Repo Man [Blu-Ray]
Director : Alex Cox
Screenplay : Alex Cox
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1984
Stars : Harry Dean Stanton (Bud), Emilio Estevez (Otto), Tracey Walter (Miller), Olivia Barash (Leila), Sy Richardson (Lite), Susan Barnes (Agent Rogersz), Fox Harris (J. Frank Parnell), Tom Finnegan (Oly), Del Zamora (Lagarto), Eddie Velez (Napo)
“The life of a repo man is always intense,” the experienced veteran tells the rookie at one point in Alex Cox’s ’80s cult classic Repo Man. Of course, the rookie, a suburban teenage punk named Otto (Emilio Estevez), has no idea just how intense his life is about to get. And, despite his 20 years of experience in a rough business, the veteran, Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), probably doesn’t have much of an idea how intense his life is going to get, either. But, we know for sure that, no matter how intense it gets (and it gets very intense), he’s ready for it. At another point in the film, Bud declares almost prophetically, “There's going to be some bad s--t coming down one of these days.” When Otto asks him where he’s going to be when that day comes, Bud replies, “I’m going to be right here, doing 110 flat out.”
You get the feeling that writer/director Alex Cox, who was 29 at the time and fresh out of UCLA film school, feels much the same way: Repo Man is his version of doing “110 flat out” while the bad s--t comes down. Made independently on a small budget in the middle of the neoconservative 1980s, Repo Man is a somewhat clumsy, but ultimately unforgettable B-picture—a bizarre, strangely fixating punk sci-fi satire that simply refused to die after developing a devoted cult following at midnight movies and on video, which was partially due to its popular punk-rock soundtrack album. The film’s studio, Universal, had literally no idea what to do with it, and the original poster art, which is clearly meant to invoke gritty action fare like Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), is a good indication of just how confused they were by Cox’s genre-defying exercise.
Despite being barely an hour and a half in length, Repo Man is big enough to include dead aliens being driven around in an old Chevy Malibu by a scientist with a lobotomy, punk rockers terrorizing liquor stores, and pre-X-Files government officials snooping around and declaring with solemnity that sometimes people just explode. People do explode in the movie (disintegrated, really), guns are waved around, and the ending is an inexplicable fusion of science fiction and the punk longing for escape from the face of the earth. The movie would seem to have a mad rush of adrenaline, yet strangely enough, it has a fairly languid pace. The story has its share of action and strange events, but much of it is long-winded weird dialogue that only makes sense (and is only truly funny) after you’ve seen the film a couple of times.
This, more than anything, accounts for why Repo Man became such a cult phenomenon on the midnight circuit: It is a movie that only rewards with repeat viewings. The first time you watch it, you might mistake it for a slightly dull, whacked-out flick made by stoned amateurs who had little idea what they were doing. The film has the overall flat look of a made-for-TV movie, characters fade in and out and have no real definition, events are never clearly explained, and certain sequences seem to have no narrative purpose of any sort. It’s European art cinema fused with Iggy Pop.
Yet, first appearances can be deceptive, and Repo Man emerges as a much different experience once you’ve seen it a few times and allowed yourself to soak up its bizarre view of the world. Set in a polluted, neon-lit Los Angeles, it follows the exploits of a group of repo men—professionals who repossess cars on which the owners have not made payments (considering the American obsession with the automobile, this movie could have only been made in the U.S., even though Cox is British). Things heat up (literally, in fact) when a mysterious order comes in for the repossession of a certain 1964 Chevy Malibu, the reward for which is $20,000. We know right away that something is not right with this particular car because, in the opening sequence, we see a highway patrolman fried in his boots when he opens the trunk and is bathed in a creepy golden light that immediately brings to mind the atomic suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
The movie is replete with weird characters and peculiar dialogue that is spoken with such straightforward earnestness that it is hard to tell if it should be taken seriously. Perhaps the strangest character of all is Miller (Tracey Walter), an odd little janitor who rambles on about how people who mysteriously disappear have actually been taken away in flying saucers that are, in fact, time machines from the future. The irony is that, by the time the movie is drawing to a close, Miller doesn’t seem so weird because his paranoid, conspiracy-driven world view is the same as the movie’s.
