Over the Edge (1979)

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Jonathan Kaplan directs Michael Kramer, Matt Dillon and Pamela Ludwig in this teen drama about a lawless bunch of youths pushed into a riot of destruction. 

There’ll always be a list of films I intend to watch. My knowledge of anything made before the 80s will always be patchy and likewise I doubt I’ll ever see enough foreign cinema to be fully au fait with non-English language movies. But I think having now finally watched Over The Edge I have seen just about everything modern that had always niggled at me for not getting around to. My “must see” spreadsheet is now clear. It is a film I had read about or seen referred to for years. The true start of the teen movie cycle but gritty and realistic. An obvious influence on Linklater’s brilliant Dazed and Confused and one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite flicks. I had to order it on DVD from Germany. And the viewing was a similar situation as to when I watched Miracle Mile. A perfectly fine cult movie that could never compete with the masterpiece that had built itself and played in my head over years of vague imagined imagery and performances. Over The Edge is merely good. The acting from the kids is natural and unsympathetic. There’s bad behaviour and tragedy and urban restlessness. It is no Rebel Without a Cause in craft or manipulation. It is no The Breakfast Club in vocalised heart or era defining cool. The kids often come across as petulantly dickish rather than inspiringly heroic. The chaos of the final riot has all the cartoonish logic of any Disney kids movie of that decade (stoopid grown ups) yet is equally unbelievable in the overkill of the destruction. It leaves the plot with nowhere to go. No resolution will work for the criminality exhibited. The unarrested cheer as the others are carted off in a borstal bus. A hollow victory. Maybe it is supposed to evoke Steve McQueen returning to the cooler at the end of The Great Escape. What’s the message? It is better to rebel than to just be crushed by the system? There’s a great Cheap Trick dominated soundtrack and some of the cinematography is as beautiful as any western’s location shoot. Young Dillon and Vincent Spano make more of an impression in scrappier roles than the romantic leads. You can’t help but feel this whole experience is some kid’s dying fantasy. Does the dream start when our lead settles into his bed, massive blaring headphones on? Or when a gun is casually shot at him in a playful bit of trigger pulling? Or when one of the more likeable kids actually dies… unifying the bored, ignored rabble into direct action?

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