Director: Alex Cox
Screenplay: Alex Cox
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez,Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash
Producer: Peter McCarthy, Jonathan Wacks
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Masters of Cinema continue their run of re-releasing cult classics from Universal’s vaults with a film which the term ‘cult’ seems to have been made for, Repo Man. I’ve seen the film about 3 times now and with each subsequent viewing I like the film more and more.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film, Repo Man introduces us to Otto (Emilio Estevez), an punk loser living in L.A. with his parents, spending his days stacking shelves and his nights with his criminal friends at various punk parties and clubs. When he’s at his lowest he’s randomly approached and coaxed into ‘chauffeuring’ a car for Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). It turns out Bud is actually a ‘repo man’, one of a particularly despised group whose job it is to repossess cars from people behind on their payments. After unwittingly doing one of these jobs for Bud, Otto is begrudgingly brought onto the repo men team, and he quickly grows to love his new role. Meanwhile though, a mysterious car is roaming Los Angeles with a deadly and much sought after cargo in it’s boot (or trunk to any yanks out there). A wide variety of weird and wonderful groups join the chase as the repo men themselves learn of it’s value.
It’s ridiculous stuff for sure, especially towards the last third where the film treads a fine line between screwball comedy and surreal student film. Indeed on first viewing (mine included) it can seem like a bit of a mess. There is a lot going on, not just in terms of plot, but in terms of ideas. Writer/director Alex Cox throws all sorts at us in terms of satire and hints of diatribe. The film is full of stabs at consumerism in particular with it’s blank-labelled products (although in a featurette Cox claims this was for logistical reasons), use of advertising jingles and digs at money-grabbing religious movements. There is so much bitterness towards society in general too with Bud’s hatred for “ordinary fucking people”. It can seem a little all over the place as it tries to hit all of these targets at once, but manages to get away with it.
I think what makes it work is largely down to the fact that as well as being a great cult movie, it’s probably the greatest example of a ‘punk movie’. All the anger levelled at the world mixed with the ‘who gives a shit’ attitude works so well alongside its awesome hardcore punk soundtrack and clear punk aesthetic. It’s a finger up to everyone and has an energy and a vibrancy that transcends its rough-around-the-edges presentation (not including the cinematography which is pretty impressive). That description, to me, is punk through and through. Strangely though, the film’s most obviously ‘punk’ characters, Otto’s old friends, come across as some of the dumbest characters in the film (but occasionally the most entertaining), as they haphazardly wreak havoc across the city.
What also helps the film retain its cult classic status and is one of the reasons it’s better appreciated on repeated viewings, is that it is so immensely quotable. I was writing down quotes as often as notes on the film as I watched. It’s full of classic lines like “John Wayne was a fag” and “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees” as well as a personal favourite, “Let’s do some crimes”, “Yeah, let’s go get sushi. And not pay!” When great lines like this are thrown out by some incredible character actors including the criminally under-appreciated Harry Dean Stanton, it’s a pure joy to watch. Emilio Estevez impresses too in his first starring role, exuding a youthful innocence alongside his rebellious badass behaviour.
If you’re a fan of outlandish cult comedies or the 70’s/80’s punk scene you’ve probably seen this film already, but if not you must rectify this right now. For those of you outside of those categories there is still a lot to love, but it might take a couple of viewings to sink in. There’s no better time either, with Masters of Cinema (and Alex Cox himself) pulling out all the stops to bring the ultimate version to our homes (read below for full details).
Repo Man is out on February 20th on Blu-Ray as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. As usual with their releases the transfer is superb, with colours looking rich and detail levels high without losing the analogue 35mm look of the film. On the audio front we get the original mono soundtrack as well as a 5.1 remix and an option to listen to an isolated music and effects track.
The disc is loaded with features too. You get a commentary which is fantastic. This features Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss and Del Zamora. The group clearly get on very well and there’s a friendly, honest vibe to it all that is fun to listen to. They crack themselves up half the time as they reminisce, but the track remains informative too.
There are a bunch of quirky featurettes too, befitting the off-the-wall tone of the film. These include an introduction to the film from Cox, the long lost TV edit of the film, which is interesting as Cox actually took charge of this himself, inserting a number of deleted scenes to make up for the lost running time and replacing swearwords with surreal alternatives (‘melon farmers’ is a favourite). We also get a round table chat about the film from Cox, producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks and actors Del Zamora, Sy Richardson and Dick Rude. There’s a highly unusual take on the usual deleted scenes feature, with Cox showing the scenes to Nesmith, real-life neutron bomb inventor Sam Cohen (a big fan of the film) and character J Frank Parnell. This gets more and more surreal as it goes on and ends a bit ridiculously, but I loved to hear Cohen’s thoughts on the film. Finally we get a very odd interview with Harry Dean Stanton, where he cagily discusses his philosophies on life more than his work on Repo Man.
Of course, being a Masters of Cinema release we also get a wonderfully detailed booklet with further information on the film. This, it must be said, is possibly their finest booklet, with Cox himself creating it. Much is hand drawn, with Cox providing illustrations as well as a short comic strip listed as being the genesis of the film. It’s great stuff and as usual shows Masters of Cinema going above and beyond the call of duty with their releases.