RUMBLE FISH (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1983, US)
‘Somebody ought to put the fish in the river…’
Coppola’s latest film ‘Tetro’ appears to trace a linage back to his 1983 ode to expressionism, ‘Rumble Fish’. Aesthetically speaking, after ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Rumble Fish’ might actually be the most visually sophisticated of the films Coppola directed in the 1980s. Even today it seems to provoke a strong reaction, with some continuing to declare it as a masterpiece whilst others prefer to see it as a self indulgent fairy tale. It has undoubtedly been the film which helped shape the cinematic perceptions of Sofia Coppola. One can easily see the existential dilemmas that plague the disaffected youth in ‘Rumble Fish’ re merge in Sofia Coppola’s 1999 directorial debut ‘The Virgin Suicides’ including the time lapse photography of metaphysical cloud formations. Shot back to back with ‘The Outsiders’, Coppola’s film takes its inspiration from the aesthetics of German expressionist cinema, the film noir universe of 1940s American cinema and also the monochrome beauty of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese samurai films. ‘Rumble Fish’ is a stunning achievement, presenting a preciously constructed image of teen angst, hopeless youth and gang culture on the outskirts of what is a cannibalised, post modern American industrial town.
Essentially a biblical tale about two brothers and harking back to the cinema of Elia Kazan, Matt Dillon stars as the gullible and dim witted Rusty James who wastes his time mythologizing the escapades of his older brother, ‘The Motorcycle Boy’ (Mickey Rourke) whilst pretending to live up to a self made reputation as a notorious gang leader. Coppola’s peers and the so called American new wave of the 70s including Spielberg (1941), Scorsese (Mean Streets), Lucas (American Graffiti) and De Palma had all in one way or another made autobiographical statements about their youth. ‘Rumble Fish’ seemed to be like Coppola’s chance to say something about his own adolescence, youth and the reverence with which he looked up to his own older brother, August Coppola, to whom the film is dedicated; a film about the beguiling nature of cinema.
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (Dir. Milos Forman, 1996, US)
‘I turned the whole world into a tabloid…’
Milos Forman’s uneven biopic on the infamous American pornography publisher Larry Flynt staggers from one moment to the next, offering what is an indulgent and farcical representation of events. Using his porn publication, Hustler, to take on the boundaries of taste and decency in what had become a morally conservative America, the affable Larry Flynt was persecuted and imprisoned several times for what was really an overbearing liberalism which made ‘the moral majority’ feel considerably anxious. I could never take Woody Harelson seriously as an actor, never mind a TV star on the hit series ‘Cheers’ yet he is perfectly cast in the role of Flynt, performing commendably to get across a continuous sense of outrage at the establishment. Produced by Oliver Stone, the film certainly offers an interesting parallel with Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in De Palma’s ‘Scarface’, as Flynt like Montana gradually becomes a grotesque aberration of American society. The once talented Edward Norton shows up in a supporting role as Flynt’s tetchy, over paid and much abused lawyer. Though the credits explicitly state the name of European émigré Milos Forman as the director, ideologically the film bears the hallmarks of Oliver Stone’s liberal humanist preoccupations.
WISE BLOOD (Dir. John Huston, 1979, US)
‘No man with a good car needs to be justified!’
John Huston career as a film maker started in 1941 with ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ended in 1987 with ‘The Dead’. Towards the final phase of his career, Huston translated concerns to do with morality, existence and death into cinematic terms. ‘Wise Blood’ is perhaps one of the most idiosyncratic of all Huston films, adopting a folksy western style and unearthing an unwashed underclass of false prophets for whom religion equates to commercial sagacity. Disillusioned with the empty promises articulated by religious preachers, Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) takes it upon himself to haphazardly establish the first church without Christ. The key to Huston’s bleakly dark religious satire is Dourif’s performance as the disagreeable Hazel Motes, a dubious figure who retains a permanent scowl of contempt and for whom society is merely a trap to make you in one way or another dependent on its illogical illusions of grandeur. A faithful adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel, Huston’s cerebral grasp for the grimmest and most despairing of locations (filmed in Georgia) ensures that a kind of sickness permeates much of the film’s tone. Another unsurprisingly first-rate release by the Criterion label.