Rumble Fish ★★★★½

Rumble Fish is a special film to me, and I’m glad to see a resurgent favourite. I became intensely attached to this film at one point, and it needed some years of cooling off.

Mickey Rourke in Rumble Fish is my first clear and distinct memory of being attracted to a man. I was twenty, and it was confusing. My initial reaction was to ape his look and mannerisms, as with many fellow young actors of the period who bought the hype and saw him as the second coming and were clearly inspired by him, at least for a while. It was the first time (and one of only two along with Shirley MacLaine) that I became obsessed with an actor and had to see their entire filmography, as soon as possible. Many of us have had that virus enter our system, and it happened to me the first time I laid my eyes on young Rourke. Within twelve months, I had seen all of golden era Rourke (Diner, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Body Heat, 9 ½ Weeks, Year of the Dragon, Angel Heart, Body Heat, etc.). Hell, even as far as the less heady days of Desperate Hours, White Sands and Wild Orchid. I needed my fix, and luckily along the way a majority of these were also good and somewhat under-appreciated films. After all, Mickey had a good run until the late 1980s. Along with his later performance in The Wrestler, his iconic motorcycle boy has proven to be an uncannily prophetic performance, painfully and impressively definitive of all that he is and was.

But there is more to my unspeakable fondness for this film. There is experimental Francis Ford Coppola, a director who I often adore, even when he is being difficult. And you certainly get experimental Coppola here, and what could be argued as his best post-70s film. There is Stewart Copeland, whose scores infiltrated my childhood consciousness and are evoked through their similarity to the more ambient passages in this film. I played Don’t Box Me In religiously around the time I fell in love with Rumble Fish. There is the fact that I am an eldest (and somewhat enigmatic and inscrutable) sibling, and fully relate to the nuances of the sibling relationship depicted here, which dramatically anchors the film’s otherwise aimless and stagey narrative. Rumble Fish also finds an admirable balance in how it fuses together 50s and 80s teen cinema sensibilities, and the younger members of the cast bring this to the fore. Several characters reveal ambiguous hinted depths, trapped and heartbroken by the past and are aimlessly hanging on for dear life. Many prior events are alluded to after-the-fact, giving this scenario a fun, post-glory theatrical capacity.

A new thing I had never previously noticed is how Cage (knowingly plotting from the outset) is swooning at his reflection in the shopfront when he is waving to Lane after that triumphant betrayal and critique of Dillon, a little touch of self-interest that adds a lot to that character. Hopper is also surprisingly superb in his few scenes. Along with Rourke, hell even Brando in those earlier classics, Coppola certainly has a way with the crazies.

Rumble Fish has finally moved past a cooling off period and the relationship is back on, and almost as strong as ever. God I love this film. I just won’t get as clingy as I did way back when. Rumble Fish is certainly not for everyone, an acquired taste that goes heavy on stylistic experimentation. Some of Dillon’s short, sharp dialogue is tinny, particularly when coupled with Vincent Spano, and some of the direction/score choices are overly active in certain scenes. I also feel that a certain character’s being “crazy” is explicitly pondered more than it warrants given what we see and understand, to the point of accumulative irritation. But as a complete audio-visual experience with a deeply heart-felt perspective on sibling relationships, it continues to win my heart in ways that other films seldom do. A very special film in my cinematic education that grabbed me forcefully for a brief period, and finally has settled in my heart. In comparison to those towering 70s classics, this is a minor film, but a successful form of film experimentation stepped in a diverse range of film styles and which will endure in the hearts of many film lovers.

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