Friday, June 17, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On: At the Movies #15: Repo Man (dir. Alex Cox, 1984)

      Any discussion involving quintessential 80's movies usually skews toward the John Hughes end of the spectrum. In 1984, on his first film, director and screenwriter Alex Cox showed the other side of 80’s America. Repo Man is the flipside of life in Shermer, IL and its cute and harmless characters - a sprawling, decaying Los Angeles filled with too many people, too many cars, oppressive government agencies, and a seemingly ubiquitous science-fiction-author-inspired religion on the rise. Far from being bleak, Repo Man is hilarious - L.A. culture is skewered on all fronts: car culture and sprawl (“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.”), hippie parents who have completely lost touch (“We're sending bibles to El Salvador...”), the wealthy and entitled (“Fuckin' millionaires. Never pay their bills”), and 80’s punk culture (“I blame society.” “Bullshit. You're a white suburban punk. Just like me”).
The numerous story lines swirl around each other, overlapping bit by bit until everything is hurtling toward the finale. Incidental characters reappear in random places, and random background pieces and people are jokes waiting to be caught (“Can't believe I used to be into these guys”). There is a depth to the story, the plots, and the characters that is really only revealed after repeated viewings. There is much more than meets the eye (and UFOS are really-- yeah, you got it: time machines).
The characters are so diverse and so incredibly well written that they had to have been based on real people (I've read Alex Cox worked as a repo man for a while). Emilio Estevez is the punk rocker who stumbles into this bizarre world (“You repo men are all out to fuckin' lunch”). Harry Dean Stanton is full-on stellar as a platitude-spouting (“it’s what I call the Repo Code, kid - nobody lives by a code anymore”), hard-drinking (count the number of times he says "lets go get a drink") tough guy who firmly believes his own clichés (and gives some of the best insults in cinema history).  Perhaps the best of them all, and certainly the most quoted (“say you're thinkin’ about a plate of shrimp”) though is Tracy Walter as Miller, the yard laborer and philosopher (“I spend a lot of time thinkin’ about these things. I do my best thinkin’ on the bus”).
Throw some missing aliens into the trunk of a Chevy Malibu, castigate the rampant banality of Reagan's America, top it with a soundtrack of mostly LA punk bands, and you've got yourself one hell of a strange and wonderful little movie. Just remember - only an asshole gets killed for a car, kid.
- Dave Spethman

No comments: