Movie Journal #4: The Outsiders
I had never seen Coppola’s film of The Outsiders, for a number of reasons. It came after Coppola’s great period, and it seemed almost painful to watch a bad film from that great director. Also, I am averse to nostalgia of any kind, especially that of the 1960s (how grating was Across The Universe?), a period by now mythologized into something that can be nowhere near its truth.
There are, of course, exceptions, such as the Coppola-produced American Graffiti, but these films are usually set in a specific time and place as opposed to celebrating that time and place. Or perhaps there is no hard rule separating a nostalgia piece from a period piece, only a filmmaker’s restraint. In any case, the examples of ‘60s nostalgia pieces far outweigh the period films.
I needn’t have been so skeptical of The Outsiders. It avoids nearly all of the pitfalls of a film of this type in its depiction of the lives and characters of a small group of rough kids from the wrong side of the tracks in Tulsa. The movie isn’t infatuated with its milieu of greasers and preps, cars and bars, but instead dreams with its main characters of a better life than this one. There is little charming about their lives, and the film shares that same quality of great juvenile fiction from which it comes: that of a tale told true, with no lies or ornamentation, and a small amount of moral resulting.
The film is less than perfect. It suffers throughout from poorly written dialogue and a lack of focus from its fresh-faced, amateur cast of future superstars (and I blame Coppola for being too loose with them). But I did like Coppola’s direction, surprisingly fresh and expressionistic, and the movie’s tone of longing, its focus on the future and not the unhappy past.