In retirement, Francis Ford Coppola appears to have barely rested, tinkering away like some blacksmith with revisions, recuts and re-arrangements to most of his back catalogue. Coppola is the Henry James of cinema, quite content to re-edit films that were previously released and breathe new life into them. 2019 saw two re-releases: Apocalypse Now (1979) was given a third – apparently “final” – recut, and his jazz-club romance, The Cotton Club (1984), expanded by several scenes. Last year, Coppola even retitled The Godfather Part III (1990) as “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.” Like James, Coppola might also be accused of “redreaming” his former career, looking back over his shoulder in longing, and hungry for another attempt.
The Outsiders (originally released in 1983) has now received this treatment: rejigged and re-assembled under the new title: The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. Of course, Coppola is implying two things: 1) the previous film was incomplete; and 2) what he has now released is authoritative, faithful and better. In reality, this new cut has recovered 20-plus minutes of lost footage, replaced Carmine Coppola’s score with a blasting ‘60s jukebox soundtrack, and lost several scenes.
30 years ago, the narrative of The Outsiders, one of two novels Coppola adapted from S. E. Hinton – the second being Rumble Fish (1983) – marked the beginnings of the “Brat Pack” genre (a group of young and handsome teen stars). The cast of The Outsiders is split between the Greasers and Socs (short for “socials”), two small-town gangs from Tulsa, Oklahoma, roaming the streets for trouble like hyenas on the prowl. The only explanation for their combat is generational: like their elders, they are bored and troubled juveniles looking for ways to be tough. Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) are members of the Greasers, nice boys caught up in the sweltering testosterone and ribald antics of their brotherhood (Matt Dillon’s “Dally” being the most exciting).
Inevitably, these violent delights have violent ends, and Ponyboy and Johnny are forced to leave town in the wake of tragedy. Coppola’s fixation on the characters too often alerts the viewer to the literary source material: when together, they reminisce about the simple beauties of nature, the innocence of childhood … everything that signposts “coming-of-age.” Likewise, any reach toward naturalism is also resisted by Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography (reteaming with Coppola after Apocalypse Now), which favours deep focus shots and ultra-stylised backgrounds.
Before The Outsiders, Coppola had produced George Lucas’ own coming-of-age project, American Graffiti (1973) – a nostalgic romp through the North American suburbs. Unfortunately, the sprightly energy of Lucas’ film is not replicated in The Outsiders, despite the newly tacked-on soundtrack, leaning instead on sickly depictions of family and approaching its subject matter with serious gravitas. It’s a movie about youth without truly feeling youthful.
The Outsiders: The Complete Novel is released in cinemas on 15th October and Blu-Ray, DVD and on digital platforms from 8th November
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Runtime: 115 minutes
Stars: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio