Written and Directed by: Alex Cox
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Susan Barnes, Fox Harris
I don’t remember if I first saw Repo Man on VHS or late night on cable but it blew my mind. It was the late eighties I was in my late teens and it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen. I loved it. Of course it hit the trifecta; science fiction, cars, and punk. I don’t think I understood half of it. Now over twenty years later I get a bit more of it, but not so much that it’s lost its magic or weirdness.
Otto, Emilo Estevez, is a suburban LA punk and after telling off his boss he’s an unemployed suburban LA punk. After his best friend gets released from prison he’s an unemployed suburban LA Punk who has just busted his best friend sleeping with his girlfriend. Life is not treating Otto well. While Otto is literally kicking a can down the street an older man in a dark sedan asks Otto if he wants to make ten dollars. No, it’s not that kind of movie. Bud, the guy in the sedan, played by the legendary Harry Dean Stanton is trying to convince Otto to drive his wife’s car out of the bad neighborhood they are in. Bud explains to Otto that his wife is in labor and he needs to get both of their cars out of this bad neighborhood so that he can drive her to the hospital. Streetwise Otto is suspicious but he talks Bud up to twenty five bucks and agrees to drive the car. Things get even weirder when a man runs out and tries to stop Otto as he starts the car and tries to drive off. Otto follows Bud not to a house or an apartment but to a decrepit car lot. He follows Bud into the office and when he asks Bud about his wife Bud answers “Well, She’ll take the bus, she’s a rock,” and someone tosses him a beer.
It turns out Otto has fallen in not with a band of thieves, I don’t think that would have bothered Otto all that much, but a nest of repo men, which is offensive enough for him to pour his beer all over the carpet. Being the genuine punk he is Otto doesn’t bolt he just leans against the counter to get the rooms reaction. They love it. It’s almost as if Otto’s opprobrium earns him a measure of respect, because instead of being thrown out the door he’s offered a job. As the job market is a bit thin for unskilled punks Otto stuffs his values on a shelf and takes the job. Otto ends up working with all of the repo men but he ends up bonding particularly with Bud. Bud like a modern day gunslinger holds to a code, the repo man’s code, which places a heavy emphasis on paying your debts and fiscal reasonability, which contrasts wonderfully with Otto’s punk sensibility. This unlikely friendship is the heart of the movie but as the plot progresses things get more and more surreal. While Otto is learning the repo ropes a nuclear scientist who is not exactly mentally stable is heading to LA in a sixty five Malibu with a something very odd in its trunk. Whatever it is it has a tendency to vaporize anyone who takes a peek and make anyone just standing around sick. Of course anything that can vaporize people down to their boots will have some kind of government agency chasing after it and this sixty five Malibu is no exception. This shadowy government agency is not averse to contracting things out however and they fake paperwork for the repossession of the Malibu and put up a twenty thousand dollar reward for it’s repossession.
Repo Man manages to archive a slice of LA life in the early eighties before the economy turned around and when nuclear annihilation seemed as likely as not. You can often see the rising towers of downtown LA in the distance but that’s not the LA Repo Man takes place in. Repo Man takes place in the industrial parks and lower middle class neighborhoods of suburban LA, with its grocery stores filled with generic product and streets filled with miscellaneous commercial enterprises wrapped in eight foot tall chain link fences. LA is as much a character of the movie as Otto or Bud. Another huge component of the film is the music. Repo Man has an unprecedented soundtrack filled with music by Iggy Pop, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies and Juicy Bananas. The first time I saw Repo Man I didn’t know squat about punk and I don’t know a whole lot more now but the music in Repo Man is fantastic. The songs are great and the score by Tito Larriva and Steven Hufsteter lays a surreal layer on any scene it plays under. Repo Man walks a fine line between spoof and satire. It takes it’s condemnation to such an extreme it becomes caricature, but the cast sells it. It’s not that big a surprise to see a great performance from Stanton, Estevez or even Tracey Walter, but the casting and direction pull great performance from everyone involved. Repo Man is one of those rare instances of something I thought was fantastic when I was a teenager and is still just as fantastic now.
Repo Man is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This DVD transfer is based on a new 2K transfer from the original camera negative. MTI’s DRS and Image Systems’ Phoenix were used to remove dirt, scratches and flicker. I know this because Criterion tells you in the little booklet that comes with this edition. They actually go into more detail than that. The transfer looks great.
The sound is remastered at 24 bits from the original 35mm DME magnetic soundtrack. Again thanks Criterion for going into so much detail on the transfer process. The movie sounds great and the mix is spot on.
The Packaging and Extra Features
This two DVD set is from Criterion and they set the bar high. Repo Man is a typical Criterion Collection edition in that it is fantastic. The artwork is striking and evocative of the film and is carried over in the menus and other bonus materials. The two DVD’s come in a cardboard and plastic holder that slides into a cardboard slipcase along with the included booklet. The booklet is like a cut down graphic novel. It contains an essay from film critic Sam McPheeters and an awesome illustrated production history by the writer and director Alex Cox which is entertaining and informative. There is even an interview Cox did with a real repo man. There is a commentary with Cox and Michael Nesmith the producer and some of the actors. It’s a great commentary, it’s funny, they actually throw out a lot of production details and it doesn’t run out of steam two thirds of the way through like commentaries sometimes do. There are several interview included as well as some cut scenes and trailers for the film. That’s just on the first DVD. The second DVD features more interviews included one with Harry Dean Stanton and the TV version of the film. I don’t think there is really anything else you could ask for.
The Movie: 10/10
The Video: 9/10
The Packaging and Extra Features: 10/10
Overall (not an average): 10/10