The Outsiders
The Complete Novel

USA 1983, 114 mins
Director: Francis Coppola

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

Coppola’s inspired adaptation of SE Hinton’s classic novel captures how it feels to be caught between childhood innocence and adulthood’s disillusionment, and he assembled an impressive and talented young cast: Dillon, Cruise, Estevez, Howell, Lane, Swayze, Lowe and Macchio. Set in a divided Tulsa, where teenage life is either experienced as the ‘socs’, who go to college, have cars and a future, and the ‘greasers’, who come from the wrong side of the tracks. When a soc is knifed, three greasers go on the run before returning home to negotiate a tenuous truce. The collaborative work of the young cast serves as a testament to Coppola’s skill as director, making their struggle engaging and unforgettable.
Julie Pearce, Head of Distribution and Programme Operations

A contemporary review
‘Why shouldn’t kids have art films too?’: thus Coppola’s rhetorical question, quoted recently in American Film (April 1983), to which The Outsiders would seem to be an initial response (his upcoming Rumble Fish, also based on a ‘classic novel’ by S.E. Hinton, is by all accounts another). Its theme of 11 disaffected youth, solidly generic, is lifted into something altogether different from the run of recent teen movies. Like Coppola’s working-class characters in One from the Heart, his juvenile delinquents – above all Ponyboy, but also his cohorts – are endowed with an unaccustomed romanticism that feeds eclectically off cultural sources ranging from Beach Blanket Bingo to Robert Frost, but definitely inclining towards the latter as the story goes on.

Different, too, from the older ‘problem youth’ picture in its diffuse sense of period and social context. Ostensibly set in 1966, its iconography seems to owe more to the 50s and to the movies of that decade: the Ponyboy/Johnny relationship recalls that between Jim and Plato in Rebel without a Cause, while teenzine idol Matt Dillon’s Method mannerisms suggest the actor’s – or the character’s – emotional debt to Dean and early Brando. One may also discern echoes of Gone with the Wind, visually underlined in some of the sunset vistas of the rural interlude, thematically in the notion (more explicit in Hinton’s novel) that these kids are Southern gentlemen in the guise of white trash.

Southern gentlemen and Southern beaux, for they are beautiful. There is a careless homoeroticism about this peer group – climaxing in the ecstatic ‘rumble’ in a downpour of rain – that can effectively dispense with the presence of women, apart from the almost iconic Cherry and Marcia. The usual authority figures are absent too – the all-male Curtis household, joyfully reunited at the hospital, is a more than adequate substitute for the family, with Darrel in loco parentis and Ponyboy himself established as a future father-surrogate in his progression from chasing off (with Dallas) a crowd of urchins at the beginning to saving the schoolchildren’s lives towards the end.

Here then, is a world unto itself, sealed off by the unfinished sentence (taken verbatim from the novel), ‘When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house …’ which opens the film and is reprised at the close. These framing sequences additionally set a mood of reflexivity, both of the text, foregrounded as fiction (for the ‘reality’ of Ponyboy’s bright sunlight is, of course, the ‘imaginary’ of the viewer’s movie-house darkness), and of the protagonist himself, who appears for a moment uncannily like Wenders’ Hammett, the solitary intellectual transforming experience into ‘art’.

Which leaves one with the constant feeling that events are being evoked (fantasised?) rather than actually lived through. The dreamy graphics of the film’s poster accurately indicate that this will be a film of meditation rather than of action-spectacle: even at the moment of the crucial playground killing, the image is obliterated by blood as Ponyboy passes out. For the narrative is filtered through the sensibility of this passive hero, who seems forever lost in a reverie or a swoon: dreaming of his parents, drowning in a pool, deep in a coma after the fire, immersed in memories of his dead friends … It is presented as a remembrance of things past, a remembrance which heightens sounds – the train horns that hauntingly promise escape ‘to some place without greasers or socs, with just plain ordinary people’, or the preternaturally loud birdsong that greets the runaways once they get there. And which heightens the images: ‘We wanted to show the things you remember’, recalls cinematographer Stephen Burum, ‘because they have a greater impact – a large shot of a knife opening up, the glow of a girl’s swinging red hair’.

