Saturday, March 6, 2010

"We heard you were horny."

What a thrill it was to see Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge in a theater packed with enthusiastic fans and a number of key cast and crew members. By my recollection, Matt Dillon's classic retort to Harry Northup's Sgt. Doberman, quoted in this post's title, got the biggest laugh from the audience. Shown as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Film Comment Selects" series, the screening was co-presented by Vice Magazine, prompted by this great retrospective article last year and featured a nice-looking 35mm print, an after-party with a dj who spun period-appropriate tunes (think lots of prime Cheap Trick), and, most importantly, a lengthy q & a with stars Michael Kramer, Pamela Ludwig, Tom Fergus, Julia Pomeroy, and Harry Northup, producer George Litto, writers Tim Hunter and Charlie Haas, and talent scout Jane Bernstein (she discovered Matt Dillon skipping class at his Westchester, NY middle school). To think I almost missed this screening...working with Vice on another project, I stumbled across the event listing on their website and quickly learned that it was sold out. I immediately called in favors with my contacts at FSLC and Vice, and the latter came through with a complimentary ticket. Phew!


Most refreshingly, the audience was primarily made up of passionate fans in their 30s who had discovered the film in the 1980s when it was part of HBO's regular rotation. I thought I might be the only person with the sublime Warner Bros. Records soundtrack LP and the super-rare novelization written by Haas and Hunter and published by Grove Press, but after the screening I saw both items being thrust in the faces of cast and filmmakers to be signed. I screened a 16mm print for an appreciative audience in college, but it was so long ago that I'd forgotten the finer details of the audience's response. So, it was great chuckling at parts of this film that I've seen countless times before, but precious few within the company of a large audience of fellow fans.

Anyway, I recall seeing parts of it on HBO back in the '80s, but it was a few years later that I truly became a member of the Over the Edge cult, after reading Danny Peary's entry in Cult Movies 3. Oddly, none of my local video stores carried the film, but it was readily available from Warner Home Video as a sell-through VHS. So I excitedly bought a copy at the local Suncoast and proceeded to indoctrinate my brother and just about all my friends into said cult. I was, and remain, struck by how natural all the kids seemed and the filmmaker's documentary-like approach to the film's design, locations, and photography. Even though my adolescence was occurring under much more mundane circumstances than those of the film, and about 10 years later, I felt a strong connection to the plight of the kids of New Granada and was desperate to learn more about what became of the young cast--only a couple, Matt Dillon and Vincent Spano, went on to prolonged careers in the industry. In this pre-Internet age, it was next to impossible to connect with fellow fans and share information. Needless to say, this screening, happening nearly 20 years after my love affair with the film began, was something of a holy grail moment for me.

Vice had someone recording the event, but I haven't seen it show up on their website yet, so I figured I'd share some of the highlights of the post-film conversation before the details become fuzzy...

* Producer George Litto was like a proud grandfather as he beamed and regaled the crowd with stories about how he financed the film and later fought with studio executives about its marketing and (lack of) distribution. He couldn't seem to figure out how to use the microphone, repeatedly waving it in his hand, far away from his mouth. At one point a younger woman, his daughter I assume, jumped on stage and held the microphone for him, saying, "I love you, but you don't know how to hold a microphone!" Litto rejected the notion that Rebel Without a Cause played a strong role in the conception of Over the Edge, an assertion that surprised me and that contradicts the story, relayed by Peary, about how Kaplan pitched the film to Orion as Rebel Without a Cause 1978. The best nugget from Litto was a story about the French distributor who told Litto he wanted to re-release the film in France, where it had previously failed commercially, under a new title that he was sure would mean good business. The new title was Hooligans and Litto laughed as he recounted how the film once again failed to turn a profit even with the can't-miss title. Litto and his entourage exited the event as I was. As I held the door for the producer, I resisted the temptation to blubber something about he was responsible for not 1, but 2 of my favorite films, Over the Edge and Blow Out.

* Michael Kramer, now a psychiatrist, came across as a genuinely down-to-earth, gracious fellow. I was very happy to hear him praise composer Sol Kaplan (father of director Jonathan) and his extremely moving, mournful original score. Kramer talked about how horrifying it was to see his awkward teenage self projected on a huge screen with a packed audience. I'm not an actor, but I could empathize with his discomfort. That said, Kramer relayed that it was extremely moving for him because upon seeing his 15 year-old self on-screen for the first time in years, he could now see the resemblance between his younger self and his own son.

* Pamela Ludwig, now known by her married name Dreyfuss, brought along her young son and her daughter and read an e-mail message of appreciation from director Kaplan, who could not attend the screening. She began by singling out Kramer's performance for praise, which I thought was especially classy.

* Harry Northup, as renowned for his poetry as for his performances in films by Kaplan, Martin Scorsese, and Jonathan Demme, was deeply moved by the show of affection for Over the Edge and his wonderful work in it. He shared a great story about riding on a bus with cast and crew to location one day. Pamela Ludwig, about 20 years his junior, took off her headphones and put them on Northup so he could hear the great new song she was listening to, Cheap Trick's "Surrender." Northup proceeded to sing the now-familiar chorus of the song, so effectively used in the film. Apparently, it was Ludwig who brought a lot of the soundtrack music to the attention of the filmmakers (Years later, in much the same way, Molly Ringwald would introduce her director John Hughes to the New Wave and synthpop music she was listening to). Northup also mentioned how powerful he thought the ending of the film was, with its use of "Ooh Child" as the Rec Center explodes and the camera closes in on Carl's (Kramer) tormented face.

