, and an Emmy Award nomination for her work in the television film Truman (1995).


Francis Ford 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. [3] A dedication to August appears as the film's final end credit. The director said that he "started to use Rumble Fish as my carrot for what I promised myself when I finished The Outsiders ". [4] Halfway through the production of The Outsiders, Coppola decided that he wanted to retain the same production team, stay in Tulsa, and shoot Rumble Fish right after The Outsiders. He wrote the screenplay for Rumble Fish with Hinton on Sundays, their day off from shooting The Outsiders. [3] During rehearsals, Dillon got used to the adult-like acting behavior and situations after having been in The Outsiders. Dillon and Rourke developed a friendship when filming, getting used to their interesting, mischievous characters.


Warner Bros. was not happy with an early cut of The Outsiders and passed on distributing Rumble Fish. [5] Despite the lack of financing in place, Coppola completely recorded the film on video during two weeks of rehearsals in a former school gymnasium and afterwards was able to show the cast and crew a rough draft of the film. [6] To get Rourke into the mindset of his character, Coppola gave him books written by Albert Camus and a biography of Napoleon. [7] The Motorcycle Boy's look was patterned after Camus complete with trademark cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth — taken from a photograph of the author that Rourke used as a visual handle. [8] Rourke remembers that he approached his character as "an actor who no longer finds his work interesting". [5]

Coppola hired Michael Smuin, a choreographer and co-director of the San Francisco Ballet, to stage the fight scene between Rusty James and Biff Wilcox because he liked the way he choreographed violence. [6] He asked Smuin to include specific visual elements: a motorcycle, broken glass, knives, gushing water and blood. The choreographer spent a week designing the sequence. Smuin also staged the street dance between Rourke and Diana Scarwid, modeling it after one in Picnic featuring William Holden and Kim Novak. [6]

Before filming started, Coppola ran regular screenings of old films during the evenings to familiarize the cast and in particular, the crew with his visual concept for Rumble Fish. [6] Most notably, Coppola showed Anatole Litvak's Decision Before Dawn , the inspiration for the film's smoky look, F. W. Murnau's The Last Laugh to show Matt Dillon how silent actor Emil Jennings used body language to convey emotions, and Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , which became Rumble Fish's "stylistic prototype". [6] Coppola's extensive use of shadows, oblique angles, exaggerated compositions, and an abundance of smoke and fog are all hallmarks of these German Expressionist films. Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi , shot mainly in time-lapse photography, motivated Coppola to use this technique to animate the sky in his own film. [6]

Principal photography

Six weeks into production, Coppola made a deal with Universal Studios and principal photography began on July 12, 1982 with the director declaring, "Rumble Fish will be to The Outsiders what Apocalypse Now was to The Godfather ." [8] He shot in deserted areas at the edge of Tulsa with many scenes captured via a hand-held camera in order to make the audience feel uneasy. He also had shadows painted on the walls of the sets to make them look ominous. [9] In the dream sequence where Rusty James floats outside of his body Matt Dillon wore a body mold which was moved by an articulated arm and also flown on wires. [10]

To mix the black-and-white footage of Rusty James and the Motorcycle Boy in the pet store looking at the Siamese fighting fish in color, Burum shot the actors in black and white and then projected that footage on a rear projection screen. They put the fish tank in front of it with the tropical fish and shot it all with color film. [11] Filming finished by mid-September 1982, on schedule and on budget. [9]

The film is notable for its avant-garde style, shot on stark high-contrast black-and-white film, using the spherical cinematographic process with allusions to French New Wave cinema. The striking black-and-white photography of the film's cinematographer, Stephen H. Burum, lies in two main sources: the films of Orson Welles and German cinema of the 1920s. [12] When the film was in its pre-production phase, Coppola asked Burum how he wanted to film it and they agreed that it might be the only chance they were ever going to have to make a black-and-white film. [10]


