Some Thoughts About River's Edge

by on Apr.16, 2013

So just in my lazy post-putting-kids-to-sleep brain I suddenly last night thought about the movie “River’s Edge” from 1986, and by my bad fortune it was on TV!

Anybody have feelings about/for/through this movie?

I remember watching it back in the day and loving it. THis time around it brought too many intertextual connections into my brain, as if this was some kind of key to American culture, to the 1980s, or some kind of un-secret, or unheimlich or peripheral center of a late 20th century American gothic.

FOr example, it’s of course impossible not to think of Blue Velvet, which was made at the same time roughly, with I think the same cameraman. But it’s hard for me not to think of it more in connection with Twin Peaks – because they are both prime examples of that great 80s genre of the teenage movie, just as they both feature as their main characters a dead, pale woman by the river (ie the great convention of American folk music, I killed my baby by the river la la). But if I think about teenage movies it’s also hard not to see the connection to Fast Times and Ridgemont High, with Sean Penn’s Spiccoli a kind of predecessor of Keanu Reeve’s stony character. Like Fast Times, River’s Edge is not only stoner-ific, it also inhabits that strange space where things both comic and tragic, scary and funny mingle (the little brother in River’s Edge reminds me of the angry little boy on a bike in that John Cusak movie – “I want my ten dollars” etc). Both Fast Times and River’s Edge seem to participate in that lurid genre of warnings against “the youth of today.” Interesting to think of them thusly in dialogue with the movies warning against (and/or revelling in) the violence of the lives of African-American youth in the 90s (Boyz in the Hood etc); perhaps black youth took the place of youth for a while?

Another thing I think of is of course Dennis Hopper who stars in both River’s Edge and Blue Velvet as a similar character, a character he was playing other versions of in Apocalypse Now in the 70s and Easy Rider in the 60s. If he’s the soul of hippie 1960s, he becomes the post-Charlie Manson reporter of the 70s darkness, and then a somewhat out of place but sinister, obscene father figure in Blue Velvet and River’s Edge (where the youth of today prove even more sinister because they have no interiority, they are just sadists, they are not driven by some strange unconscious whatever).

I think about Leslie Fiedler’s discussion of the American gothic as a degenerate escape from adult responsibilities (marriage, heterosexual normalcy) into an excessive, self indulgent, violent, sub- or exo-cultural adventure.

Some other things watching Rivers’ Edge made me think about: Southern california and its cars, its punk; grunge? (Courtney Love as dead girl for the 90s); Lars Von Trier’s Medea and Elements of a Crime (were they both made for the video medium? Are water-logged bodies best watched on video?); Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going?”; Mike Kelley and various 80s art; Did I mention grunge?; skteboarders and their nutty 80s culture (holiday in cambodia); “The Doom Generation”; Duchamp’s “Given”; how the “warning” against teenagers often are fodder for teenage self-images; how the warnings against teenagers and their bored lives turns into criticism of the excesses/neo-dandyism of capitalism and its cocaine-sniffing youth (which always seems both warning against and glorification of); etc. Basically you can see that I had to stop watching after a while.

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Xtian

    Just to add another Lynch connection before such time as I have something meaty to add: Tim Hunter, the director, directed one or more episodes of Twin Peaks.

    Regarding your mention of “Where Are You Going?”: Did you ever see the movie adaption? If not, it’s called “Smooth Talk” and stars (Lynch-connection) Laura Dern.

  2. Johannes

    Oh shit, things are getting worse by the minute… Maybe Laura Dern is the secret hero of this meta-text!


  3. Derek White

    Don’t forget Over the Edge, which I used to confused with River’s Edge .. the inspiration for Smell’s like Teen Spirit (speaking of grunge). And also The Outsiders (speaking of Matt Dillon). It’s interesting though, besides just genre (generalized after into the more antiseptic Brat-Pack aesthetic), this theme of finding bodies … Stand by Me is another. Someone should do a study of it, why the theme was predominant in the 80s. Mostly i think of Carver’s story, “So Much Water Close to Home,” which seemed to be the main thread running through Altmann’s Short Cuts .. this body the men find fishing but continue their weekend of fishing anyway.

  4. Johannes

    Yes, the Outsiders. I have never seen Over the Edge. I’ll check it out.