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Rumble Fishing: Scenes from a Chinese restaurant

Matt Dillon and Diane Lane in "Rumble Fish."

A Chinese restaurant on Second Avenue in New York. One of those places where all the right demographic groups are seen eating dim sum with their Significant Others. In a corner by the window, three young people are studying the menu.

Clockwise from the seat nearest the giant ficus tree, they are:

Matt Dillon, nineteen, "teenage heartthrob," although he makes puking noises when he hears that description. Matt has starred in "The Outsiders," "My Bodyguard," "Little Darlings" and "Tex." He is dressed in jeans and a leather vest over a black T-shirt. He has been compared to James Dean, and specializes in playing tough, inarticulate teenagers.

Diane Lane, eighteen, who appeared on the cover of Time two years ago for a story about the new generation of young actresses and on the cover of The Movies two months ago for a story about herself. A stage actress since the age of six, Lane has starred in "A Little Romance," "Cattle Annie and Little Britches," "Six Pack" and four made-for-TV movies. She is a stunning beauty, combining the best features of young Elizabeth Taylor and young Natalie Wood.

Vincent Spano, twenty, an Italian-American New Yorker, who shared the lead in "Baby, It's You" as a slick greaser named The Sheik, then played the son of a sheik in "The Black Stallion Returns," and was a troubled kid in "Over the Edge." His darkly handsome looks do not prepare you for his quick intelligence.

The three actors are in New York to promote their new movie, Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish," which premiered two nights earlier at the New York Film Festival. Dillon and Lane are also the co-stars of the previous Coppola film about alienated teenagers, "The Outsiders." It was a minor box-office hit. But on the basis of the audience reaction and early reviews, "Rumble Fish," a black-and-white allegory about teen gangs, is likely to be more of a problem picture. Coppola calls it "an art film for teenagers."

The curtain rises as the three prepare to order lunch.

Diane: "I walked past the theater on my way here. Did you see the publicity photos they put outside? Pure fantasy land. They're all in color, even though the movie is in black and white They gave me eye makeup, but I didn't wear any in the picture. They gave me a scarf, and I didn't wear a scarf even once in the whole movie. And of course they put a boob shot on prominent display."

Vincent: "After we eat, we ought to go back and check out the theater."

Matt: "They got real long lines I was gonna go in, but didn't know . . ."

Vincent: "It's good publicity to show you support the film."

Diane: "I got asked for my autograph. It's the first time that's ever happened, out of context. If they know you're there, and who you are, then I might be asked, but it was the first time anyone just recognized me on the street. I don't think I'm very recognizable, especially with my exquisite skin condition."

The waiter approaches the table.

Vincent (to the waiter): "Do you have any just like vegetarian dishes?"

Diane: "Speaking of not being recognized. A couple of years ago, went to the Underground Disco with this girlfriend. We were both just seventeen, a couple of cosmetic queens out together. And Robert DeNiro was there with Joe Pesci. I recognized him. I was dying. And he made a pass. He didn't know who I was. I was so flattered, in one way. In another way, I thought I must really look like a wench. Now there's a possibility. I'll appear with him in "On the Waterfront" on Broadway. On the first day of rehearsals, I'll say to him, Remember me? You came on to me at the Underground Disco?"

Vincent: "Would it be possible to prepare my food without using MSG?"

Waiter: "We use no MSG, sir."

Vincent: "And also no starch, sugar or salt, please."

Waiter: "But without that, how will the chef make the sauce?"

Matt (studying menu): "What do you recommend?"

Waiter: "Crispy beef with orange peel very good, sir."

Matt: "I don't like oranges in my meat."

Diane: "What else is good?" 

Waiter: "Jumbo shrimp with snow pea pods very good."

Diane: "Ugh! I hate shrimp! They make me think of . . . underwater cockroaches."

Waiter: "Maybe chicken be better for you."

Vincent: "Could he just stir-fry some vegetables?"

Matt: "For me, maybe he could just cut up a steak and fry it."

Diane: "I'll have chicken and Chinese vegetables."

The waiter returns to the kitchen.

Vincent: "How is "The Cotton Club" coming along?"

He is referring to the new Francis Ford Coppola picture, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane in the story of a famous Harlem nightclub.

Diane: "Well, OK, I guess Francis quit for a couple of days because he wasn't getting paid, but I think they got that straightened out. I think they got some Arabian money or something."

Reporter: "You're in that with Richard Gere?"

Diane. "Yes. He's really a nice person, except don't ask about his private life. He doesn't divulge."

Matt: "So you know nothing?"

Diane. "Except that he's living with a Brazilian woman downtown somewhere, and they don't come above Tenth Street."

