Friday, February 13, 2009

Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)

Canoodling my subconscious like a gentle virus, Repo Man is a film that has lived with me for almost twenty years. From the days when I would tape snippets of dialogue from off the television and splice them with homemade industrial music to the time I used to be driven around the seedier parts of town in a large automobile made out of metal, this film has been a trusty companion. My thoughts on everything from friendship to employment, to youth culture and faith was shaped by the nonsensicality that transpires in this amorphous teaching tool masquerading as a ninety-minute movie produced by the wool-hatted member of The Monkees. I have even used the film to help boost my self-esteem whenever I've found myself cornered by those who have the gall to think they're hipper than me. Now, I know what you're thinking, and no, I don't use the fact I've seen the film well over thirty times to stymie their shifty, hipness-challenging advances. Nope. I tell them I own the soundtrack. However, this bit of information alone doesn't do the trick. Uh-uh. It's actually when tell them I own the soundtrack on vinyl that their hipster asses begin to crumple under the weight of my overwhelming coolness. The rush of smugness that courses through my retired porn star body as I over enunciate the word "vinyl" is downright exquisite. Educational and life affirming purposes aside, the wonderfully subversive film by Alex Cox still manages, after all these years, to exude the nourishment my undeveloped nerve endings crave so dearly just through the simple act of watching it. The fact that I have it memorized doesn't take anything away from the sheer nihilistic delight the film bestows upon me each time I look at it.

A surreal tonic for the disaffected soul, Repo Man is one of the few films that can unify the members even the most adversarial of subcultures. Well, except Mods, they never seemed to "get it" (even though there are actual Mods in it). But for everyone else, it's like watching deranged poetry.

A punk rock-fueled opus that appeals to new wavers, rude boys, industrial freaks, astrochemists, car thieves, Stacey Q fans, and linguistics majors, the film teaches us that life can be intense sometimes and that excessive driving can cause brain damage.

Lacking the proper parental guidance necessary to survive in the city of Los Angeles circa 1984, the film follows the misadventures of Otto (Emilio Estevez), an aimless juvenile delinquent who finds the structure he needs under the guise of Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a street smart fella who repossess cars from people who have fallen behind in their payments. Learning the ropes from Bud, and to a lesser extent, Lite (Sy Richardson), Otto finds the repo business to be tough yet lucrative (it sure beats stacking cans of beans). Things are complicated slightly for Otto when he meets Leila (Olivia Barash), a UFO enthusiast and a young lady who just happens to possess a severe form of cuteness. Anyway, she's looking for a Chevy Malibu with space aliens in the trunk, and asks the rooky repo man to help.

Called me jaded, but that sounds like an easy enough task. Only problem is a secret arm of the U.S. government (lead by a metal-handed, leg-tastic Susan Barnes), the Rodriguez Brothers (Del Zamora and Eddie Velez), Otto's repo co-workers, and Debbi (Jennifer Balgobin), Duke (Dick Rude) and Archie (Miguel Sandoval), a trio of crime-obsessed punks, are also looking for the much sought after Malibu. Which is being driven by J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris), an unstable individual whose mind might already be starting to erode.

Despite many attempts to sully his status as a cult movie hero with multiple acts of out-and-out lameness since its release, Emilio Estevez manages retain an air of blank dignity as Otto (his wide-eyed defiance and hatred of authority still reverberate). However, this air is no doubt retained due to the fact he gets to rub shoulders with the legendary Harry Dean Stanton, whose Bud has the temperament of a sage. Extolling handy wisdom at the drop of a drink (none of the products in this film have names that go beyond what they actually are), Stanton is quietly brilliant as the gruff and weary car taker backer.

Speaking of quietly brilliant, my two favourite performances are just that, quietly brilliant. The dishevelled Fox Harris (Dr. Caligari) and the equally dishevelled Tracey Walter are tremendous at displaying calmness in this topsy-turvy world. As well reciting the films most memorable monologues: Mr. Harris' being the one about the wonders of the neutron bomb and his overall mental, while Tracy's focused on the origins of humanity.

