Dir: Alex Cox, 1984
Arguably, this is Cox’s most famous film and most loved. Quite possibly, the ultimate punk film.
Emilio Estevez is Otto, a young man with a bad attitude working for a car repossession company with Bud (Harry Dean Stanton).
The company is offered $20,000 to repossess a Chevrolet Malibu. However, Otto and Bud are unaware that the car is carrying aliens in the boot, capable of emitting lethal doses of radiation that vaporises anybody that comes into contact with them.
Up against rival repo men, Otto and Bud chase the car around the city to retrieve the bounty.
Repo Man is intended to be a sci-fi comedy. It’s got the science fiction element down, but I’m not sure about the comedy.
A film as weird as this is bound to attain cult status. The unusual and anti-mainstream always gathers a clique of alternative followers.
But, that doesn’t automatically brandish it with the label “good”.
It’s a film you’ll either love or hate.
Repo Man will grab you or lose you. I fall into the latter.
For a comedy, it isn’t funny. As sci-fi, it isn’t interesting. The characters aren’t likeable so you can’t empathise or feel anything. Otto is a youth you just want to slap. Much like the Estevez brothers, actually.
The only real fun to be had is by watching the TV version. American television is strict on what you can and can’t show, so a film like Repo Man, with its onslaught of “fuck” and variations, would cause a problem.
During production, many films shoot two alternate takes of a scene; an uncut theatrical one and a censored one for television. This usually involves different camera angles and a softening of contentious material. Bad language is either dubbed in post production or re-filmed entirely.
Aware of the buthcering that his film would receive by network censors, Cox volunteered to create his own television cut and have some fun at the same time.
Most famously, “motherfucker” was altered to “melonfarmer”. It sounds ridiculous but that’s the idea. The deliberately ludicrous dialogue highlights the inanity of censorship.
This TV print of the film, awards the viewer with more laughs and giggles than the uncensored theatrical cut.
Maybe Alex Cox should have released that version as a parody of censorship. It’s definitely more interesting.
It’s not that Repo Man is a bad film because it’s not. It’s more to do with the idea that strange or weird must equal a great film.
Whether it’s David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky, cinema towards the late end of the seventies and into the mid- eighties, was rife with films bursting with fatuous symbolic imagery. Cox just, merely, jumped on the band wagon with this debut feature.
The soundtrack is a ragbag of punk songs from bands I’m unfamiliar with. Heavy and raucous, the music suits the film perfectly, but it still sounds like din.
In all fairness, Repo Man has an appeal to a certain sect of cinema goers and I can appreciate the thought that went into it and respect its huge legion of fans. Looking at it with that perspective, it would be grossly wrong of me to be overly judgemental of the film, when the elements that make Repo Man what it is, just don’t tick my boxes.
If you like punk and cinema that’s a bit ‘outthere’ and different, then give it a try.
If not, then you might find yourself a tad bored.