Vincent: "Those big-budget movies. I was offered a role in "Sahara" with Brooke Shields, but I didn't take it. I wondered if it would be good for my career to play another sheik. Also, didn't want to be standing around in the Sahara Desert waiting for Brooke to fix her eyelashes."

Matt takes a deck of cards out of the pocket of his vest.

Matt: "Pick a card, any card. This is a really good trick."

Diane: "I've been having nightmares based on the things HBO has been showing. First they had the deadly black mamba attacking Klaus Kinski. Then I saw a documentary on that terrible Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire. Just the thing to see while I'm filming "The Cotton Club.""

Vincent: "This morning they had an autoracing documentary, with crashing cars spilling gas on the crowd."

Matt: "They torched the crowd? Pick a card, any card."

Vincent takes a card.

Matt: "Now put it back anywhere in the deck. Now shuffle the deck."

Vincent returns the card and shuffles. Matt fans through the deck.

Matt: "Is this it?"

Vincent: "No."

Matt (stage astonishment): "It isn't? Didn't you pick the six of hearts?"

Vincent (looking a bit surprised): "Yes."

Matt: "Then let's see."

He spells "six of hearts," peeling off one card for every letter. He flips over the eleventh card. It is the six of hearts.

Vincent: "Amazing!"

Matt: "It's a really good trick"

The food is served.

Diane: "When we did the press interviews, one thing I didn't know how to answer about "Rumble Fish" was . . . why didn't Motorcycle Boy take Rusty-James to the hospital after he was knifed? It never occurred to me that he ought to, but it makes sense, doesn't it?"

Vincent (patient explanatory tone): "Motorcycle Boy couldnt take Rusty-James to the hospital because Motorcycle Boy is dead. He is like a failed prophet who returns to the scene of his defeat. He's the Christ symbol."

Matt: "You trying to tell me Motorcycle Boy is a spirit?"

Vincent: "He even pours a bottle of whiskey into your open wound. That is obviously an evil baptism."

Diane: "Did you talk to Susie [SE. Hinton, author of the novel and screenplay] about this? I've been trying to improvise my way through explaining this movie for two days. Give me a break. What is this shabby attempt at significance?"

Vincent: "Motorcycle Boy has no identity. Remember when he looks at himself in the mirror? There is no sign of recognition on his face. It's like a fish looking into a mirror."

Diane. "Give me a break."

Reporter: "What about the scene where Rusty-James dies, and levitates out of his body, and floats around town looking at his friends? What did that signify?"

Matt Dillon, who plays Rusty-James, levitates his chopsticks in the air.

Matt: "It's like if you ever thought you were gonna die, you start thinking, I wonder if they're still talking about me? You know, like, That Rusty-James . . . he's one cool dude."

Diane: "What was the significance when you hit the bum, Matt?"

Matt: "Partially, it was because he looked like a father. Hey, there's all sorts of things to learn about this movie."

Diane: "I was so confused, talking about it today."

Matt: "It will become an art film."

Vincent: "I got some great notes on it."

Matt: "Pick a card, any card."

The reporter picks a card.

Vincent: "See, what Motorcycle Boy did is, he went to California, and what he found was nothing, man, because California is dying. And so he came back, and Patterson, the cop, shot him, because he represents the devil. Jealous."

Diane: "Jealousy is the only completely destructive emotion there is."

Vincent: "And after he shoots him, he lights up a cigarette, see, because it was almost merciful, killing the Motorcycle Boy and releasing his spirit."

Diane: "Not releasing him. Fulfilling his destiny."

For a few moments, they concentrate on their food.

Diane: "Guess who I saw on the street today? Alain Delon."

Matt: "Delon? The French guy? Is he good?"

Diane: "We hit eyes. It was electric. I kept right on walking. But the effect was shocking I freaked."

Matt: "The card was the three of clubs? Right? Let's see."

He spells out "three of clubs." The twelfth card is the three of clubs.

Reporter: "Amazing." Matt: "It's a good trick. It's very simple. But you gotta know it."

Vincent: "I think we should go look in the theater and see how the movie is playing. This is it, after all. After today, we break up, we all go our separate ways, we're moving on. Let's let people know we are supporting it."

Diane: "I love the black-and-white photography. It's luminous. It looks like the light is coming from the screen. Color looks like it's projected on the screen."

Matt: "At the film festival, somebody shouted out that he shoulda stayed at home and watched 'Dallas.' Other people made rude noises. I figure they made up their minds before they saw it. I saw a drunk on the sidewalk; he said it stunk. I told him to get a job."

Their fortune cookies read: "You will make a good impression on a stranger" (Diane); "You have depths that others do not suspect" (Vincent), and "Wealth and a long life" (Matt).

When they arrived at the theater, the manager did not recognize them and would not let them in until a press agent intervened.

Diane (as they were allowed inside): "Let's sit in the smoking section, with the grownups."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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