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Hollywood's 'movie brats' -- a status report

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The first result of that retrenchment is ''The Outsiders,'' directed by Coppola from S.E. Hinton's popular young-adult novel about rich kids vs. poor kids in Tulsa. It has opened to many mixed and negative reviews, but good box-office response. As a movie, it's mediocre. As a clue to Coppola's thinking, it shows he still has things to learn about the relation between technology and expression.

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As he has admitted to me and others, Coppola is in love with advanced filmmaking methods, including video techniques that allow him to plan and prepare his pictures in great detail. It sounds good, but (as ''Heart'' showed) such elaborate practices can separate the artist from the work at hand.

''The Outsiders'' is full of dramatic shots, unexpected angles, and evocative lighting. But there's no flow to the story, no momentum to the emotions. Even the strong scenes are oddly isolated from one another. The effect is dry and lumpy - turning the yarn into a sterile study of class conflict, a dialectics for the drive-in, rather than the empathy-filled adventure that Hinton wrote and Coppola presumably meant to film.

Compounding the situation, Coppola so enjoyed shooting ''The Outsiders'' that he segued into another Hinton project, ''Rumble Fish,'' filming it in the same location with many of the same colleagues. What a shame he didn't take things one step at a time - watching audience response to ''The Outsiders,'' and using this to improve the follow-up.

It also doesn't help that Zoetrope's other current movie, ''The Black Stallion Returns,'' has been greeted with a bored shrug by almost everyone. As directed by Robert Dalva, with Coppola as executive producer, it's a pleasantly old-fashioned picture with the kind of preposterous plot and exaggerated characters that studio backlots used to thrive on. It's not a worthy successor to the original ''Black Stallion,'' a superb film.

The lesson of all this is, Look out for that tempting technology, and don't rely on sequels to bail you out. If he heeds these messages, Coppola could rejoin the Hollywood whiz kids. If not, he could find himself alone with his equipment, making movies only his fellow cinephiles want to see. Imagery for its own sake

Like a jeweler, Vincent Grenier takes a small chunk of reality and chisels away the bits that don't shine according to his vision. His films are small and concentrated, bringing out the sensuous play of light and form in shots that might have seemed banal or barren in another context - a woman tending her garden, or a simple array of colored bars stretching across the screen.

The imagery itself seems to be the main point, rather than literal or even allusive meaning. Yet the filmmaker suggests we try to ''pick up the pieces'' of his fractured films, ''which can suggest many things at once.'' So says a program note printed by the Collective for Living Cinema, which will show four Grenier works tomorrow night: ''Closer Outside'' and ''Architecture'' from 1981, ''D'Apres Meg'' from last year, and a recent untitled film. Although none are major achievements, all are worth a look by viewers interested in new movie directions. They are distributed by the Filmmakers Coop in New York.