Script Rehersal: Repo Man

Alex Cox from an interview with The Onion AV Club:

O: Where did you come up with the idea for Repo Man?

AC: I had a neighbor who was a repo man, and I ended up driving around with him and earning the occasional small sum for driving home cars he had repossessed. Or driving his car home after he repoed somebody else’s car. Just by chance, I knew this fellow who was a car repossessor.

O: And it struck you as an interesting subject?

AC: It has sort of an emblematic quality, doesn’t it? A symbolic quality about what the repo man does: He’s the criminal of capitalism.

From the same interview:

O: Do you think of Repo Man as a political film?

AC: I think it is fairly political, but I think pretty much all films are political, aren’t they? They all promote a certain point of view. I think, in a sense, that Repo Man tends to promote a non-consumerist and anarchic point of view. It’s not the normal thing that would be promoted. Most films would tend to promote… There’s another kind of completely non-criminal and legal activity Hollywood engages in called product placement. You can line your pockets fantastically if you agree to prominently feature Marlboros or Coca-Cola or Budweiser and other ghastly products in your film. And one hand washes the other: You get free FedEx and free beer as long as you… Do you remember a film called Tequila Sunrise? There’s this one shot in Tequila Sunrise which is the exterior of Mel Gibson’s house. And the FedEx truck is turning around in the driveway, and it pulls away to reveal a billboard that says Coca-Cola. Or maybe it reveals a UPS truck behind it. You just think, “Wow! I just saw a shot that has no bearing on the film at all.”

O: There’s a particularly egregious example of that in The Thomas Crown Affair, where a full minute is devoted to Rene Russo rapturously enjoying a Pepsi One. It just sort of lingers on her drinking.

AC: The most important line of dialogue in the film Wall Street, for me, was Martin Sheen saying, “Two more Molson Golds over here.” There was absolutely no reason for him to say that. Even in a bar, why would he drink that shit anyway? Even in a bar, if you’re having two more, you say, “Two more beers, please.” The barman knows what you’re drinking. It was such a corrupt line of dialogue, with an actor of the stature and quality of Martin Sheen uttering it. And that was years ago.

O: You’ve got the great scene in Repo Man where he opens the refrigerator and everything is generic. That’s one of the things people remember most about Repo Man.

AC: The problem with the film is that you can’t really do that with the cars, because you’ll always end up talking about a Ford or a Chevy or something. It’s difficult: If we’d invented car types, the film would have seemed too strange, wouldn’t it?

Repo Man – title sequence (soundtrack by Iggy Pop):

Alex Cox, from an interview available at Senses of Cinema:

XM: I think you could extend this vinyl recuperation to a visual recuperation on the part of the major studios during the period. I am thinking here of Robin Wood’s famous definition of Hollywood of the mid-’70s and early 1980s as ‘Reaganite cinema’, which attempted to seize power from the independents through big budget blockbusters which seemed to endorse the position of the status quo.

AC: Definitely. I think you can also see it in the career trajectory of an actor like John Wayne. As you may know, John Wayne began his career playing outlaws, he ended it playing reactionary cops. Equally, you can think of someone like Eastwood, he began his movie career in the 1960s, playing bounty hunters, in other words characters that are half way between an outlaw and a cop. So even in those days he was already being incorporated into the reactionary apparatus of the state, rather than being at odds with it. And he also ends his career playing reactionary cops. I heard a rumour that he is going to do another Dirty Harry movie, which would make his character the only 80-year old policeman on the force in San Francisco! So as the ’70s wore on, it is interesting how the movie business switched from celebrating the rebel or the outlaw to celebrating the policeman. If you think of the remake of Shaft (John Singleton, 2000), then those contradictions are there again. In the original film, Richard Roundtree is a private eye, while the new Shaft is a cop. Now, it’s not that cops are bad necessarily, but the medium has increasingly come to celebrate the police state, where the police are the automatic hero of any activity that’s going to be reported on film.

Sean Witzke, Supervillain:

Alex Cox’s Repo Man is, without a doubt, the most punk rock science fiction film ever.

Here’s a nasty little piece of satire, aware of Pynchon and Burroughs (“paging Dr. Benway”) and Mad Magazine. The weirdness that Tracy Walter talks about in the film, those things are clearly at the forefront of Cox’s mind as he worked on this story – the screwed up details of real life intruding on the fictional world – Chariots of Fire, televangelists, scientology, ufo cults, time travel, the CIA being staffed mostly with mormons, the neutron bomb, the lingering of punk rock long after it had died. Repo Man is like a monstrous hybrid of Jim Jarmusch and John Carpenter’s aesthetics – the stakes are low, the plot is minimal, the feel is loose, but there is a simmering tension to every scene. Carpenter and Jarmusch never seemed to be as angry as Cox is here. Repo Man is an LA film the way Long Goodbye and Point Blank are, the way Pulp Fiction is. There is this strange sun-sick scuzz to Repo Man, partially due to the way they shot it and partially because the score is half reverbed-to-death surf guitar and Carpenter clanging pulse, and the rest of the film is punk as hell. Repo Man drifts, scene to scene, events happen whenever. Sometimes Cox cuts to the same characters talking, creating a hazy quality, an untethered feeling to the scenes we’re watching. The character monologues, particularly Harry Dean Stanton’s, impart so much character and so many ideas that they stand up against any great piece of scifi writing you want to hold it against. If science fiction is the fiction of ideas, maybe Repo Man isn’t science fiction – Repo Man is a film made entirely in the language of tone. The scraped-out, zero budget, speed-sick, punk rock, scifi of this moment, right now.

(From Sean’s top 100 movie list, NO STAR WARS)

Repo Man – TV trailer:

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About scottmcallister

Glaswegian maker of something resembling comics.
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