Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)
Young punk Otto becomes a repo man after helping to steal a car, and stumbles into a world of wackiness as a result.
Lately, I’ve joined the Cult Film Club and Alex Cox’s Sci-fi amalgam of counter culture of punk rockers blended with a metaphor on American Capitalism was the subject of their latest podcast. Having never seen this film before, I was intrigued with the poster on the website of the club. Added to that, Repo Man was included for the first time in the 2015 list of They Shoot Pictures’ 1000 greatest films of all time.
Otto (Emilio Estevez) is a young punk rocker working at a super market and he doesn’t give much for his job or his boss. He gets fired after a scene that could easily be the intro of a Twisted Sister video clip. For his soundtrack, Cox uses classics of the punk rock genre; Black Flag’s TV Party, Suicidal Tendencies’ Institutionalized, Circle Jerks’ Coup D’État, and he even got Iggy Pop to make the theme song of the film. Cox who will be making in 1986 the feature film Sid and Nancy about the leader of the infamous punk rock band Sex Pistols is no stranger to the punk movement. His cynical view of this generation is interesting since he seems to have a genuine interest in the music and the culture it involves. But he is not afraid to bring a critic with the characters of Duke (Dick Rude) and Debbi (Jennifer Balgobin) and their Bonnie and Clyde frenzy. Just like the hippies who turned out to be yuppies and embrace the consumerism, with the generic Wal-Mart like design on every product featured in the film, and capitalism of the 1980’s, punks are rebels waiting to get into the mold of conformism when entering in the adulthood and the responsibilities it all involves.
Later Otto meets Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) a repo man that will serve as a father figure for Otto and bring him into a day job of intense activity and contempt for ordinary people. The perfect job for the young Otto who was an outcast in his punk days and now an outcast profiting on society’s consumerism. Getting back to Harry Dean Stanton, he is my favorite character actor and in Repo Man he gives a superb performance. 1984 was a big year for him while also starring in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Paris, Texas, and in John Milius’ Red Dawn, Stanton was hot and managed to put an performance that was needed as Otto’s mentor in full batshitcrazy but still as a believable and yet somewhat lovable character.
Repo Man sure carries many subtexts and messages on society just as any film of the Reagan era, it wants to say a big fuck that to conservatism and conformism that the former actor and President was bringing in America and that gave so much fuel to burn for punk rock bands of the time. Just like when Leila asks Otto : What about our relationship? He answers : Fuck that!
On top of that, Cox surely knows his film History including many references to films of the 1950’s : the obvious light in the trunk of the car that links straight to the cult classic Kiss Me Deadly, the rebellious ways of Otto with The Wild One, and the obvious accelerate when Otto and Leila get in back of the car to have sex just like A Clockwork Orange’s threesome sex scene.
As stated on his blog, Alex Cox based Repo Man on his personal life in Los Angeles and the tutelage of Mark Lewis, a car repossessor and a neighbor of Cox when he lived in Venice, CA. This is like many of Cox ideas also an idea for a comic book. In fact, many elements of the film seem to head straight from a comic book and the smileys and nuclear cloud are maybe in the same spirit that Watchmen, the comic, was.
Repo Man is the kind of little gem you have to watch and rewatch at first for the many one liners and then for its many meanings that Cox wanted to pass as messages like his fear of a nuclear war but also the demented society that was the 1980’s. Despite some clunky acting and some technological naive insertions, this is a film that aged well with a slick cinematography and a great sense of self-consciousness for its era.