Rumble Fish (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedNovember 8, 1983
Genre Soundtrack
Label A&M
Producer Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland chronology
Klark Kent (as Klark Kent)
Rumble Fish (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
The Rhythmatist
Singles from Rumble Fish (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  1. "Don't Box Me In"
    Released: 1983

Coppola envisioned a largely experimental score to complement his images. [13] He began to devise a mainly percussive soundtrack to symbolize the idea of time running out. As Coppola worked on it, he realized that he needed help from a professional musician. He asked Stewart Copeland, then drummer of the musical group The Police, to improvise a rhythm track. Coppola soon concluded that Copeland was a far superior composer and let him take over. [13] Copeland recorded street sounds of Tulsa and mixed them into the soundtrack with the use of Musync—a music and tempo editing hardware and software system invented by Robert Randles (subsequently nominated for an Oscar for Scientific Achievement), to modify the tempo of his compositions and synchronize them with the action in the film. [14] [13]

An edited version of the song "Don't Box Me In", a collaboration between Copeland and singer/songwriter Stan Ridgway, was released as a single and enjoyed significant radio airplay.

All songs written by Stewart Copeland, except where noted.

  1. "Don't Box Me In" (Copeland, Stan Ridgway) – 4:40
  2. "Tulsa Tango" – 3:42
  3. "Our Mother Is Alive" – 4:16
  4. "Party at Someone Else's Place" – 2:25
  5. "Biff Gets Stomped by Rusty James" – 2:27
  6. "Brothers on Wheels" – 4:20
  7. "West Tulsa Story" – 3:59
  8. "Tulsa Rags" – 1:39
  9. "Father on the Stairs" – 3:01
  10. "Hostile Bridge to Benny's" – 1:53
  11. "Your Mother Is Not Crazy" – 2:48
  12. "Personal Midget/Cain's Ballroom" – 5:55
  13. "Motorboy's Fate" – 2:03

Differences from the novel

Coppola did not employ the flashback structure of the novel. [15] He also removed a few passages from the novel that further established Steve and Rusty James' relationship in order to focus more on the brothers' relationship.


The theme of time passing faster than the characters realize is conveyed through time-lapse photography of clouds racing across the sky and numerous shots of clocks. The black-and-white photography was meant to convey the Motorcycle Boy's color blindness while also evoking film noir through frequent use of oblique angles, exaggerated compositions, dark alleys, and foggy streets. [17]


At Rumble Fish's world premiere at the New York Film Festival, there were several walkouts and at the end of the screening, boos and catcalls. [18] Former head of production at Paramount Pictures Michael Daly remembers legendary producer Robert Evans' reaction to Coppola's film, "Evans went to see Rumble Fish, and he remembers being shaken by how far Coppola had strayed from Hollywood. Evans says, 'I was scared. I couldn't understand any of it.'" [4]

At the San Sebastián International Film Festival, it won the International Critics' Big Award. The movie was a box office disaster on initial release, grossing only $2.5 million domestically; [1] its estimated budget was $10 million; a large sum for the time. Coppola utilized many new filmmaking techniques never before used in the production of a motion picture. The film polarized critics, some mainstream reviewers enjoying it, while others disliked Coppola's film, criticizing Coppola's style over substance approach. The film has since grown in esteem and is held in high regard by many film fans.

Rumble Fish was released on October 8, 1983 and grossed $18,985 on its opening weekend, playing in only one theater. Its widest release was in 296 theaters and it finally grossed $2.5 million domestically. [19]

Critical response

Rumble Fish was not well received by most mainstream critics upon its initial release, receiving nine negative reviews in New York City, mostly from broadcast media and newspapers with harsh reviews by David Denby in New York and Andrew Sarris in The Village Voice . [20] In her review for The New York Times , Janet Maslin wrote that "the film is so furiously overloaded, so crammed with extravagant touches, that any hint of a central thread is obscured". [21] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars and wrote, "I thought Rumble Fish was offbeat, daring, and utterly original. Who but Coppola could make this film? And, of course, who but Coppola would want to?" [22] Gary Arnold in The Washington Post wrote, "It's virtually impossible to be drawn into the characters' identities and conflicts at even an introductory, rudimentary level, and the rackety distraction of an obtrusive experimental score ... frequently makes it impossible to comprehend mere dialogue". [23] Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "In one sense, then, Rumble Fish is Coppola's professional suicide note to the movie industry, a warning against employing him to find the golden gross. No doubt: this is his most baroque and self-indulgent film. It may also be his bravest." [24]

