Repo Man: Collector's Edition
The punk scene coalesced in the mid-1970s, as the rapid liberalization of post-hippie, TV-saturated pop-culture flammably reacted to a baby boomer-fueled youth population explosion. Although Hollywood, at the same time, was becoming increasingly savvy about exploiting teen markets, it wasn't until the mid-1980s that the punk (and, by that time, post-punk/new wave) ethos found worthy vehicles to deliver it to the silver screen. While there were plenty of non-fiction documentaries focused on the energetic punk rock explosion in the U.K. and its export to the States, fictional narratives exploring the subculture were rare and, when broached, often ran into trouble in distribution, as well as struggling to relate punk's pervasive rebelliousness without reducing it to a genre-serving gimmick. The pioneering (and now-disappeared) 1981 drama Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (starring young Diane Lane and Laura Dern as an upstart girl band, with appearances by The Sex Pistols' John Lydon and Paul Cook) suffered an aborted theatrical run and was relegated to a few late-night cable airings. In 1984, Penelope Spheeris, who had previously directed the comprehensive 1981 doc The Decline of Western Civilization (and would go on to deliver the smash comedy Wayne's World a decade later), directed the glum slice-of-life drama Suburbia (1984), although it proved too aggressively depressing to rally any enthusiasm. That was left to Alex Cox's oddball cult comedy Repo Man, released the same year.
Repo Man stars Emilio Estevez in his first leading role as Otto, a disaffected 18-year-old, alienated from his sociopathic punk friends, who stumbles into employment for a finance company, stealing cars from delinquent loanees. Although Otto is cynical about the capitalist system that requires such a job, he's smitten with the adrenaline rush accompanying the work and intrigued by the office's crusty, maverick veterans (Harry Dean Stanton, Sy Richardson), who espouse idiosyncratic philosophies, suspect honor codes, and tidbits of on-the-job wisdom. Otto signs on just as all of L.A.'s hyper-competitive repo men begin hunting the holy grail of repossessions: a government-sought 1964 Chevy Malibu carrying a $20,000 commission plus a mysterious, glowing light in its trunk that disintegrates anyone who lays eyes on it (in a nod to Robert Aldrich's 1955 noir classic Kiss Me, Deadly).
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Repo Man is by no attempt a Suburbia-like, kitchen-sink anthropological examination of punk or post-punk youth, but better than almost any other movie of the 1980s it embodies the spirit of irreverent new wave nihilism and bored sci-fi paranoia that so post-modernly disaffected the dysfunctional third generation of the nuclear age. Writer-director Cox, along with executive producer (and former Monkee) Michael Nesmith, stock Repo Man with deadpan satirical jabs at consumerism, tabloid conspiracies, and the crass conflicts of self-interest within both conformity and anarchy. The film's casual fidelity to advancing its skimpy plot may make its economical 90 minutes seem a bit more drawn out than usual, but its carefree pace and wry attitude keep it surprising and fun, in addition to its value as a purely '80s midnight movie time capsule. Where Spheeris' despairing Suburbia was raw and, at times, amateurish, Cox's directing of Repo Man is stylish and confident, with solid performances and few false moments, and the picture became a crowd-pleasing cult favorite as a result (although the ending a drastic, upbeat change from the original scripted finale is the movie's weakest moment, and Cox's description of the original ending sounds much more suitable). Cox would go on to direct the seminal requiem for the punk era, 1986's Sid & Nancy. Stanton's gruff and weary monologues often are the most-praised elements in Repo Man, but the film is also notable for handing veteran bit-player Tracey Walter the most memorable role of his career as the car lot's tuned-out attendant. Also featuring Olivia Barash, Susan Barnes, Dick Rude, Vonetta McGee, and The Circle Jerks.
Universal presents Repo Man: Collector's Edition in a terrific anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a source-print that shows very little degradation for a 20-year-old low-budget indie, with the only considerable wear occurring during effects shots that were likely subjected to considerable strain during processing. The audio, featuring a title theme by Iggy Pop, is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 remaster as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround. The disc includes a fairly unnecessary commentary with Cox, Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora. The group laughs a lot but says little of interest. Better are the three featurettes (all approx. 20 min.): "Up Close with Harry Dean Stanton," in which the veteran actor rattles off the lessons of life; "Repossessed," an illuminating conversation about the movie with Cox and producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks; and "Deleted Scenes," which, unlike the usual menu of excised clips, features Cox interviewing and sharing cut segments from the film with Sam Cohen, inventor of the neutron bomb. Trailer, keep-case.