Friday, February 19, 2010

Over the Edge (Jonathan Kaplan, 1979)

Extracurricular activities—you know, that time consuming comfort we all take for granted. Well, for some strange reason, they've yet to be made available to the young people of a newly established suburb called New Granada, the bland local where the majority of the unstructured delinquency takes place in the coarsely beautiful Over the Edge, a venturesome look at youth-based ennui in a stagnant society. An authentic and straightforward examination of what it must have been like to live in a world where staring mindlessly at screens all day wasn't option, the film, directed by Jonathan Kaplan (Truck Turner) and featuring gorgeous photography by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive), crackles with a freewheeling aimlessness. Sure, there are television screens to look at, but the underage characters that populate this burgeoning realm don't seem all that interested in the vegetational arts. And I must confess, seeing the kids in this movie roaming wild and unfettered through the streets of this lame town was quite invigorating. Following the apathetic adventures of Carl (Michael Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon), two 14 year-old troublemakers who rip the system on a daily basis, the film makes a lofty attempt to show what can happen to a quiet suburb when the interests of young people are completely disregarded. With the exception of a biosphere-esque rec centre run by a cute idealist (Julia Pomeroy), there's nothing much going on in terms of lawful amusement for the under fifteen crowd.

As you would expect, Carl, Richie, and their drug abusing pal Claude (the super-terrific Tom Fergus), drift purposelessly from one unmanageable situation to another, while always on the lookout for the aptly named Doberman (Harry Northup), an overzealous police officer who has a severe disdain for rapscallions, scallywags and scoundrels.

On the parental front, Carl's dad (Andy Romano), the owner of a struggling car dealership, is trying to attract investors to the sleepy suburb, especially the one's who are interested in buying a large plot of land, which of course is located across from the youth's beloved rec centre. Convinced that no one will commit millions of dollars to a town that has hundreds of unruly adolescents running rampant, the elders try to shield the potential investors from the minor rabble. This plan backfires and sets in motion some mildly tragic events that will change New Granada forever.

It's not all drug addled partying and property damage, while all this wanton teen angst is transpiring, young love is blossoming. First locking gazes while attending a mandatory screening of a propaganda film besmirching the destructive beauty that is vandalism, the off-kilter romance that slowly forms between Carl and Cory (Pamela Ludwig) was a delightful counter-punch to all the macho posturing that takes place in Over the Edge. I also liked how the act of Cory almost killing Carl is what brought them closer together–before the accidental snuffing they were just in the flirtation stage of their relationship. Nothing says true love like being shot at while dancing to Cheap Trick in the upstairs bedroom of an uncompleted townhouse on the outskirts of nowhere.

A staunch supporter of teenage vandalism, and hooliganism in general, I found myself nodding along in steadfast agreement while each act of impish rascality was being implemented. The fact that the girls, an unfairly neglected group when it comes to nonsensical criminality, were deeply involved the anarchistic bravado that goes on in this film caused me to nod even harder.

Going much further than Pump Up the Volume and Heathers did in terms of incendiary fanfare, Over the Edge lives up to its title in a big way during its final third. An orgy of underage ferocity and premeditated devilment, a stoic Carl leads his crazed mob of frisky juniors on a senseless yet politically relevant mission to destroy the very fabric of New Grenadian society.

The image of Michael Kramer's Carl, his profound shortness adding to the age-centric believability of his character (teens in movies are usually too tall), serenely standing as chaos reigns around him was the film's defining moment. Second in that regard would have to be the sight of Matt Dillon acting tough in a mid-riff revealing t-shirt. Nah, that's actually third or forth.

The second is the scene where the angelic Pamela Ludwig leaves Carl's hideout and slowly walks into the creeping nightfall emerging daylight. I loved how she waved goodbye twice; briefly extending what was already a touching moment.

Normally content with lying on his bed while blasting the popular rock music of the day on his headphones, Carl comes to the conclusion that he's spent enough time hiding in shadows, and goes about getting his voice heard by utilizing the uncompromising bluntness that only a rowdy throng can provide. It's an inspirational message that proves what kind of greatness humanity can achieve whenever they decide to stop looking at screens, go outside, and confront the world.

video uploaded by Lowtit TV


  1. one great write up on one great flick! i remember seeing this as a kid and Claude was my hero.

    it's been ages since i've seen this and now after reading this i have to dig this one out and give it a re watch.

  2. all killer - no filler - excellent film and blog indeed...

  3. Funny you should choose to review this today because Over The Edge is the opening film in Film Comment's select series at the Film Society of lincoln center, which starts tonight and runs into March.

    I absolutely love Over The Edge. It's one of my favorite teen films of all time. And I absolutely love that 2 films released in 1979 end with a school being set on fire or blown up (Rock 'N Roll High School being the other)

    I was friendly with Pamela Ludwig's father about 10 years ago, and apparently he had told her of my love for the film. She came in and signed the VHS copy of the video store I worked at for me, and then somebody swiped it before I had the good sense to bring it home. It Probably was some crazy mixed up teenager...

  4. I can't believe I haven't seen this film yet. Anything that Matt Dillon's in, I'm in.

  5. Over The Edge is one of my all time favorite movies. Thanx for giving it such a great write-up. I love the last paragraph!

  6. @wiec?: Thanks.

    I've read that Claude was a big influence on Kurt Cobain.

    @Scott: *nods in appreciation*

    @Cinema Du Meep: I would love to see Over the Edge on the big screen with an appreciative audience.

    Cool anecdote. Your life and cult filmy goodness seem intertwined. I, on the other hand, first heard about this flick while tooling around the Bride of Awesomeness (Thanks, Mr. Canacorn) late last year.

    @Morgan: Thanks for all the recent comments; you definitely have cool taste in movies. :)


    Rev. Phantom: Thanks, Rev. Yeah, that last bit was inspired by the fact that none of the young people in the film seem to watch television.

  7. I can't believe your eyes are still functioning after watching so many visually assaulting films. Just looking at the screen caps here -- the hair, the fashions -- made me wince. Sitting through a whole movie?

    Well, kudos to you, as always!


  8. Yum, I think we were separated at birth. That's all.

  9. Over the Edge scared me when I was a kid. The scene where they throw the narc in the canal freaked me out!

  10. my favorite shot is a girl in an orange poncho smashing a trophy case

  11. I agree -- this is my favorite growing up movie, we were more into KISS growing up than Cheap Trick, but the clothes and hair were the same, as was the youth center.

    PS - Cory walks off into the sunset not sundown - she's spent the night and is sneaking in before dad gets up. which makes it approx. 100 times cooler than it already was, which was damned cool

  12. Aren't sunset and sundown the same thing? Don't you mean sunrise? Either way, I'll adjust my wording.