Reviewed by Mike Ferraro
There have been films released every few years that truly capture the attention of the outsiders of society. A film that strikes a familiar cord with a viewer who otherwise couldn’t connect with anything else the mainstream was selling them, whether it was a record, a book, or even a film. Repo Man is one such film that spoke to a whole generation of punk rockers who never really had an outlet outside of their own tight-knit communities.
It’s not like Repo Man is all about the punk lifestyle. The center of attention is Otto (Emilio Estevez), a lost soul bumbling through life without any sense of purpose. He laughs at the face of authority, quits mindless jobs without remorse, and seeks shelter in the comfort of not taking anything seriously. This life is more about doing what you want instead of adhering to any kind of day-to-day monotonous schedule.
He often spends time alone, as no one really seems to get him. Hearing Otto sing the words to Black Flag’s immortal T.V. Party is something that will surely bring a smile to the faces of fans, who during their teenage youth, might have been surrounded by people who weren’t even aware of their existence. Even the few friends he seems to have are either extremely cautious to please and fit in with the rest of society, or they are a bit too punk extreme for him to want to follow.
Then he meets Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) who feeds him a line about needing both his car and the car of his wife transported somewhere else, as his wife is about to go into labor with their twins. He gets in the car, reluctantly, without realizing he was taking someone else’s car.
Bud is a repo man looking for an extra hand. At first, Otto isn’t so receptive to the gig. Stealing people’s cars who owe money to big finance corporations? That isn’t really the kind of activity Otto ever thought he would be apart of, until he notices the money involved in the work.
The film then takes some strange twists and turns. The screenplay, written and directed by Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy), bounces from Otto’s struggle with fitting in, to the complexities of the repo business, to a side plot involving a classic Chevy Malibu hauling some extra terrestrial cargo.
Repo Man inevitably ends up being against the man, no matter who said man actually is. Even its filmmaking sensibilities, made on the cheap, seem to be flicking off more traditional fare. Robby Müller’s (who also shot Breaking the Waves and Down by Law) photography is almost as anarchistic as it is bold; a breath of fresh air compared to many other films released the same year.
Two years later, director Cox would return to form with Sid and Nancy, a film about the relationship between the Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious and his neurotic girlfriend Nancy Spungen, further putting punk rock into the mainstream limelight. While Repo Man is often humorous, hidden in a semi-serious picture, Sid and Nancy investigates the chaotic relationship between these two characters in a more focused tone. Based on these two films alone, it’s safe to assume that Alex Cox still has some greatness left in him somewhere (as his recent films can’t quite reach the same caliber of quality). We can only hope he gets the chance to direct something of this caliber sometime before it’s too late.
It should be obvious now that since they have entered the blu-ray game, Criterion has rarely failed at presented their transfers in any other quality than fantastic. Repo Man has never looked so good. It’s a 2K transfer (supervised by Cox himself) complete with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, making the songs and dialogue sound as crisp as the print itself looks.
Commentary – The commentary features a discussion between Cox, Michael Nesmith (executive producer), Victoria Thomas (casting director), as well as actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora. It’s a decent track that covers everything from some of the troublesome issues getting this project off the ground, the marketing campaign, and the film’s cult growing fan base. It would have been nice to hear from Emilio Estevez himself, as he has since directed a couple of films of his own, but his absence is instead filled with some of the other supporting cast.
Iggy Pop (11:57) – Recorded in 2012, Pop breaks down the plot and how important the film, a little bit of where he was in his career when the film was being produced, and how the soundtrack blew him away.
Plate O’ Shrimp (19:19) – Actors Dick Rude, Olivia Barash, Miguel Sandoval, as well as musician Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag), attempt to describe the plot of the film, how important the punk music scene was to the film (as well as its authenticity), and how they each became involved with the film. Sandoval’s story about how he was cast is certainly the most entertaining of the group (though the rest is solid as well).
Repossessed (25:31) – Peter McCarthy, Alex Cox, and Jonathan Wacks sit around a table and discuss how problematic it was to secure funding for Repo Man. The conversation then leads into how casting evolved through pre-production, to how strong a bond can be between producer and director.
Harry Zen Stanton (21:21) – Easily one of the most interesting special features discussion pieces ever produced, producer Peter McCarthy speaks with Harry Dean Stanton about his career and his work on Repo Man, before leading into an interesting conversation into Stanton’s personal philosophies. “Everything happens the way it’s going to happen, nobody’s in charge, it’s all gonna go down… you know… you never know what’s gonna happen.”
Missing Scenes (25:11) – A combination between interviews with producers, Sam Cohen (inventor of the neutron bomb), and the director about the evolution of the film’s story, and scenes excluded from the final cut. Scenes include Otto sleeping in his garage, Bud outwitting a man whose car is about to be repossessed, and Budd at a party. Ultimately, like most deleted scenes, their exclusion is warranted, as they would have accomplished nothing but slow the pace down. Cox briefly mentions how he tried to get Estevez involved in the features of this disc but scheduling conflicts intervened.
The Cleaned-up Version – Presented in its entirety is director Cox’s television cut – complete with overdubbed dialogue to remove profanity and drug use.
The disc also contains a few trailers for the film, as well as an extensive booklet featuring essays by author Sam McPheeters (also of Born Against fame) and Alex Cox, as well as an interview with a real repo man, conducted by Cox himself.