Jay Scott wrote one of the few positive reviews for the film in The Globe and Mail . "Francis Coppola, bless his theatrical soul, may have the commercial sense of a newt, but he has the heart of a revolutionary, and the talent of a great artist." [25] Jack Kroll also gave a rare rave in his review for Newsweek : "Rumble Fish is a brilliant tone poem ... Rourke's Motorcycle Boy is really a young god with a mortal wound, a slippery assignment Rourke handles with a fierce delicacy." [26] . David Thomson has written that Rumble Fish is "maybe the most satisfying film Coppola made after Apocalypse Now ". [27]

Rumble Fish currently holds a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews and a 63 metascore on Metacritic . [28] [29]

Despite mixed reviews, Rumble Fish won the highest prize in the 32nd San Sebastián International Film Festival, the International Critics' Big Award. [30]

Home media

The film was first released on VHS in 1984 and on DVD on September 9, 1998 with no extra material. A special edition was released on September 13, 2005 with an audio commentary by Coppola, six deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a look at how Copeland's score was created and the "Don't Box Me In" music video. In August 2012, The Masters of Cinema Series released a special Blu-ray edition of the film (and accompanying Steelbook edition) in the UK. In April 2017, the Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray and DVD.

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  1. 1 2 Rumble Fish at Box Office Mojo
  2. The 1980s device is not to be confused with the 21st-century music licensing company of the same name. "Stewart Copeland interview excerpt,". Rock World magazine. May 1984. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  3. 1 2 Chown 1988, p. 169.
  4. 1 2 Chown 1988, p. 168.
  5. 1 2 Goodwin 1989, p. 347.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Goodwin 1989, p. 349.
  7. Cowie 173.
  8. 1 2 Goodwin 1989, p. 350.
  9. 1 2 Goodwin 1989, p. 351.
  10. 1 2 Reveaux, Anthony (May 1984). "Stephen H. Burum, ASC and Rumble Fish". American Cinematographer. p. 53.
  11. Reveaux May 1984, p. 56.
  12. Cowie 171.
  13. 1 2 3 Goodwin 1989, p. 348.
  14. ASC 1982.
  15. Chown 1988, p. 171.
  16. Chown 1988, p. 172.
  17. Chown 1988, p. 170.
  18. Scott, "Loving, Ferocious Depiction of Teen Angst," E7.
  19. "Rumble Fish". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  20. Chown 1988, p. 167.
  21. Maslin, Janet (October 7, 1983). "Matt Dillon is Coppola's Rumble Fish". The New York Times .
  22. Ebert, Roger (August 26, 1983). "Rumble Fish". Chicago Sun-Times . Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  23. Arnold, Gary (October 18, 1983). "Bungled Rumble". Washington Post . pp. D3.
  24. Corliss, Richard (October 24, 1983). "Time Bomb". Time . Retrieved 2009-02-18.
  25. Scott, Jay (October 14, 1983). "Loving, Ferocious Depiction of Teen Angst". The Globe and Mail . pp. E7.
  26. Kroll, Jack (November 7, 1983). "Coppola's Teen-Age Inferno". Newsweek . p. 128.
  27. Thomson, David (2008). "Have You Seen . . . ?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. Knopf. p. 743. ISBN   978-0-307-26461-9. I don't mean to overpraise Rumble Fish, but I think it is a haunting evocation of teenage years and maybe the most satisfying film Coppola made after Apocalypse Now.
  29. and a 63 metascore on Metacritic
  30. "Archive of awards, juries and posters". San Sebastian International Film Festival . 1984. Retrieved 2008-12-30.

Further reading