Monday, September 19, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On - At the Movies #22 - Over the Edge (1979, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)

Matt Dillon’s film career started in Denver. Aurora, to be precise. A sprawling subdivision called Mission Viejo, to be even more precise. That’s where the 1979 teen-sex-drugs-vandalism-explosions-and-rock-and-roll exploitation movie Over the Edge was filmed. A very young, long-haired Dillon plays Ritchie, a suburban hoodlum who lives by one law: “A kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid.” He was about 14 when the film was made, and he looks as cute as can be as he struts around the screen in a sleeveless shirt, bell-bottom jeans and a leather wristband on his left arm.
Much of what makes this so terrific is that it’s a supreme historical document. In addition to capturing a Hollywood superstar at a moment he’d probably prefer would remain hidden, it’s a shameless parade of what might well be the best-worst fashion faze of the last half century – a frenzy of feathered hair, high-waist jeans and ring-neck T-shirts with glittered tigers on the front. The cars are all boxy and big and painted in drab colors (the dad of one of the main characters runs a Cadillac dealership). And the soundtrack pulsates with power chords and screaming guitar licks: Hendrix, Van Halen, the Ramones and, of course, Cheap Trick; lots and lots of Cheap Trick. 
And all of this is happening in the eastern suburbs of Denver at a time when there was still more prairie than housing out there. The Mission Viejo subdivision where most of the action takes place is a stone’s throw from Smoky Hill High School, which opened a couple of years before the movie came out. It’s funny to see its split-level homes and boxy apartment complexes staged as a high-end real estate, because it has since become decidedly more low-rent. There are a few scenes at Cherry Creek Reservior, both on and below the dam, a shot of the old Stapleton runway that went over I-70 and a yellow taxicab with an Elitch Gardens signboard advertising a wax museum. How long’s it been since they had one of those?
Oh, and there’s a plot, too, and a fairly well developed theme. The grown-ups who created an oasis away from the city on the Plains forgot that a quarter of their residents would be kids, so there’s nothing for the youngins to do except hang out at a Quonset hut rec center until it closes at six at night, then spend the night getting high, screwing and breaking stuff – and dodging Sgt. Doberman, an asshole cop who gets off on throwing kids up against his squad car and frisking them. To make matters worse, a long-promised bowling alley/skating rink/movie theater is jettisoned to make way for an industrial park. Then, near the end of act one, a gun appears, almost inexplicably, sending the whole story careening down the road toward all-out teenage bedlam.
- Joe Miller

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