Locaciones and Rumble Fish

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rumblefish-greenwood-median.jpgOn Wednesday night, my wife and I went to Circle Cinema to see a double-feature: Locaciones: Buscando a Rusty James (Locations: Looking for Rusty James") followed by Rumble Fish, the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film based on the novel by S. E. Hinton.

The first film at the Circle Cinema was about the second: Chilean author Alberto Fuguet saw Rumble Fish as a young man and was inspired by the idea that the ordinary stuff of life could be the source of art.

It is the film that incited me to write. The one that said: "You too can do it. If this story of two brothers can be art, then perhaps your world, your raw material, your square meter, can be of some use to you. Perhaps it can be representable."...

I left on foot. I lived close by. I arrived at my house that creaked. I remember that that night, in a short time, by hand, without a computer, I wrote my first story. Perhaps I should dedicate it to Dillon. To Spano. Perhaps I should have dedicated it to Coppola.

Some day, I don't know when, I should make a pilgrimage to Tulsa, I told myself.

A flop when released in the US as an ordinary summer movie, Rumble Fish became a long-running cult classic on the art-house circuit in Latin America, particularly in the Southern Cone of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. The film was retitled La Ley de la Calle ("The Law of the Street") and presented in English with Spanish subtitles.

Asked to write an essay about a favorite film, Fuguet decided instead to create a documentary tribute. In Miami for an event, he bought a ticket to Tulsa hoping to find locations and to interview extras and local fans who would talk about what Rumble Fish meant to them. Instead, puzzled that the film seemed to mean so little to the people of the city where it was made, he went around on his own, filming locations. Instead of talking to locals, he went back to South America and interviewed authors and filmmakers who were inspired by the film. It was only later that he connected with Tulsans (in particular, Lee Roy Chapman) interested in the film who helped him gather additional footage for his documentary. Fuguet told his tale in This Land Press:

Things didn't turn out as I thought. My goal was to go to Tulsa, stay as long as necessary, talk with everyone, spend time with the extras, and succumb to a world I would have liked to be a part of. But Tulsa turned out to be not just a colorful city, where yes, the clouds pass but not too quickly. I was struck by something that left me lying flat on a bed in a Ramada Inn. Nobody talked to me. Not because they were fleeing from me or they rejected me. It's that Rumble Fish, the film anyway, was not a topic of conversation for them. It hadn't made an impact on the city. It was filmed there but in an informal way, not in the way its big sister, the immense and technicolored The Outsiders, was shot. It was very difficult for me to make a map of locations. There were no fans, no groupies, no cinephiles. I returned to Santiago with a lot of footage and an immense depression. I didn't have a documentary.

Fuguet's homage, Locaciones, is a collection of recent footage of Tulsa interspersed with clips from Rumble Fish shown on various screens, accompanied by the voices of the movie's admirers talking about when and where they first saw it and how it inspired them. It is in Spanish with English subtitles.

(Confession: I've never read the novel Rumble Fish and, until Wednesday night, had never seen the film.)

To Fuguet and his fellow fans, the Tulsa depicted in Rumble Fish is a "holy city." But the film shows a forgotten Tulsa that would have been very foreign to Tulsans who shopped at Woodland Hills Mall and never ventured north of 41st or west of Yale: Under the Boulder Ave. railroad bridge, a store front at 13 E. Brady Street, in the alley south of 5th Street between Main and Boston, the Sixth Street Subway, the 1400 block of S. Cincinnati, the 1000 block of N. Greenwood, 16th Street next to Marquette School, 3rd and Kenosha, the 23rd Street bridge. This was the Tulsa that Tulsa's leaders of the time were diligently working to update or eliminate -- dilapidated, obsolete, old-fashioned. Where they had already succeeded, when Tulsa couldn't provide the requisite flophouse apartment, mom-and-pop drugstore, and dive beer joint, Coppola took his crew to Sapulpa's better-preserved downtown to make up the deficiency.

rumblefish-greenwood.jpgThe most spectacular scene in the film (from a Tulsa history perspective) is on Greenwood at Archer. The then-recently restored buildings were decked out in neon, awnings, and running lights, and hundreds of extras paraded up and down the block in a scene that was supposed to represent a street party on the wild side of town. While I don't think Greenwood was ever as sleazy as the scene in Rumble Fish, it was as lively, particularly in the '40s and '50s, and Coppola and his set designers do an amazing job of recapturing its lost vitality.

Coppola and Hinton wrote the screenplay on days off during the filming of The Outsiders, and Coppola began shooting Rumble Fish right after the earlier film wrapped. The movie starred Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Vincent Spano, and Dennis Hopper.

Rumble Fish contains frequent instances of what James Lileks calls "accidental documentary." I found myself wanting to pause every frame, searching blurry backgrounds and plate glass reflections and my own memories for clues that might help me pinpoint the exact location. I didn't follow the story as closely I might have; I was too busy looking at what Tulsa looked like in 1982-1983. (The clock with the flipping ads from Jenks Restaurant even made a prominent appearance.)

Earlier in the evening, I saw an exhibition of photos taken during the filming of Rumble Fish by Gaylord Herron, Joe Cervantez, and Western Doughty, who as a 15-year-old photographed a scene being filmed in his neighborhood, on the south side of Latimer Street between N. Cheyenne and N. Denver Ave. Cervantez had photos of Greenwood and Archer as it was dressed for the film -- tarted up to look like a strip of bars, arcades, news stands, pool halls. He also had a remarkable photo of the buildings on the west side of Greenwood, at the beginning of the restoration process of the handful of post-Riot buildings remaining after the rest had been destroyed in the late '60s by expressway construction and urban renewal. The building facades, propped up by metal poles, were all that remained.

(I'm pretty sure the police officer in the movie was the visual inspiration for Axe Cop. And Vincent Spano totally stole my late '70s - early '80s look.)


Locaciones: Buscando a Rusty James is available for streaming on the website of Cinépata.

Rumble Fish is available online at viooz.co. I have no idea whether this site is licensed to show the movie, but it's there.


If you've seen Rumble Fish and are wondering what it's all about, here are a couple of reviews that seemed especially insightful. (Warning: reviews contain spoilers.)

This Perhapses review of Rumble Fish does a good job of connecting some seemingly unconnected details in the movie.

Rumble Fish, reviewed by Liam's United States of Cinema, as part of a series of reviews of three movies set in Oklahoma.

Tulsa is not like I imagined it. It is a seedy run-down city, like the Great Falls of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. There is plenty of space for rumbles in the freight yards, under bridges and down alleyways. Drugs are rife. Yet its isolated position on the plains is made clear. The outside world is all around. Roads are thick with dust, winds whip through the streets, and the hurtling, boiling clouds are continually above, reflected in the storefront windows.

He has some notes on the locations of Benny's Billiards, the fight by the train tracks, Rusty James's apartment, the drugstore, the bridge, and the pet store.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 22, 2014 10:48 PM.

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