The Outsiders

The Outsiders

Warner Bros.

Original release: March 25th, 1983
Running time: 113 minutes

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Kathleen Knutsen Rowell, S.E. Hinton

Cast: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane

Official Book and Movie Site

Nothing Gold Can Stay: 00:40:00 to 00:42:14

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1993, we’d just returned to school after the Easter break and while English class wasn’t everyone’s favourite, today I was looking forward to it to see what we’d be reading for the rest of the term. As we took to our desks Miss Kitt issued the worn out paperbacks, one to each student. I turned mine over and read the title on the front cover, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.

Although we barely got started that day, I asked if I could take it home. Miss Kitt knew I was an avid reader and extensive writer, even back then my essays, stories and reading lists were all I lived for even though I was a painfully slow reader. I liked to pour over each word if it was something I was enjoying.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

That night I couldn’t stop myself. I lay in bed and instead of savouring each page slowly as I read it, I found myself devouring the story within one night. The next morning I handed the book back to Miss Kitt, she asked if I would like to keep it longer, I replied “thank you, but it’s ok, I read it all last night” and I handed her my assignment as well. She said she thought I would finish it early but not that early. Then she lent me her videotape of the 1983 movie and wrote me a note explaining it was for school, knowing my folks at home would have a problem with me sitting idly at home watching television on a school night.

It was really a surreal experience and it became something I would always remember as it was one of those rare instances when a film visualised everything I had imagined while reading the book. Not only did it capture that golden glow I saw in my mind, but also those magnificently tender moments that rebellious youth seemed to hang so precariously on in a story of social divides, parental negligence and substitute families in an almost all-male environment.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

There was no doubt about it, if I were growing up in Oklahoma in 1965 I too would have been have been described as coming from the wrong side of town and if I had a crowd to run with I’m pretty sure it would have been the Greasers, although like Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell), I don’t think I’d be carrying a switchblade in my back pocket or be looking to rumble with the Socs. No, we’d be watching sunsets, reading Gone With The Wind and reciting poems:

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

~ Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay (1923)

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

It’s my favourite moment in the story. After Ponyboy and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) are jumped by a gang of trouble-making Socs, Johnny finally can’t take it any longer and pulls out his blade to save his friend from being drowned. With the leader lying dead in a pool of blood, the pair go on the run, hiding out in an old abandoned church. One evening Ponyboy watches the sunset and Johnny wanders out to join him.

It’s in that moment, as the silver and gold explodes across the sky around them, Ponyboy realises the meaning of Robert Frost’s poem and recites it to him. There’s a gentle breeze in the air and it softly blows their hair back as they stand there in awe of the simplicity and beauty of the sun dipping beneath the horizon. Despite the awful ugliness of their situation, life can be beautiful.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

In their book, American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture, Neil Campbell, Alasdair Kean draw a comparisons to other works such as J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Rebel Without A Cause (1955) where characters like Holden Caufield and Jim Trask yearn to exist in a space beyond the adult world. The world they make for themselves though is riddled with violence, gangs and other divides. Like with Rebel when Jim (James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) escape to an abandoned mansion in the hills, Ponyboy and Johnny find that same seductive pull of the outside in their abandoned church, away from the social situations that mould and impose their values on them.

“In The Outsiders, this new imagined space permits the rebirth of the dead parents ‘I brought mom and dad back to life… Mom would bake some more chocolate cakes and dad would drive the pick-up out early in the morning to feed the cattle. My mother was golden and beautiful’. (ibid.: 39-40). A static, golden world without death and change is once again the ideal in Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Outsiders (1983) where the utopian country is rendered visually golden and bright colours echoing Ponyboy’s memory of his mother, and also linking to one of the central motifs in the book, a poem by Robert Frost. Its refrain ‘nothing gold can stay’ is a reminder just like Holden’s recognition that the static dream of the museum is impossible, that the boys cannot avoid and ‘stay gold’ and yet simultaneously it celebrates the belief that ‘you’re gold when you’re a kid’ (ibid.:127)”

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

As dense as I’ve always been when it comes to poetry, Stay Gold was one poem I got right away. As I reached my teens people on the outside commented on how serious and introverted I had become. The boisterous boy I had once been was now withdrawn, moody and spent a lot of time staring off into space, lost in daydreams.

They put it down to “just being a teenager” and to a certain extent they were right, but there were things going on I couldn’t talk about. I longed to leave the house I didn’t call home and even though school was a miserable place to spend the day, it was the safest place I knew but I soon grew so unhappy and frustrated there as well that I took to spending those hours instead at the library or sitting on the rooftops of the tower blocks and looking out at the wet grey city that spread hopelessly for miles. I tried to hold onto those moments that Holden, Jim and Ponyboy had come to realise were fleeting but nevertheless important for survival, and to ‘stay gold’.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

“As Johnny says, ‘Too bad it couldn’t stay like that all the time’ (ibid.:59), but they know change is inevitable and adulthood will claim them with all its divisions and falsities. This dream of ‘Eden’, as the Frost poem calls it, is precisely the dream of return to continuity akin to the womb, to the relationship of unborn child to the mother where everything co-exists and is part of a whole, total sense of being.”
The Outsiders is released on Blu-ray as a 2-Disc Special Edition on Monday 31st of August and contains the Director’s Cut with 22 minutes of new footage, commentaries, additional scenes, screen tests, documentaries and readings of the book by the cast.

With his luminous close-ups in this scene, Coppola creates a mood with his use of colour but even without those gold, orange, and soft red hues, as Ponyboy recites that poem it reminded me of George Stevens’ A Place In The Sun (1951).

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor lay bare their emotions after escaping out onto the balcony, away from the prying eyes and eavesdropping ears of partygoers. Once there, they plan another escape from the world of parents and their rules of society that would keep them apart.

Although I no longer sit on those rooftops, I still look out at the sunsets, glad that I not only managed to escape everything I wanted to, but carved a world for myself where divisions and falsities didn’t claim me. There’s a part of me that I know will always stay gold.

Hinton, S.E. (1967) The Outsiders, Viking Press
Campbell, N, Kean, A (2006) American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture, Routledge

Deconstructing Cinema: The Outsiders

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.