Smells Like Teen Spirit: Over the Edge

by Tony Nigro

Over the Edge (1979)

A cult favorite that influenced the likes of Kurt Cobain, Richard Linklater and (I suspect) everyone involved in Freaks and Geeks, Over the Edge (1979) balances its ripped-from-the-headlines teen exploitation with healthy doses of humanism that only 1970s Hollywood could dish out: on-the-nose monologues defending aimless teens; earnest, fleeting glances that tear through plastic Movieland moments; and a bleak denouement that literally ends with a smile.  In short, it’s complex like a Sam Fuller yarn.

Oh, and a 14-year-old Matt Dillon is in it.

But Fuller’s low budget genius is at work, too.  The movie’s planned community of New Granada (based on the Foster City of a San Francisco Examiner article) is claustrophobic despite its big-sky, Colorado environs.  It’s the kind of town that’s bound by a few roads, a middle school, and a controversial rec center.  It seems home to only a handful of residents — until the final act’s violent set piece — and these kinds of limits only enhance the story’s portrayal of the dark side of the suburban dream.

By now it’s well understood that suburban development sprawled out of control.  The need to be “sub-” to an urban center evolved into the need to be an independent bedroom community.  Faceless developments of McMansions, office parks, and shopping malls became the playgrounds of kids who aren’t homeowners, full-time workers, or full-time shoppers.  In Over the Edge, a youth-friendly rec center becomes the focus of blame for fostering teen crime (which it does and doesn’t), but it’s also the only place kids have to gather when not in school.  Without a nearby urban center to provide culture, opportunity, and that place to migrate to later, the teens live in nothingness — their parents aren’t even rooted to the land — and their only other hangouts are an abandoned house and what ever poor sod happened to let his house be friendly to burglars.

Outside of its drive-in movie thrills, Over the Edge is a prescient warning against suburban development gone wild.  The New Granada, Colorado, in development could easily be Victorville, California, recently in un-development.

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One response to “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Over the Edge

  1. Oh my god loved reading this article. I added your feed to my reader.

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