The very definition of cult classic Repo Man may be kitsch but it hasn’t lost any of its anarchic ways.
The very definition of cult classic Repo Man may be
kitsch but it hasn’t lost any of its anarchic ways.
Cult movies are a
dime a dozen these days. The basic
ruling is that if a film finds a niche audience, but remains outside cultural
acceptance on a larger scale, then it is deemed a cult movie. It seems to fly in the face of
convention and yet there is an absurd logic to the idea of a ‘cult movie’. With this is mind open any list of cult
films and you will find Alex Cox’s
1984 film Repo Man listed as the
definition of not only cult movie but cult status in everything it
represents. It is a film that goes
against cinema convention in its execution and ideas in such a way as only
those who are open to its over the top ways and inexplicable story can truly
embrace it as something magnificent.
Otto (Emilio Estevez) is your run of the mill
disenchanted youth. He’s part of a
punk gang, walks the streets at night, hates all things commercial and is ambivalent
to his parents who waste away watching religious channels on the TV. Fired from his job at the supermarket
Otto meets Bud (Harry Dean Stanton),
a repo man of cars who takes Otto under his wing. The problem is that the Repo Man game seems to go against
Otto’s way of life and before long he finds himself involved in a gang war with
a rival repo man group as well as dodging secret agents who are all tracking a
mysterious car with a worrying alien presence in the trunk. Only Miller (Tracey Walter) seems to have the answers but Otto doubts he is
really of sound mind to be worth listening to.
Alex Cox is no
stranger to rebellion. Vocal about
being an atheist and tilting towards left wing politics the context of Repo Man
leaves little to the imagination.
Furthermore, the inclusion of endless reams of punk references and music
highlight just how immediate Cox’s own form of anarchy was present at the time
of making the film. Bear in mind
this was the man who followed up Repo Man with Sid & Nancy (1986) about Sid Vicious, bass guitarist of the
most famous Punk band The Sex Pistols.
But Repo Man
doesn’t just echo Cox’s outlook on life in general. Yes big brands, consumerism and capitalism take a hit, but
Cox goes one further by expressing his rebellion in cinematic terms as
well. The film refuses to conform
to one genre, it can flit from youth movie, to thriller, to sci-fi and back
again without ever breaking a stride.
Even his direction seems to poke fun at Hollywood convention with sped
up film and the kind of kitsch effects that Doctor Who used to pride himself on
before he went all CGI and mainstream, intentionally mocking certain traits of
B-Movies. In fact by the
conclusion of the film it’s hard to tell just what has happened but the message
is clear, as Harry Dean Stanton spells it out “Ordinary people, I hate
them”. Cox is deliberately not
conforming, he’s rebelling and breaking loose in every which way he can.
Then there’s the
casting of Estevez. At this point
in his career he wasn’t part of the Brat Pack of The Breakfast Club and St.
Elmo’s Fire. Instead he was a
young snot of a punk, one who perfectly embodies the idealism of Cox right down
to his awkward suits, spiked hair and total lack of interest in the world
Like a David Lynchian acid trip but with
glowing cars instead of backwards talking dwarves, Repo Man is cult through and
through. As such it will not be to
everyone’s liking but that’s just the way Cox would have wanted it.