* Tom Fergus, who's performance as the stoner Claude impresses me more and more, is now an attorney in New York. He explained that he was at a complete loss as to how to explain his role to his 6 and half year-old daughter. This drew a lot of laughter and he then shared that he had just had another child only a couple weeks before.

* Co-writer Charlie Haas debunked the oft-repeated account that he had written the newspaper story "Mousepacks," which detailed the true case in Foster City, California that inspired the film. He read the article and shared it with Tim Hunter, but he did not, in fact, write it.


* Hunter and Litto continued the debate that also cropped up on the DVD commentary about "Ooh Child" versus The Who's "Baba O'Riley" over the end credits. Apparently, director Kaplan and the writers really wanted the Who tune to play over the end credits, but Litto prevailed over them to use "Ooh Child" for cost reasons and because the tone of the song was less incendiary than "Baba O'Riley" with its "teenage wasteland" refrain.

* Matt Dillon could not attend because he was in London, but Litto read an e-mail that the actor had sent to be read in his absence, wherein he expressed his great appreciation for the opportunity to act in Over the Edge. Vincent Spano was not in attendance, either, and there was no explanation given for his absence.

Matt hanging with Jonathan Kaplan and co-star Tom Fergus at the December 1981 screening of Over the Edge at Joe Papp's Public Theater. Photos come from the Life Archives:

After the screening I visited Bruce Hershenson's great eMoviePoster.com site and found a gorgeous German Over the Edge poster, which I bid on and, I'm happy to say, I won:


Over a decade or so, I built up a decent sized collection of movie tie-in novels, which were unfortunately heavily damaged in a flood in my apartment several years ago. Over the Edge was one of the very few books I salvaged, but as you can see from the scans, it sadly did not completely escape damage:

15 comments:

Phantom of Pulp said...

Great account of the OVER THE EDGE reunion screening; wonderful movie; justly praised.

Ned Merrill said...

Phantom of Pulp,

Thanks so much for the compliment! Were you at the screening?

Rupert Pupkin said...

I so wish i could have been there for that screening! I am bummed enough I missed the BREAKING AWAY screening at the New Bev out here! Love the poster and novelization cover!

Ned Merrill said...

Rupe,
Glad you dig the poster and novelization graphics. They are very cool, indeed.

The great thing about the vast network of cinema-related blogs and websites, is that even if one couldn't make it out to a specific event, one can usually find some pretty good accounts of said event, like what I've tried to do with the OVER THE EDGE. I sure would have loved to have seen Dennis Christopher and Daniel Stern rap about BREAKING AWAY at the New Bev, too. Man, some of my favorite youth films came out in '79...QUADROPHENIA, BREAKING AWAY, OVER THE EDGE, THE WANDERERS, THE WARRIORS.

nygumbo said...

Thanks for sharing your account of the evening. It was an awesome night! I only saw one guy with the LP. If that was you, I wish I had a photo of you getting Litto's autograph in the Men's room, but photos in the Men's room never seems appropriate. I bumped into Michael Kramer on the street a few weeks ago. Poor fella is not used to enthusiastic fans greeting him unexpectedly. I think I scared him a bit. Take care.

Ned Merrill said...

nygumbo:

Thanks for stopping in.

No, that wasn't me with the LP. I came to the event sans soundtrack and novelization...it's not really my style to chase after folks for a signature. Good for him, I suppose, for getting Litto's autograph in the men's room, if that what it took. I was just happy to see the film projected on 35mm in the presence of so many of the folks who made the movie happen.

Michael Kramer struck me as a regular guy who has done well for himself outside of the film industry who doesn't need to, nor want to, bask in the glory of OVER THE EDGE. Same thing with Tom Fergus...

Dean Treadway said...

I really wanted to go to this so bad, but it sold out before I could get tix. God, how I love this movie. Thank you so much for your pix and reportage!

Ned Merrill said...

This was indeed a very special event...the kind our friends in Hollywood are treated to a lot more than we are in NYC.

aburbage said...

I know this tok place 2 years ago but stiil enjoyed reading your synopsis of the evening. Wish i could've been there. I e-mailed Michael Kramer not too long ago about the movie and his current work at the VA Hospital and he very graciously returned it. OTE is still my favorite movie after all this time. Was able to get the novellization you have on line and this week I was able to get the original vinyl soundtrack for 15 bucks!! Clearly the seller didn't know what they were sitting on. Heard of people willing to pay 80! What luck.Thanks again for this article.The YouTube video of this event was heavily edited.

Ned Merrill said...

aburbage,

Very much appreciate your reading and commenting on this article...thanks! It was a great event, one of the best of this kind that I've been fortunate enough to attend. Enjoy the LP and novelization!

Anonymous said...

And apparently, I have sunk to a new kind of low according to family and friends....I purchased a copy of the Bosch painting to hang in my office..b/c I LOVE this movie. Long live Claude Zachary.

Anonymous said...

This is why I love the internet. Thank for you coverage of this event. You rule!

Ned Merrill said...

Nice to see this is still being read 3 years later!

Steve said...

Nice coverage. Thanks. Love Over the Edge.

I hung out with Joaquin Phoenix one night in 2003, and over the course of several drinks talked movies. He said Matt Dillon was stopped in the hallway during school by someone casting for Over the Edge that liked Dillon's look. Did anyone comment on that at the retrospective?

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, Steve. Yes, that story was told in great detail, as one of the guests worked on the casting of the film...she was the one in the famous story who found Matt Dillon cutting class and the rest is history...