Monday, June 2, 2014

I Was a Teenage Teenager

In January, the Roxie had a four day event titled I Was a Teenage Teenager.  The program consisted of over a dozen films but I only saw three.  The series featured films about teenagers behaving in extreme ways.

Teenage Mother starring Arlene Farber; directed by Jerry Gross; (1967)
Over the Edge starring Michael Eric Kramer, Pamela Ludwig & Matt Dillon; directed by Jonathan Kaplan; (1979)
Endless Love starring Martin Hewitt & Brooke Shields; with Don Murray, Shirley Knight, James Spader & Tom Cruise; directed Franco Zefferelli; (1981)

Like my own teenage years, the series had some interesting moments but was ultimately not very momentous in hindsight.


The first thing one should know about Teenage Mother is that its director (Jerry Gross) later distributed the notorious exploitation film, I Spit on Your Grave.  Although nowhere near as lurid, Teenage Mother gets down & dirty on occasion.  Overall, the 47 year old film is fairly tame.

Erika Petersen (Julie Ange) is a Swedish sex educator who has come to an unspecified small town in the US to teach the yokels about babies and birthing.  Actually, Petersen is fairly humble but the rubes she meets up with at her new school are stereotypical.  There may have been a banana and condom scene; I don't recall.  The most memorable moment was the film (within the film) of a woman giving birth which was anything but titillating.

One of Erica's students is Arlene (Arlene Faber) who makes a conscious decision to lose her virginity to her boyfriend and promptly announces she is pregnant.  The natural reaction of the parents is that Petersen's new sex-ed techniques must have spurred Arlene's interest in her sexuality and subsequent pregnancy.  There is a scene where Petersen has to defend her methods.  Simultaneously, Arlene is dealing with the reactions to her delicate condition.

Where does it all end?  I can't really remember.  Arlene lied about her pregnancy for reasons unstated or which I don't recall.  I can't recall if Petersen kept her job.  Frankly, I had stopped caring 30 minutes earlier in the film.  I don't really have much which is positive to say about Teenage Mother. The acting was wooden and the plot nonsensical.  A student did try to rape Petersen; he was portrayed more as a jerk than budding sociopath. Fred Willard makes his film debut in a forgettable role as a coach at the high school.


Over the Edge was inspired by actual events in Foster City and reported in an article titled “Mousepacks: Kids on a Crime Spree” in the November 11, 1973 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.  I haven't been able to find a copy of that article but I would like to read it.

Set in the fictional planned community of New Granada, Over the Edge chronicles the lives of bored teenagers in the community.  The two main characters are Carl (Michael Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon in his film debut).  Carl comes from a wealthy family while Richie comes from a single parent home.  Regardless, the pair are friends and along with their other friends take drugs and get into mischief of varying degrees.

The kids in New Granada hang out at a rec center during the daytime.  At night, they party and get into trouble.  It seems clear that the kids are lacking parental supervision as well as appropriated evening activities.  If I recall correctly, Carl is excited at the prospect of a bowling alley being built in New Granada.  Anyway, Carl and Richie get into repeated trouble with their parents, the police, other kids, etc.  Eventually, they steal a gun which leads to Richie getting shot by the police.

Overwhelmed by Richie's death, Carl leads the kids to storming a townhall meeting at the school where the parents are discussing the uptick in violence among the youths.  The kids lock the adults in the auditorium, riot, commit arson and general mayhem ensues.  In end, Carl is sentenced to "the hill," the infamous juvenile detention facility which he has been threatened with throughout the film.

The plot to Over the Edge was over the top but the film was part of a wave a youth gang films such as The Warriors.  Featuring an outstanding soundtrack including Cheap Trick, the Cars and the Ramones, Over the Edge is a memorable entry into the genre.

With no prior acting experience, 14 year old Matt Dillon was a natural and a revelation.  Michael Kramer also acquits himself well in the lead role of Carl.  Given the all-white cast of the film, it felt like in hell in suburbia.  Given the youth of the actors, I also couldn't help think of Over the Edge as the Bad News Bears tweaked out on crystal meth.


