25 February 2012

REPO MAN (Dir. Alex Cox, 1984, US)


Alex Cox is a filmmaker/critic who simply doesn’t sing from the same hymn sheet as the rest of his contemporaries. Repo Man, which has been released on Blu-ray in a startling new print, is one of the most idiosyncratic American film debuts. Watching Repo Man after so many years, I was reminded that cinematic iconoclasm has no room in Hollywood and in many respects both Cox and the films he made were true originals. Much of the film’s charm comes from its diabolical yet philosophical intermingling of genres, narratives and intertextual imagery that references noirs such as Kiss Me Deadly. Even more diabolical was the involvement of a major Hollywood studio in helping to finance and distribute Repo Man; an issue which Cox and his two producers interrogate in a round table discussion as part of the extras. Amazingly, out of the all genres, it comes closest to American science fiction especially in the fantastically bizarre ending with a Chevy Malibu whizzing across the city at night. Repo Man is a cult film and so fans have kept it alive, but the film’s greatest influence is perhaps in the vivid representation of downtown Los Angeles, which is photographed by outsider Robby Muller. Cinematographer Muller also shot Wender’s Paris, Texas in the same year and would return to the territory of Los Angeles on Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA, another iconic depiction of Los Angeles. The strangest visions of America in the 1980s were somewhat characterised by the presence of actor and cult figure Harry Dean Stanton, who as Bud, is just one of the misfits and oddball characters that populate this subterranean universe. In the round table discussion, Cox shows reservations about Emilio Estevez. In fact, his first choice for Otto was actor Dick Rude but nevertheless, getting the script to Estevez and having him on board seemed to be a small compromise Cox was willing to take for the sake of finance and marketing. Ideologically, the monstrous capitalist idea of repossessing material goods, in this case cars, because people are unable to keep up with the demands of a society based on false needs, is just some of the prescient political subtext that underlines Otto's existence in Reaganite America. Along with Sid and Nancy and Walker, Repo Man testifies to the accomplishments of Cox as filmmaker who has managed to stay outside the system while holding on to the precious commodity called artistic integrity. Repo Man is a film for the past, present and future; it's a true original.

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