Cox, who would go on to make the excellent Sid and Nancy (1986), a portrait of the tumultuous relationship between Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious (who can be seen on a character’s T-shirt in one of the film’s early scenes) and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, and Walker (1987), a biopic of a 19th-century American mercenary who became president of Nicaragua, has a smart sensibility and wicked sense of humor. Although he is obviously interested in the surface lunacy of Repo Man, he also infuses the narrative with a vein of social satire that gives every frame an extra kick. He is especially clever in critiquing capitalism, consumerism, and all forms of mass control. Most consumer products in the film are generic, meaning they come in white packages with bland descriptive names on them. Thus, when one Bud says Otto, “Let’s get a drink,” the punchline is a close-up of a six-pack labeled “Drink” being set down next to a liquor store cash register. At one point, Otto eats directly from a generic can labeled “Food” while his zombie-ish suburban parents stare mesmerized at a TV evangelist to whom they have just given all their money. (Meanwhile, most of the characters are named after well-known brands of beer: Miller, Bud, Lite, etc. Are we becoming what we consume?).
Repo Man is a small gem of independent filmmaking, the kind of movie that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but is undeniably creative and original in many striking ways. I often lament in my reviews that too many movies lack inspiration; they are well made and professional, but don’t have that spark to set them apart. Repo Man, while not as well made or professional as many other movies, definitely has that spark.
|Repo Man Director-Approved Criterion Collection Blu-Ray|
|Repo Man is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.|
|Audio||English Linear PCM 1.0 monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||April 16, 2013|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s restored 2K digital transfer, taken from the original camera negative and approved by director Alex Cox, has Repo Man looking better than I’ve ever seen it. The image is sharp, clear, and free of virtually all artifacts and signs of age (for comparative purposes, see the unrestored television version that is also included on the disc). Granted, the film still has a relatively flat look that is inherent to the low-budget production, but I was impressed by how vibrant some scenes look in the new transfer, particularly the opening sequence in the desert. For the soundtrack, Criterion has chosen to maintain the original monaural mix, transferred at 24-bit from the original 35mm DME magnetic soundtrack. With digital restoration, the soundtrack is clean and clear, although the volume levels seem slightly off, as the music is exceptionally loud while the dialogue feels a little too soft.|
|The supplements on Criterion’s Blu-Ray are a mix of the old and the new. New to this release are two sets of interviews. The first, under the title “Plate O’ Shrimp,” runs nearly 20 minutes and features musician Keith Morris and actors Dick Rude, Olivia Barash, and Miguel Sandoval, who discuss their roles in the film and experiences during the production. The second is an 11-minute solo interview with punk pioneer Iggy Pop, who discusses how he came to record the title track and the effect it had on his then-flagging career. From the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD we have an audio commentary by writer/director Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora. They were all recorded in one session, and they obviously had a good time discussing the various aspects of the movie and its lingering popularity with cult audiences. The absence of the movie’s two main stars, Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, is noticeable, but the commentary does not suffer appreciably. Culled from the 2006 Focus Features “Collectors Edition” DVD are a 25-minute roundtable discussion with Alex Cox, producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks, and actors Del Zamora, Sy Richardson, and Dick Rude; a conversation between actor Harry Dean Stanton and producer Peter McCarthy; and about four minutes of deleted scenes. From the Masters of Cinema U.K. Blu-Ray we get the entire film in its “cleaned up” television version, which replaces the film’s numerous profanities with clever terms like “melon farmer” and also adds in some deleted scenes and outtakes (the film is presented in an unmatted 1.33:1 aspect ratio and looks decidedly worse than the theatrical version). The insert booklet is particularly impressive, as it includes an essay by critic Sam McPheeters, an extensive and highly entertaining illustrated production history by Cox (originally included in the Masters of Cinema release), and a 1987 interview with real-life repo man Mark Lewis.|
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