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M.I.O. Movie Review: Rumble Fish

This past year, I finally visited the Outsiders house in deep, dark Tulsa.

It was a true Oklahoma treat to see a part of both literature and film lore next to all the Christian propaganda that has adorned this state for the past decade. Thanks, Ryan Walters!

For The Outsiders, I have been a greasy and supportive fan of the book and the movie since grade school—heck, it was given to us to read as a part of state history classes in 7th grade—but, oddly enough, I had never read or watched the companion piece, Rumble Fish.

But, now that I’ve read the book and seen the movie, I believe Rumble Fish to be better. Far better.

With film impresario Francis Ford Coppola at the helm, Rumble Fish is told in a dreamlike structure and plaintive manner, where the greaser ethos of the 60s definitely melds with the alternative culture of the 80s, creating a non-binary world of Tulsa—and if you know Tulsa, it truly fits.

Punk teenager Rusty James (punk teenager Matt Dillon) not only lives on the wrong side of the tracks, he is the tracks. He has a semi-detached gang, a girlfriend when he needs some sexual healing, and his only true role model is his ex-con brother Motorcycle Boy (a scowling Mickey Rourke).

One night, after a lustful dalliance, he engages in a well-choreographed fight with some new-wave “socs.” During the scuffle, he is slashed by a tough as the newly returned Motorcycle Boy pops a wheelie across the tough’s face.

The reunion was spoiled with wet dreams and bloody bandages, as most family reunions do.

After an impromptu orgy, Rusty James quits school, and things get really bad. He goes to a nighttime blues festival and gets tire-ironed for his trouble; laid out, he has an out-of-body experience where he sees his girl and the punks he typically runs around with.

Of course, Motorcycle Boy is here to save him.

With his cracked head he goes on a bender, with Motorcycle Boy and him liberating some the birds, the hamsters, and a few dogs from a pet shop, but it all illustrates his bloody point that “rumble fish”—a name given to the violent fish—truly wants to be free in the ocean.

Layered with author S.E. Hinton’s imposing story structure and Okie dialogue, Coppola’s black-and-white world is boundless, with non-gimmicky flourishes of deep color, especially with the rumble fish against the film noir stock.

As the smoke machine billows, beside Dillon and Rourke the truly outstanding cast is replete with the likes of Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Waits. Tulsa landmarks from Cain’s Ballroom to Rexall Drugs and their line of comics in the magazine rack also make various appearances and truly feel like they're part of the cast.

While The Outsiders had Stevie Wonder’s tender ballad “Stay Gold,” The Police drummer Stuart Copeland provides a cacophonous score that works wonders with the Tulsa architecture. I need to check out that soundtrack.

Rumble Fish is more than a filmic adaptation of a YA novel—instead, it’s the broken glass, motorcycle grease and the sweaty world that only Oklahoma could have made.


Follow Louis Fowler on Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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