A sublime time capsule of the era, Over the Edge, exists as a rarely-seen cult classic, plugging nihilistic punk-like anger into the conventions of a teen rebel movie. Based on an actual incident in which the teenagers of a dreary Midwestern town unite and use anarchic violence to take over their school, director Jonathan Kaplan and his team create an angst-fueled ride of adolescent rebellion. The soundtrack featuring Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Van Halen and the Cars, exemplifies the pitch perfect American suburban flavor of this film.
Over the Edge (1979) dir. Jonathan Kaplan
Starring: Michael Eric Kramer, Matt Dillon, Pamela Ludwig, Vincent Spano, Tom Fergus
By Alan Bacchus
Most articles about this film cite Matt Dillon’s screen debut, as a tough 13 year old whose murder incites the violent actions in the finale of the film. There’s also the acknowledged influence on Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, as well as the noted influence on Kurt Cobain’s youth. Despite a low budget and inexperienced cast of young people the film survives the ravages of time and emerges as a unique time capsule of the period.
Kaplan gives power to his young characters, who experience intolerance from their adult superiors, parents, cops and teachers. Like the influential teen rebel films of the 50’s and 60’s, violence and gang culture features prominently, and here a strong punk attitude is infused. If anything the picture feels like an R-rated precursor to the Spielberg-influenced kids vs. adults genre of the 80’s, but before the commercialization of the genre.
Over the Edge rings authentic and its credibility earned through the honest performances of the newbie teenage cast. Matt Dillon is a clear star. His confidence and screen presence is palpable, a performance which likely led to being cast in three S.E. Hinton films in the 80’s (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Tex).
But the hero of the picture is Michael Eric Kramer’s ‘Carl’ character, a smaller kid, who gets beat up by a group of troublemakers who at the beginning of the film disrupt the authorities by firing a bb gun at a police car from an over pass. This action seems to be the last straw in a series of increasing malevolent behavior of young people experiencing cabin fever of the gated suburban neighbourhood.
Where in any other film Carl’s beating might incite some kind of journey for revenge or reconciliation, the event barely phases Carl. Kaplan wonderfully depicts Carl’s daily grind activities, from school, to partying, to scoring with the local girls, with the same kind of lazy naturalism as Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, or more recently David Robert Mitchell’s Myth of the American Sleepover.
Plotting is kept a minimum, but a key point is when the local businessman close the kids’ local rec centre while a wealthy business investor recces the area for a new land development. Put off by their disregard the kids respond by amplifying their malfeasance, leading to the film's centre-piece sequence, a violent siege of their high school.
We can pull a number of memorable compositions from this film which could serve as representative images of the era, including the sobering but memorable final image of the group of kids being sent away from the town (presumably to prison) on a school bus.