In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola had plenty of greatness under his belt from The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II and Apocalypse Now, but some may say 1982's One from the Heart was the beginning of the end... at least the end of the Coppola we came to know in the '70s.
Sure, The Godfather: Part III saw seven Oscar nominations, but ask anyone and they're sure to point it out as the weakest of the trilogy by a mile. Films such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Dracula and even The Rainmaker aren't half-bad and I'll happily admit to loving 90% of Tetro, but the Coppola star doesn't shine as it once did.
Such a situation can result in films being forgotten, overlooked and never revisited again. The lack of appreciation for the last 30 years of Coppola's directorial career has allowed me to easily avoid -- wrongly or not -- several of his films from that era including Rumble Fish, Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Jack.
Another of those films I had never seen was his 1983 effort The Outsiders, an adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel (buy it here) and a film that stars more recognizable names than you could imagine, all at the earliest of stages in their careers. Names such as Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Leif Garrett and Tom Waits. The 30 year anniversary and that crop of names is exactly why I chose to finally give The Outsiders a watch.
Coppola has referred to the film as "a Gone With the Wind for 14-year-old girls" and the image at the top of this post wouldn't have you think of anything else. Rob Lowe even mentions the numerous times Coppola would have them watch the film in the audio commentary on the "Complete Novel" edition of the DVD.
Personally, I'm not sure what I make of Coppola's description of the film as it would almost seem condescending to his own work, or limiting in some way. After watching it I wouldn't say it's a film that struck me as being particularly "good", but it does bat around themes that will never go out of fashion, in this instance the titular outsiders being the lower-class "Greasers" who are forced to stand up for themselves against the mid-to-upper class "Socs" (pronounced So-shs). Battles such as this -- be they class, religious, race, etc. -- have raged on for years so there is no end to the metaphorical position these characters are placed in.
For as tough as the Greasers make themselves out to be, it's quite apparent they are all kids at heart. Some, such as Patrick Swayze's character, an older brother forced to give up on his life to take care of his two younger brothers (Rob Lowe and C. Thomas Howell) after their parents died in a car crash, or Emilio Estevez as Two-Bit, whom we see wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt as he grabs a huge plate of chocolate cake and a bottle of Budweiser and sits down on the carpet to watch cartoons.
On the other side of the fence are the Socs, who seem to be fighting a war they themselves don't understand as much as they feel obligated to maintain their standing in life by beating on those on the lower end of the social strata than they. Things get complicated when any one of them dare cross those social lines as any co-mingling of the classes is considered almost barbaric by the Socs and impossible by the Greasers as we see Two-Bit toss away a phone number he was given by one such "Soc", claiming it was probably fake anyway. Was it?
The performances in the film are largely underwhelming, but I found C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe and Ralph Macchio to be the strongest of the bunch. Both Howell and Lowe managed to keep their performances in check, allowing their faces to tell most of the story when they weren't asked to utter expository lines that did little more than stop the film in its tracks and force it to sputter to a start all over again.
As for Macchio, he's given a lot of weight to carry in the film, but most of his effect comes from his sad dog eyes and hanging lower lip. As Johnny, his character is the saddest to watch as he seems the most hopeful there is something better than the existence he lives in, where is parents are constantly fighting and a beating from his father is welcomed simply because it comes as an acknowledgment of his existence. He dreams of a place where there are no Greasers or Socs, only people and it's an optimistic approach to believe there is anywhere in this world that the whole of society would respect people as people, but his optimism is something to hold on to.
In preparation for this week's edition of the Movie Club, I watched both the theatrical cut and 2005's "Complete Novel" edition, which added an additional 22 minutes of footage. The latter I found to be the superior cut thought Coppola's musical decisions were terribly unwelcomed. The extended cut, however, is not all roses. The additional footage at the beginning is extremely beneficial to the story, but the tacked on footage at the end is just that, tacked on and unnecessary.
Overall I can see how this may have been overlooked back in '83, but I don't think it's a film to be forgotten. I'd actually love to see someone tackle this material again, though it depends greatly on getting a talented young cast together to pull off a film that requires some weighty performances.
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