Comedically, I'd say Dick Rude's Duke and Zander Schloss as Kevin (Otto's pre-repo friend and co-worker) are the funniest characters in Repo Man. Spewing some of the films most quotable lines ("Let's get sushi and not pay" and "There's room to move as a fry cook."), Dick and Zander prove themselves to be adept comics whenever they appear on-screen.

On a non-comedic level, nothing quite beats the image of mohawked Jennifer Balgobin (Dr. Caligari) pointing a gun while in a silver raincoat. The super-adorable Olivia Barash brings a playful femininity to her plucky fruitcake role. Vonetta McGee shines whilst kneeing one g-man in the crotch and chairing another in the face. ("Shut up, Plettschner.") And I was surprised to find myself drawn to the steely presence of Susan Barnes this time around, and just like Miss Balgobin, the sight of a leggy Susan pointing a gun was just as alluring. (On the film's DVD commentary track, Sy Richardson sanely points out Susan's great legs as well.)

Gliding though the cockeyed proceedings like a drunken research scientist is the dreamlike music score by The Plugz. Sure, the film features songs by the likes of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Iggy Pop, but it's The Plugz that make the film literally soar into the stratosphere. Their surf tinged guitars and electronic knob twiddling create a terrific aura, especially during "Reel Ten."

video uploaded by MorriconeRocks


  1. Hey Yum-Yum. Great write-up. You are definitely cool for owning this soundtrack on vinyl. I really enjoyed this post. I haven't seen this film as much as I would like. It's actually been ages since I last watched it. I thought it was an amazing film though. Most of my buddies, however, never understood it.

  2. Thanks, Keith. Imagine how cool I'd be if I actually had something to play the soundtrack on. ;)

  3. Linguistics major shout-out!

    Great review!

    Yet another movie that I saw as a result of Night Flight. For some unknown reason, I've only seen it once. I should give it another look-see.

    I think I mentioned that I bought a bunch o' LPs at a radio station sale...but no machinery to play them. :(

  4. I played the shit out of my cassette of this soundtrack back in high school. It was the perfect music to drive around to on the weekends hunting for used books at the various book stores in San Antonio.

    Later in my life I found the used LP...and bought it...twice. I'm thankful to say not only did I grow up in a home with a record player but I still own one today and use it on a regular basis.

    I'm a vinyl junkie, baby and proud of it!

    Oh, and...uh, "John Wayne was a fag."

  5. great reveiw! i too have this movie pretty much memorized as well. it's like VHS comfort food.

    it is so full good quotes.

    "not the face! not the face!" CRASH! "my face!" being one. and the "no christians either." speech Stanton drops being another. oh i could go on and on.

    Uggh. i need to get this on DVD now.

  6. Karim: You were a linguistics major? Weird. I always thought of you as more of a Stacey Q fan. ;)

    Anyway, I'm glad you dug the review and the shout-out.

    I noticed that Night Flight showed clean clips from Dr. Caligari during one of their broadcasts (it was on YouTube for awhile).

    Mr. Canacorn: I love anecdotes that revolve around cassette tapes being worn out during adolescence.

    Wait, you read books during your high school years? Awesome.

    I grew up in a home with a record player as well... I just don't have anything to play it on at the moment.

    "Look at 'em, ordinary fucking people, I hate 'em."

    wiec?: "VHS comfort food" I like that. This flick is very comforting.

    "Best god-damn car on the lot..."

  7. This is one of the best "post - apocalyptic" movies ever made. And just like the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction", you're never allowed to see what's in the trunk of the car, but its effect has an impact on whoever sees it.

  8. I liked the Iggy Pop intro, but was annoyed that the soundtrack version had lyrics, which resulted in the first time I figured out what all those little RCA outputs were on the back of a VCR and dubbing off the instrumental version for my listening pleasure. "I was a teenage dinosaur, stoned and obsolete, I didn't get fucked and I didn't get kissed, I got so fucking pissed!" Multiple views as a teen have made this movie play on a continuous reel in the back of my mind for life. I think I've heard the Burning Sensations version of "Pablo Picasso" more than any other song in my life. "Pernicious nonsense! The two hemispheres are fundamentally at odds."

  9. Made by nonHollywood man...see celluloidofkewl blog

  10. I too have this soundtrack on vinyl

    1. Cool.