Lobby Talk: Repo Man

“It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.” – Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Scott: And so, from Blade Runner’s artificial LA, we stay in the same locale but go underground.

There must be a name for that sense of knowing, yet not knowing, a location from afar.  Our relationship to film is hugely influence by what geography the filmmaker’s consider worthwhile, even if it bears no resemblance to real life.  I have a soft spot for the daft-as-fuck movie Unleashed/Danny The Dog, and a small part of that is from watching it use my hometown as a backdrop, even as it tries to convince us that a hundred yards is miles apart.  It sort of brings home the fact that movies tend to film the same places and that those landmarks are somewhat reassuring.  If you see the same thing in two movies, then hell, it must be a real place.  It brings home the verisimilitude.

The sense of the familiar permeates this movie for me.  TerminatorBuckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. HeatCollateralChinatown.  Ripples of their existence creep into my memory, and replay here. Sort of. I don’t know LA.  It’s a myth, played out in various forms.  I love how this version breathes. It’s not just about having another car chase down the river, because, hey, we’re here, might as well use it.  It feels like a subversion of one of the great Hollywood myths.

What’s great, to me, about this film is the way that it takes what could be a straightforward story (guy finds a mentor and a calling, they fall out over the big job) and subverts it so utterly.  Someone else would do this same film, except instead of being repo men, Otto and Bud would actually be detectives and the fate of the world would hang in the balance at the end.

Of course, everything’s on the slab here for the chop. Like a Chandlerian hero, Otto is the only hero in town, but the difference is that whereas Philip Marlowe does so by virtue of being the only person with a code of honour and decency, Otto is the only guy who doesn’t subscribe to anything. Really, why would he? Everyone’s a two-faced bastard, and a code is only something that someone else can use against you.

But really, what’s it all about? “Nuclear War.  Of course. What else could it be about?”

The bomb is here. It’s a part of your life. There’s a crazy man at the wheel, and he’s there because he knew better than you. So he says.

David: Well put mate!  Since you’ve covered the sense of doomed madness that buzzes through this movie, I think I might as well focus on the other side of that story – the punk rock side!

Sure, Otto might stagger away from the punk scene even as a Black Flag song dribbles out of his beer-stained lips…

…but Repo Man is punk as fuck from start to end.

I should know!  You see, in my head I’m the One True Punk, and the fact that no one else on the planet would back me up on that only proves my point.  Of course I was always more into the Our Band Could Be Your Life side of punk, but I still fundamentally get the ragey, punch-you-in-the face aspect of the scene, and so should you if you’ve ever felt like the only halfway sane creature in an entire universe of dickheads. Which is to say, if you’ve ever been an angry young man (or woman!) looking for any sort of answer.

If you’re having a hard time connecting with this, let the angry young men in Black Flag give you a hand:

My war you’re one of them
You say that you’re my friend
But you’re one of them

I have a prediction, it lives in my brain
It’s with me every day, it drives me insane
I feel it in my heart, that if I has a gun
I feel it in my heart, I’d wanna kill some
I feel it in my heart, the end will come
Come on!!

My war you’re one of them
You say that you’re my friend
But you’re one of them

(Black Flag, ‘My War‘)

Everything Otto does stems from that fundamental sense that everything in life is hopelessly stupid, from your parents to your friends, from the job you quit to the job you find yourself working in.  Alex Cox seems to revel in this chaos – there’s a sense of manic glee in the way the movie pushes Otto from absurd situation to absurd situation, and the dialogue is at its craziest when the characters try to make sense of the world they live in:

Still, what comfort is this to Otto?  Why should he care how funny his story might be to someone else?  After all, Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole, but Otto enjoys no such benefits, being just another asshole in movie full of them.

Like Scott said, if Otto’s a hero it’s because he doesn’t seem to subscribe to any of the worldviews he encounters, at least not for long. After all, whether you’re hanging out with punk rockers, conspiracy theorists, repo men or government spooks, you’re still just buying some more sliced peaches in the end, right?  This can be fun and all, but unless you’re careful you can ending up playing the Us  vs. Them game till you can’t tell one from the other and you’re just another meathead throwing punches in the dark:

“You one of those right wing nut outfits?” inquired the diplomatic Metzger.
Fallopian twinkled. “They accuse us of being paranoids.”
“They?” inquired Metzger, twinkling also.
“Us?” asked Oedipa.

(Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49)

Maybe this is the most punk rock thing about Repo Man in the end: it’s too punk to accept any point of view, even its own.  It’s the story about how Otto Learned to Keep Worrying & Love The Bomb, basically.  It’s a great movie about LA, but fuck it – that theme is universal…


About scottmcallister

Glaswegian maker of something resembling comics.
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1 Response to Lobby Talk: Repo Man

  1. Pingback: Screening Notes: Four Lions | Attack Ships on Fire

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