By Jill Hardy
“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house…”
If you immediately recognize those words, you may not have to be told that this year marks the 50th year since the publication of The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s beloved novel about troubled teens in 1960s Tulsa.
Circle Cinema in Tulsa hosted an event on May 6th and 7th which featured screenings of Francis Ford Coppola’s movie based on the story as well as a visit from three of the film’s stars; Ralph Macchio, Darren Dalton, and C. Thomas Howell.
In 2005, the film was remastered and almost 22 minutes of footage was put back in. This is the version screened at the event, and it’s also available on DVD–Coppola called this re-worked version “The Complete Novel.” The reintroduced elements do add something to the story, but not enough to change the overall tone. In fact, even the soundtrack edits and additions add dimension; nothing feels stretched or extraneous.
If you’re a Coppola fan, you may be puzzled by The Outsiders. It doesn’t look or feel like one of his movies at first glance—in fact, some people are surprised to find out he directed it. The rich cinematography is there, but The Outsiders as a Coppola film is mostly a unique animal. It could even be argued that the simmering intensity that you see in Apocalypse Now or The Godfather, with tension just under the surface, has its opposite in The Outsiders’ sometimes melodramatic dialogue and acting.
But remember, this is a movie about teens.
Generally there is a truth that’s mostly accepted amongst those who love both books and novels; the movie is usually a work all on its own. For better or for worse, fans of a book have to reconcile favorite parts from the story being left out of a movie, due to time or story arc constraints. There are some things you just can’t show on a screen; you have to read them.
The Outsiders is one of those rare cases, however, where the director does a great job of actually translating, rather than creating something new based on the book. This might be one of the reasons this doesn’t look like a Coppola film–it’s a vessel for Hinton’s story, told the way it is in the book. The story’s simple dialogue and teen-angst filled yearnings are very faithfully portrayed on the screen, and yes, it can seem emotionally heightened. But Coppola also filmed with a 60s era feel that almost feels like an homage, and as a style, it’s a perfect format for the dialogue and acting. If you remind yourself of this, it works as an experience.
Everything from the remarkable skies to the dialogue is pretty faithfully transferred from novel to screen. One of the most glaring differences, of course, is the choice to cast Matt Dillon as Dallas, who is described in the book as having light blond hair, but Hinton herself is said to have recommended him for the role, and Dillon truly inhabits it—from his first appearance to his scenery chewing last scene.
This was a breakout movie for most of the stars—if you were looking for a teen idol in the 80s, The Outsiders was one stop shopping.
But just like the novel, the movie has a following for more than the cast, or the acting, or the director—it’s the message that hits home. “Stay gold” may seem like a sappy catchphrase to some, but the lesson of The Outsiders’ continued popularity at its golden anniversary is…sometimes a little sentimentality is what we need.