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Director Tim Hunter has become something of an expert in dissecting the attitudes and emotions of the American teenager, and his best work has provided a dark-edged antidote to the image of frivolity, afﬂuence and unfettered freedom perpetrated by the likes ofJohn Hughes and a score of mindless virginity-losing romps.
In 1977, he co-wrote the script of Jonathan Kaplan‘s Over The Edge, an intense study of rebellious, disaffected suburban youth that introduced Matt Dillon to our screens. His own directorial debut featured Dillon in the Susie Hinton novel Tex (1982) and was followed by the softer heart tugging of Sylvester ( 1985) an archetypal genre piece of a girl and her horse, that was undertaken because ‘it had some scenes that were so over-ripe and so overwrought in a sentimental Hollywood way that I just felt I‘d never have a chance to do stuff like this again.‘
Hunter‘s latest film River’s Edge is also his most uncompromising. Based on a true incident it paints a bleak and disturbing portrait of teenagers stuggling to express their feelings and construct a personal morality that will influence their whole adult lives. When one 17 year-old murders his girlfriend and leaves her naked body in plain view by a river‘s edge, his peers are paralysed by a dilemma ofwhether to remain loyal to one of their own number or whether to report the crime to the authorities. Most worrying of all, nobody seems particularly upset by the girl’s death
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about his painful new film. River’s Edge.
as they continue to drink and score dope as a way of alleviating their boredom and frustration. Nothing seems to matter to them, not even murder.
Hunter was offered Neal Jimenez‘s script for River’s Edge after it had been rejected by most ofthe major studios in Hollywood. He was initially reluctant to commit himself to another teenage Opus but the quality ofthe material could not be denied. ‘When I first read it I was struck by a number of things; it has that thing that every director looks for, which is a real life of its own on the page. It just took off. It was much more of an ensemble piece that one is used to seeing these days and I felt that all the characters had very sharply defined personalities and spoke in their own individual voices which is a sign of really good writing. I though it workd as a kind of Fritz Lang-style social thriller and at the same time it had this very unsettling strain of black comedy running through it. The script kind of made me laugh and broke my heart at the same time, I just couldn‘t put it down.‘
‘It broke my heart’
Admiration for the low-budget independent features made by Jim J armusch, John Sayles and the Coen brothers, inspired Hunter to suggest this route of ﬁnancing to producers Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford, and River’s Edge was made on a virtual no-risk budget of $1 .7 million by Hemdale, who took similarly bold
chances on Platoon and Salvador.
Given the film‘s meagre financial resources and a concomitant lack of time. Hunter was able to assemble a remarkably fine cast headed by Crispin Glover as the charismatic gang leader and Dennis Hopper as a hermit—like backwoodsman heavily involved with the youngsters. ‘We only had eight weeks to cast it and we had no money to pay anybody; everybody got scale. Crispin was one of the first actors to read the script and expressed immediate interest. His participation helped legitimise the project for other young actors and especially their agents. I was given a tip off about a young casting assistant, Carrie Frasier. who turned out to be just wonderful and pulled all these kids in, and I found Ione Skye in a fashion layout and called her in on just a whim. She was so beautiful, just like a young Ava Gardner, and turned out to be this very nice, sincere kid with a lot of emotional depth which was just what we were looking for. I was initially worried that casting Hopper would be a bit too dead on for the character and that he might be overexposed but I think it was the best thing that could have happened to us. On the set he was very supportive of all of us and great rehearsing with the kids.‘ Whilst River’s Edge may signal a halt to Hunter‘s immersion in the teenage psyche it remains a time of life that clearly excites him with its dramatic possibilities. ‘I like stories about how people grow and change and it‘s a time when people start to form their values and their convictions very consciously. Teenagers don‘t for the most part,
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Two Hunters meet: Allan Hunter talks to director Tim Hunter
have to make a living, so they can live with that kind ofintensity that‘s uncompromised by the pressure of supporting a family or holding down a job. Drama can be very simple and very strong. Take Rebel WithoutA Cause for instance; it‘s hard to imagine a film with that kind of emotional urgency about 40 year-olds.‘
The American success of River’s Edge has opened up a range of possibilities for Hunter and current projects include James Crumley‘s muscular detective novel The Dancing Bear, a Judge Dredd script and a Puerto Rican salsa movie. ‘I really like salsa music and I finally found a true life story ofa guy who was busted for dope dealing just he was becoming a salsa star. He made his first three albums in prison then he got out and made his fourth album thanking everybody who‘d helped him while he was in prison. It‘s a very nice. simple folk story. United Artists have just picked it up. I don‘t know what they think they‘re
getting— they think they‘re getting a kind ofcross between Saturday Night Fever. Jailhouse Rock and The Harder They Come with a Latin beat thrown in. In fact, the picture could deliverjust that.‘ (Allan Hunter)
River's Edge can be seen at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse 22—28 Novernber. See Cinema listings for details.
The List 13 — 26 November 1687 7