That leaves Endless Love, the much excoriated film by Franco Zefferelli.  I should note, before I end this post, that Roxie director of programming Mike Keegan and Gina Basso (of SF MOMA) introduced the films prior to each screening.  The duo mentioned that Endless Love was being remade.  I'm glad I noted that because the 2014 version of Endless Love came and went from the theaters without my recollection.  Released on Valentine's Day, I cannot recall the ad campaign, which theaters it played at nor the reviews although a quick search reveals Peter Hartlaub had the Little Man asleep in his chair.

Keegan & Basso also praised the 1979 novel (same title) by Scott Spencer which the film is based upon.  I also recall the novel being critically praised which gave me brief impetus to read the book.  I have tried twice to check out the book at the library.  On both occasions, the novel has been checked out.

Endless Love is about David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt), a young man who develops an unhealthy attraction to Jade Butterfield (Brooke Shields).  Jade is the teenage daughter of Hugh & Ann Butterfield (Don Murray & Shirley Knight), a Bohemian couple whose permissive attitudes are tested by their daughter's budding sexuality.  When Jade's drug use comes to light, the Butterfields insist that David & Jade separate for 30 days so that Jade can concentrate on her final exams.

David cooks up a scheme to set some newspapers afire on the Butterfield's porch.  He will coincidentally be walking by when he spots the fire and put it out...thereby earning the Butterfield's admiration and be allowed to resume his relationship with Jade prior to the end of the school year.  I should note that Tom Cruise has a small role as the harebrained teenager who suggests the scheme and James Spader plays Jade's older brother.  David lets the fire grow too large and the entire house is soon ablaze.  He warns the family and no one is injured but the house is lost and David is sentenced to a mental institution as well as barred from contacting Jade.

Upon his release, David promptly ignores the restraining order and tracks down the Butterfields in Manhattan.  Hugh & Ann are divorced and Ann who always seemed to have an unhealthy interest in her daughter's sexuality makes a pass at David which puts her interest in a new light.  Rejecting her advances, David surreptitiously finds Jade's address and is on his way to reunite with her when he runs into Hugh on the street.  Shocked to see David, Hugh runs after him and is hit by a car.  David renders assistance until Hugh new wife arrives; at which point he flees.

Eventually reunited with Jade, David forces a declaration of love from her which seems half-hearted.  I don't think Shields' acting abilities were up for the task.  Confronted with David's complicity in her father's death, Jade tearfully makes the break with David.  The film ends with David in prison or an involuntary mental institution.  He watches Jade approach his cell window.  This ending is typically taken as literal although I suspect it is figment of David's delusions.

Is Endless Love as bad as the reviews stated? It's a mixed bag.  Shields was 15 years old during the filming and she has an undeniably coltish attractiveness which suits the character of Jade very well.  The film was initially rated X for a love scene between Shields and Hewitt.  If I recall correctly, a body double was used for Shield's in the famous scene.  Not particularly gratuitous, the scene seems relatively tame today.  The most memorable part of the scene is Shirley Knight sneaking down the staircase to spy on her daughter's amorous adventures and lingering too long at the sight of her daughter and the young man entwined on the rug.

If Shields' fell short in her portrayal of Jade, Hewitt was largely up to the task as the mentally unhinged David.  It's the plot which lets the movie down.  David's passion for Jade is never fully realized or explained.  Apparently, the novel begins with the fire and David's institutionalization.  That gives the events a tragic sense of love lost.  The film is plays out chronologically and David's increasingly bizarre behavior seems silly and Jade's passion for David seems even sillier.  Maybe Hewitt and Shields couldn't capture the headiness the troubled but passionate affair.  The plot presents the events with about as much drama as an instruction manual. 

Instead, I'm left to wonder about the fringe elements of the story.  What is up with Ann's interest in David and by extension, her competition with Jade?  Now that I think about it, James Spader's character has an odd attitude towards David's insinuation into the family vis-à-vis his sexual relationship with his younger sister.  Indeed, Hugh has an odd attitude as well to Daddy's Little Girl on his birthday.  Jade's sexuality garners peculiar reactions within the Butterfield family.

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