Screens Armchair Cinephile

The kids are alright

Say what you will about Francis Ford Coppola's recent obsession with tinkering with his old movies - sure would be nice to see him making new movies again someday, provided they're nothing like Jack - a large constituency evidently has been begging him to return to one title: Fans of The Outsiders have written many letters to the director that praised the film while wishing it contained more plot from the book upon which it was based.

Their prayers are answered with The Outsiders: The Complete Novel (Warner Bros.), which adds 22 minutes of footage cut from the original and restructures the plot to be more faithful to the novel. It's an admission of sorts that, while the director's most famous film, The Godfather, began as a book but became indisputably a Coppola-owned mythology, the lore of Ponyboy, Sodapop, and their teenage peers remain the property of teen author S. E. Hinton.

This month Universal reissues the director's other adaptation of an S. E. Hinton story, Rumble Fish (Universal). Newcomers may assume that the film - released in 1983 as well, from the same director and novelist, also featuring Matt Dillon and Diane Lane - is a sequel to the first. But the actors play different characters here, in a story that is much less an ensemble piece, despite boasting a handful of rising stars (Nicolas Cage, Mickey Rourke) and choice supporting actors (Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits). Universal's new disc, like Warner's more lavish edition, offers a Coppola commentary and documentary material in addition to the almost-obligatory widescreen transfer.

Movie buffs looking for a more lighthearted take on growing up at the dawn of the rock 'n' roll era might dip their toes in Cry-Baby (Universal), the harmless confection from John Waters that was covered recently in this column. Or they can turn their gaze to another age that, though barely a decade distant, has been stylized with all the entertaining kitschiness Waters applied to the '50s: 1995's Clueless (Paramount) is one of the few '90s teen comedies that so far looks to be holding up, with a sharp script and performances to match. Like many great teen movies, it was also a launching point for young actors who hadn't yet had a chance to break out: Alicia Silverstone, who became a star even if the roles she subsequently landed rarely lived up to the charm she displays here; Brittany Murphy, who is almost unrecognizable as the ugly duckling Silverstone tries to rescue; and Paul Rudd, who now sprinkles such grown-up stuff as Neil LaBute scripts in between his supporting roles in goofball comedies. (Like The Outsiders, Clueless is an adaptation of sorts, relocating Jane Austen's Emma to Southern California.)

Circa the same time period and also lampooning youth cinema, the Wayans Brothers' Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (Miramax) joins the ranks of the "special edition." More Naked Gun than Jane Austen, it's one of those gag-stuffed parodies that by nature is so topical (like its title, everything here is a reference to some bit of then-pop culture) that it doesn't age the same way a more universal movie does.

But back to young girls who respond to harsh environs by taking up their pens: Criterion has just released An Angel at My Table, arguably director Jane (The Piano) Campion's breakthrough film. It's no comedy; in fact, some of it is pretty harrowing. Telling the true story of New Zealand author Janet Frame, the tale begins in grade school, where young Janet writes her first poem, and follows as her nonconformism is interpreted as mental illness. Frame is subjected to institutionalization and shock therapy, and spends her youth being told there's something wrong with her. She devotes herself to writing, though, and that mental escape finally leads her out of a life everyone else thinks is hopeless.

John DeFore on DVD

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