Following his piggy-bank-busting romantic musical One From The Heart, Francis Ford Coppola went back to basics in 1983 with two S.E. Hinton adaptations.
One was the ’60s teen-gang film The Outsiders, brimming with Brat Pack kids (Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise) and commercial appeal.
The other was Rumble Fish, importing Matt Dillon, Diane Lane and Tom Waits from its sister production to craft a lyrical black-and-white look at misspent, misunderstood youth.
If an art movie for teenagers might sound self-defeating, the result is a textbook cult classic that makes you wonder why Coppola didn’t scale back his productions more.
Not yet 20 when he shot it, Dillon gives a gutsy turn as Rusty James, a smalltown gangleader trying to live up to the rebellious rep of absent brother The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke).
It’s his red-raw emotions that anchor Coppola’s arty aesthetics (timelapse shots of rushing clouds, experimental score), giving weight to the story.
Crucified by US critics on release and booed by audiences at the New York Film Festival, Rumble Fish is, like its reputation, a slow-burner. But what’s not to love of a film where Chris Penn, Nic Cage and Laurence Fishburne – not to mention Dennis Hopper as Rusty’s alcoholic papa – join forces?
It may favour style over substance, bordering on pretentious, but it’s also an effortlessly cool pit stop in Coppola’s canon.