My introduction to the movie Repo Man was from the excellent soundtrack played on my brother’s stereo. A veritable time capsule capturing the spirit of the west coast punk scene, the soundtrack served as a much-needed conduit to Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and the Circle Jerks… all of whom I would see later in life represented by stitched on patches worn by kids who believed that 1976 was still happening. The movie itself is an unusual blend of comic book logic, pulp science fiction, biting satire and vaudeville-style comedy that was so outlandish that it’s cult status remains to this day.
Director Alex Cox’s debut film starred Emilio Estevez as frustrated teenager Otto Maddox. After getting fired from his supermarket job he is recruited into the world of repo men by Bud (played with aplomb by Harry Dean Stanton). Bud promises Otto that he will meet danger and excitement at every turn as they repossess cars from their owners who fail to continue payments. An introductory job sees Otto nearly shot as the pair narrowly escape, to which Bud sagely advises ‘The life of a repo man is always intense.’ While Otto is understandably freaked out by the repo man lifestyle, he finds that it holds the only real kicks in town.
The central thread of the film revolves around the pursuit of ’64 Chevrolet Malibu. Everyone who finds the car and opens the trunk is instantly atomized by a blinding light (a trick paid homage to by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction). The film is full of bizarre characters who appear to be walking damaged goods, reflecting the death of the 1960′s as the cultural and financial wasteland of the 70′s drew to a close. The youth of the 80′s seems wild and untamed, but also comical thanks to the hilarious script providing lines such as ‘Let’s go get sushi and not pay!’ All of the products in the film bear simple generic labels stating ‘Food’ and ‘Beer,’ hinting at the undercurrent of consumer culture that was on the rise at the time, also lending the lack of any real promise of purpose. A failure as a suburbanite and a punk, Otto seems bored, even at the alien exhibit with his new girlfriend, which I always took to be more of a sentiment from filmmaker Alex Cox than anything else. The movie also contains some of the weirdest theories on everything from time travel to psychic phenomenons ever dreamed up… as evidenced by the ‘plate of shrimp’ dialogue.
A true modern classic, Repo Man has accumulated a strong following and with good reason. A bizarre comedy with a fantastic soundtrack, it also contains a strong statement on modern American lifestyle through a compelling story. The fact that Cox almost directed the movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains one of the saddest losses to the movie-going public. We can only imagine how excellent that movie would have been had Cox directed it instead of the misplaced Terry Gilliam.
Xavier Mendik conducted an illuminating interview with director Alex Cox that focused on his influences, interest in European cinema, love of comic books and the Dr Strange movie he almost worked on with Stan Lee.