Francis Ford Coppola described Rumble Fish (1983), his screen adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s young adult novel, as “an art film for teenagers.” He shot it right after making The Outsiders (1982), also adapted from a Hinton novel, but where that was a lush, operatic tale, Coppola made Rumble Fish in stylized black and white, like a teen noir seen through the eyes of a kid who has mythologized the idea of street gang chivalry to the point that he can’t see the reality through the idealization.
Matt Dillon is teenage tough guy Rusty James, a good looking, recklessly charming high school kid in the shadow of his brother The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), trying to live up to a reputation that his brother wants only to live down. He’s an aspiring juvenile delinquent with a boozer dad (Dennis Hopper) and a nice girlfriend, Patty (Diane Lane), who attends Catholic School across town. Rusty James (always the two names, like a brand) is, of course, from the wrong side of the tracks in the industrial grit of a Tulsa that time left behind and this culture of bars and boozer and packs of kids who imagine themselves as real gangs is steeped in its own mythology, or rather Rusty is steeped in the mythology that no one else seems to revere.
Film Chest launched its line of Blu-ray editions of public domain titles a couple of months ago with versions of The Stranger and Kansas City Confidential. This duo would have been a better launch. Whereas there already existed superior MGM editions of the first two on DVD (they are still better than the Blu-ray editions), this release of Francis Coppola’s Dementia 13 and Roger Corman’s The Terror on Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack is a definite improvement over the best existing editions I’d seen on the market.
Francis Coppola (before adding the Ford) shot Dementia 13 (1963), his first “official” feature, for Roger Corman in Ireland on $20,000 seed money, using finagled locations and underpaid actors (William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchell) to flesh out a Psycho knock-off about a of an axe-murderer in an Irish castle (he reportedly wrote the script in three nights!). It’s a bit murky, to be sure, but in the best Corman tradition Coppola creates some stunning images from limited resources. He goes his mentor one better with a few shocking, startling moments of axe-wielding violence using jagged cuts and the darkness to suggest what he can’t show. Patrick Magee brings a little class to a couple of scenes, but the rest of the film (at least between the padding) is carried by shock and B-movie ingenuity.
The previous DVD edition from Roan, until now the best version out there, was fine but grainy and full screen. This widescreen edition, while a little soft is cleaner, steadier and stronger overall, with more impressive B&W contrast. And the 16×9 image simply looks more accurate than the TV-print style of the previous full screen presentation.
The Francis Ford Coppola of old is back, or at least that’s what Coppola kept telling us in his barnstorming media blitz of the past month and what the reviews keep repeating. Tetro is Coppola’s first original screenplay since The Conversation in 1974. It’s the second film in his return to “personal films,” after Youth Without Youth. It’s cinematically adventurous and visually entrancing, and the Greek drama by way of Tennessee Williams story of brothers, father and sons struggling for acceptance and affirmation is inspired by (if not actually drawn from) his own family. You can feel Coppola reaching for the personal expression he grasped for throughout the seventies and gave up after the financial disasters of Apocalypse Now and One From the Heart. I really want to love this film as much as he does.