This sense of loss is played through, too, in the leitmotif of the Tulsa sunsets that stand both for the characters’ cosmic yearnings (an approximation of Rebel’s planetarium?) and for their intimations of mortality. ‘Even as we look at a sunset’, Coppola attests, ‘we are aware that it is already starting to die. Youth, too, is like that; at its very moment of perfection you can already see the forces that are undoing it’. Hence the poignancy of Johnny’s dying invocation to his friend to stay gold, for it is heard in the certain knowledge that ‘nothing gold can stay’ – ars longa, vita brevis is apparently the sole consolation offered. Clearly Coppola, himself a sort of Hollywood outsider, has got beneath the skin of his characters, and the performances – perhaps with the partial exception of Dillon – are very fine. Whether his intended audience will, for its part, buy his romantic melancholia is more questionable. Still, it is encouraging to find a youth movie that views its rites of passage in loftier terms than simply getting laid.
Sheila Johnston, Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1983

Director: Francis Coppola
©: Pony Boy
Production Companies: Zoetrope Studios, Warner Bros.
Producers: Fred Roos, Gray Frederickson
Associate Producer: Gian-Carlo Coppola
Unit Production Manager: Ronald Colby
Production Supervisor: Michelle Manning
Production Co-ordinator: Teri Fettis
Location Auditor: Jean Autrey
Location Manager: Jim Clark
Location Co-ordinator: Tony Dingman
1st Assistant Director: David Valdes
Script Supervisor: Lloyd Nelson
Casting: Janet Hirshenson
Screenplay: Kathleen Knutsen Rowell
Based on the novel by: S.E. Hinton
Director of Photography: Stephen H. Burum
Camera Operator: Elliot Davis
1st Assistant Camera: Dustin Blauvelt
Gaffer: Lou Tobin
Key Grip: Emmett Brown
Stills Photography: Jim Zenk
Special Visual Effects: Robert Swarthe
Visual Effects Unit Project Manager: Millie Z. Alexich
Visual Effects Unit Photography: Dave Stewart
Visual Effects Unit Camera Operator: Don Baker
Special Effects: Dennis Dion
Mechanical Effects: Robert Spurlock
Pyrotechnic Effects: Martin Bresin
Editor: Anne Goursaud
1st Assistant Editor: Christopher Lebenzon
Production Designer: Dean Tavoularis
Set Decorator: Gary Fettis
Set Artist: Roger Dietz
Prop Master: Doug Madison
Construction Co-ordinator: John Rutchland
Costumes: Marge Bowers
Wardrobe Supervisors: Ernie Misko, Kathleen Gore
Make-up: Jack Petty
Hairstyles: Dee Dee Petty
Title Design: Wayne Fitzgerald, David Oliver
Opticals: Modern Film Effects, The Optical House, Pacific Title
Electronic Cinema: Brian Lee, Michael Lehmann, David Smith, C. Mitchell Amundsen
Zoetrope Film/Video Transition: Moviola
Colour Timer: Dick Ritchie
Music: Carmine Coppola
Music Editors: Robert Badami, Robert Randles
Sound Design: Richard Beggs
Production Mixer: Jim Webb
Boom Men: Chris Mclaughlin, Jim Steube
Mixing Co-ordinator: Karen Brocco
Re-recording Mixers: Richard Beggs, James Austin, Michael Minkler
Re-recording Chief Engineer: Wayne Wagner
Supervising Sound Editor: Gordon Ecker Jr
Negative Cutter: Cathy Carr
Sound Editor: Richard Hymns
Sound Editing: wallaWorks
ADR Editors: Vince Melandri, Norman Schwartz
Stunt Co-ordinator: Buddy Joe Hooker
Stunts: Steve M. Davison, Reid Rondell, Scott Wilder
Special Consultant to Francis Coppola: S.E. Hinton
Transportation: J. William Hunt, Ernie Foster
Dialogue Coach: Dan Suhart

Matt Dillon (Dallas Winston)
Ralph Macchio (Johnny Cade)
C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy Curtis)
Patrick Swayze (Darrel Curtis)
Rob Lowe (Sodapop Curtis)
Emilio Estevez (Two-Bit Matthews)
Tom Cruise (Steve Randle)
Glenn Withrow (Tim Shepard)
Diane Lane (Cherry Valance)
Leif Garrett (Bob Sheldon)
Darren Dalton (Randy Anderson)
Michelle Meyrink (Marcia)
Gailard Sartain (Jerry)
Tom Waits (Buck Merrill)
William Smith (store clerk)
Tom Hillman (greaser in concession stand)
Hugh Walkinshaw (soc in concession stand)
Domino (little girl)
Teresa Wilkerson Hunt (woman at fire)
Linda Nystedt, S.E. Hinton (nurses)
Brent Beesley (suburb guy)
John C. Meier (Paul)
Ed Jackson (motorcycle cop)
Dan Suhart (orderly)

USA 1983
114 mins

Courtesy of Studiocanal

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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