Of all the ‘movie brat’ generation, no other director captured my imagination more than Francis Ford Coppola. And back in my film school days that obsession was, more than any other film, inspired by his lyrical, personal, stylish 1983 teen melodrama Rumble Fish. Shot back-to-back right after the more successful (although, I find, slightly cloying) companion S. E. Hinton adaptation The Outsiders, Coppola showed his range by switching out the honey-hued magic hour glow of the former for a luminous, German Expressionist-inspired monochrome pallet – all the better to capture the stark Midwestern heat of the Tulsa, Oklahoma summer. Retaining some of his extraordinary young cast from The Outsiders – Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – as a young high school couple, she as concerned, high achieving girlfriend Patty, he as fiery, shiftless young gang leader Rusty James, and adds Mickey Rourke as Rusty’s near-mythical older brother The Motorcycle Boy, a philosophical, long-absent gang leader finally returned home.
The film’s unusual sound mix and beautiful black-and-white visuals are intended to take us into the headspace of The Motorcycle Boy, colour blind and suffering from hearing loss. He floats through the film, half-smiling to a joke only he seems to hear or understand, whispering non-sequitors and alternately fascinating and infuriating Rusty as the younger boy desperately tried to impress him. Coppola spoke eloquently about how his own hero worship of his older brother August inspired his take on the story – the film is dedicated to him.