Rumble Fish is a 1983 film directed, produced and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola. It is based on the novel Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film centers on the relationship between the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a revered former gang leader, and his younger brother, Rusty James (Matt Dillon), who can’t live up to his brother’s great reputation, nor can his brother live it down.

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, 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.

Rumble Fish was booed when it debuted at the New York Film Festival. It took part in the San Sebastian International Film Festival, where it won the International Critics’ Big Award. It went on to gross only $2.5 million domestically, well below its estimated $10 million budget. Most mainstream reviewers reacted negatively to Coppola’s film, criticizing its overt style and lack of characterization.

[edit] Development

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 one between Coppola and his brother, August.[1] 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“.[2] 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.[1]

[edit] Pre-production

Warner Brothers was not happy with an early cut of The Outsiders and passed on distributing Rumble Fish.[3] 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.[4] To get Rourke into the mindset of his character, Coppola gave him books written by Albert Camus and a biography of Napoleon.[5] 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.[6] Rourke remembers that he approached his character as “an actor who no longer finds his work interesting”.[3]

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.[4] 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.[4]

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.[4] 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”.[4] 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.[4]

[edit] Principal photography

Six weeks into production, Coppola made a deal with Universal Pictures 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] Filming finished by mid-September 1982, on schedule and on budget.[7]

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.[10] 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.[

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumble_Fish

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