The Good

The Bad

Rumble Fish is one of those films (and books) that has many endings for many viewers. Some might see the ending as hopeful. Others might see it as a younger brother following in the footsteps of his older brother, only to realize when he finally gets there that he no longer wants to be in his brothers shoes. And still there are those that could see this film (and the book) as an allegory to the what can happen if you hold on to the past with too much reverence. As someone who has been told that he “lives in the past,” I am also the same person who responded (after someone told me to respond this way) with, “You don’t have the guts to live in the past.” So there you have it, no clear cut answer.

This movie is the tale of Rusty-James. The toughest kid in the neighborhood who can’t get past the fact that the gangs are all gone, most of the former members are on drugs and his brother no longer wishes to be held in such high regard as a gang leader. Dealing with this and the overall changes that happen when you grow up, Rusty-James is forced to take a real hard look at his life and it’s something he is completely unprepared for. On top of everything, there is a nasty cop named Patterson who’s only purpose seems to be bringing down Rusty’s brother, The Motorcycle Boy.

Told in an almost haunting black and white, Rumble Fish is one my favorite films. It captures the essence of youth turning into adulthood and everything that goes along with that. It starts off and things are perfect for our main character, then once he is cut in a knife fight, the damage to Rusty-James both physically and emotionally gets worse and worse. Francis Ford Coppola will admit that this is one of his more “arty” movies, and as a result it was a failure at the box office. Yet, if you are interested in seeing a film that really has something to say about being alive, getting older and believing in things then Rumble Fish is for you.


Deleted Scenes, On Location in Tulsa, The Percussion-Based Score and “Don’t Box Me In” Music Video

There are actually a bunch of deleted scenes, most of which are directly from the book. As someone who has read the novel a number of times, I really was impressed with how these were put together. None of the scenes are very quick and they are actually more like “deleted segments” than they are deleted scenes. “On Location in Tulsa” is a “making of” the movie, that briefly talks to the main people involved with this film. It was really cool hearing the actors takes on their characters, especially Nicolas Cage as Smokey. “The Percussion-Based Score” is really cool and something drummers will appreciate. Stewart Copeland of The Police did the score and it’s really interesting hearing how he put together the noises and rejiggered things to get the sounds he did. The “Don’t Box Me In” music video is a bit of a letdown, mainly because the song and movie are so powerful and the video is pretty bland.

Feature Commentary with Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola really hits his stride as he talks about one of his top two favorite movies (his other one being The Conversation). He is never better when he is just being candid, talking about the movie, what he was trying to do and admitting that it didn’t succeed in the marketplace. I also love that he doesn’t place blame, but simply figures that what interests him might not interest the mainstream. I love that he made this film personal to him and in his mind, set it in the rough neighborhood of Woodside where he spent some time as an 8 year old boy. I also think having Nicolas Cage dress like Coppola’s brother August (Cage’s father), who was own Coppola’s Motorcycle Boy, was a masterful bit of nuance on the director’s part.


Anamorphic Widescreen - 1.85:1. This 95 minute movie looks like a 1940s black and white piece. Sadly, black and white is devalued in today’s film marketplace so that is seen as a detriment. Honestly, I can’t see this film being made any other way. The colors are so lush and the black and white adds a haunting sense to this movie. It really feels like it is taking place after something has ended. As if constant gang wars have ravaged the city and now it is in a process of change and rebuilding. This movie, like the main characters in it, seems damaged and broken with every attempt to try and put it back together only making things worse.


English Dolby Digital 5.1. French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Captioned in English. Subtitled in French and Spanish. Sound is a whole other character in this movie. In fact, Mickey Rourke speaks in whispers that are given an almost biting feel when he wants to make a point. The idea that he just goes deaf sometimes is further heightened because it sounds like people are talking about him, yet he chooses not to acknowledge it. Rusty-James chooses to try and figure things out by talking them out, yet all this does is confuse him even more. Stewart Copeland’s score moves this movie and it really does seem like “time is running out on this character” as Coppola says.


This front cover is almost identical to the original DVD release of Rumble Fish, with Rusty-James and Patty (Diane Lane) in the foreground, and the Motorcycle Boy lingering below them, always there, always part of past and the present. The back features more pictures from the movie and sadly these are all in color. I honestly think people would watch this movie if they knew it was in black and white, rather than if they bought this DVD (and didn’t read the fine print aka the technical specs), put it in their players and then felt duped when they saw that the movie isn’t in color. There is a decent description of this film, an extras listing, cast list and some technical specs. I would have loved the packaging for Rumble Fish to have been a bit “bigger,” but I am just happy, after all these years of viewing this film one way, to be able to screen it in it’s newest form with a bunch of supplemental materials.

Final Word

”An acute perception does not make you crazy. However sometimes it drives you crazy.”

I can think of very few characters in cinema history that I relate to as much as Rusty-James and The Motorcycle Boy. I can’t explain why, I just feel a kinship to them. Even though I think I am fairly outgoing, deep inside I feel the “deafness” of The Motorcycle Boy. The ability to be in a room and then go completely inside my own head, without anybody really noticing. Rusty-James feels alienated yet he isn’t able to articulate this so he becomes frustrated. This seems to only make him more confused. Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon do amazing jobs of portraying both of these characters.

”It wasn’t anything.”

This single line sums up the entire movie for me. To Rusty-James the past is everything and to The Motorcycle Boy it’s something he can’t get away from. Sadly, Rusty-James sees himself becoming his brother, in fact it’s something he welcomes. It is because of this that the brothers are at odds, yet they don’t act that way. Rusty-James idolizes his brother and doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want to be a leader anymore.

This movie (and the book) are so powerful on so many levels, and I am happy that this DVD gives a more illuminating look while steering clear of trying to answer basic, unanswerable questions.

Rumble Fish was released October 20, 1983.