A special request from my 7-year old.
A special request from my 7-year old.
Forget post-modernism or post-irony. Has there ever been an un-selfconsciously dorky band than The Honeycombs? If there is, let me know, because these guys (and gal) are AWESOME! Sweet lord, that percussion! That weird twangy organ / guitar / whatever in the background that could only have come from producer Joe Meek! This song was apparently a huge hit in the mid-1960s, but I only heard it for the first time a month ago (on Sirius’s Underground Garage) and can’t get the damn thing out of my head. Discoveries like this make me happy that I can keep digging deeper into the past instead of reconciling myself to modern-day shite like Nickleback (I realize that people love to dogpile on Nickleback these days, which kind of makes me want to find something to like about them … but, seriously I can’t … they are so F–KING awful and gross!!!!! and not even in a cool and ironic way … they’re F–KING appalling!).
At one point in the distant past (over 30 years ago), director Robert Zemeckis was one of the funniest, weirdest, and raunchiest comedy film directors around. While “Back to the Future” sent Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale onto greener commercial pastures, “Used Cars,” from 1980, was the highlight of Zemeckis’s (and Gale’s) career. An unapologeticaly politically incorrect tale of corruption and sleaze with a scumbag (albeit with a heart of gold … or at least bronze) as its hero. And seriously, F–K Snake Plissken! Kurt Russell was never better than he was playing sleazebag used car salesman Rudy Russo. Zemeckis and Gale split up professionally and Zemeckis involved himself with increasingly commercial, but blander projects (“Romancing the Stone,” “Forrest Gump,” “Contact,” and the extremely disturbing-looking computer animated film “Polar Express”). Yes, I’ll admit the first “Back to the Future” film has its charms, but “Used Cars” was THE BEST Zemeckis and Gale film. Let’s pour some wine on the ground in honor of what Zemeckis could have been as a director, a wonderful cross between Preston Sturges and John Waters (and if you don’t think that concept is golden, then f–k off!).
Jonathan Kaplan’s criminally underrated and nearly forgotten 1979 film “Over the Edge” is one of the best and most frightening films about teenagers ever made. According to various things I’ve read over the years (which may or may not be true), either “Edge” or “The Great Santini” was intended to be Orion Pictures first release (it was actually George Roy Hill’s criminally underrated and nearly forgotten “A Little Romance” – featuring the debut of the lovely Diane Lane), but like many of Orion’s films during the illustrious, but tumultuous time they were around, seemed to be plagued by poor marketing, poor distribution, or skittish executives not quite sure how to market a great film that didn’t fit into any commercial niche.
“Edge” is about a planned community named New Granada which seems to be a suburban paradise, except for the fact the planners never provided anything for the growing population of older kids (who are not yet driving age) to do. With nothing to do, the kids fill their time with sex, drugs, and crime, leading to a very frightening climax. While the film is tastefully made (given the subject matter), I’m really shocked this got a PG rating (even given the permissive standards of the late 1970s). This film would have enormous trouble getting greenlit today, let alone getting by with anything less than an R rating. Everything from the writing, to the directing (by Jonathan Kaplan) to the acting (including a star-making screen debut by Matt Dillon) is top-notch.
“Edge” is based on a true story from the early 1970s where a planned upper-middle class suburban community near San Francisco named Foster City had a higher juvenile crime rate than any other comparable community in the country. The problem was that this planned community (which had man-made canals with docks attached to homes, so one could boat to a local grocery store) had nothing designed for the large population of young people to do. The community became overrun with vandalism, arson, bombings, and other activities more affiliated with war zones. The story became the subject of a highly read San Francisco Chronicle article about Foster City by Bruce Koon (“Mousepacks: Kids on a Crime Spree) and screenwriters Charlie Haas and Tim Hunter wrote a screenplay based on the article.
I won’t go into more detail about the inception, production, release, and critical resurrection of the film, because a very lengthy 30th anniversary oral history published in Vice Magazine tells the story much better than I can. After you watch the film, please please please read this article, which will tell you everything you need to know:
As for the film, “Over the Edge” is a must see and just gets scarier the older I (and my children) get. I lived in a community very similar to New Granada recently and remember the alarming reports of shocked adults finding empty beer cans, liquor bottles, and used condoms in the trails behind the homes. After a few months there, I told my wife, “There’s a movie you need to see that’s exactly like where we live now.”
Before director Penelope Spheeris entered the Hollywood mainstream with “Wayne’s World” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” she directed the seminal punk and metal documentaries “The Decline of Western Civilization Parts 1 and 2” and also directed “Suburbia,” a punk melodrama for legendary exploitation producer Roger Corman in 1983. Corman has always had a knack for recognizing filmmaking talent and gave Spheeris a lot of leeway in making “Suburbia” as long as she delivered plenty of action, violence, and nudity (including a church riot homage to Corman’s biker classic from the 1960s, “The Wild Angels”).
“Suburbia” delivers plenty of action, violence and nudity, but with a couple of exceptions, most of the people appearing in the film were actual punks she ran into and cast in the film (including a pre-Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, billed as Mike B. the Flea in the credits, in a pivotal supporting role). This isn’t the slickest film in the world by any means, but while the kids engage in a lot of anti-social behavior, the film is obviously and overwhelmingly on their side, sympathizes tremendously with their troubled backgrounds, and is easily one of the best and heartfelt punk films ever made.
One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive. The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience. My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us. While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.” It’s too bad Spheeris hasn’t made too many films recently. A vastly underrated filmmaking talent.
Further proof that not all 1970s progressive rock sucked. In fact, between Brian Eno, Can, early Roxy Music, King Crimson, and NEU!, it could be pretty freaking terrific. The aggression and heaviness of “Super” by NEU! (recorded in 1973) is a blueprint for punk a few years later.