Best goddamn car in the yard.
There are some films that are simply unique. They almost constitute their own genre. Repo Man is this type of movie. The first time I saw it shortly after its release I was completely blown away. Alex Cox is one of those directors that had one surge of genius in him, and it was on full display in this dense text. I hate to use words like zeitgeist, but it almost makes sense here. It was an unconscious spasm embodying a time and place where cultural pathologies mingled, forming strange alliances. On the surface the film follows the adventures of a directionless young punk named Otto (Emilio Estevez) who falls in with a jaded repo man (Harry Dean Stanton). They spend much of the film in pursuit of an elusive 1964 Chevy Malibu driven by a lobotomized scientist (Fox Harris) in the final stages of radiation sickness who is driving around L.A. with a trunk full of dead aliens. This is sometimes called a cult film, but it might be better labeled a forgotten anthem.
This film is intersectional in nature. Once again it is one of those dense texts that reward concentration. Everything from the signs in the background to the voices on the radio convey secret meaning. The environment speaks to you, if only you are willing to listen. It is distilled paranoia. First, it is one of the few films I am aware of that made extensive use of bands from the LA underground, particularly Iggy Pop. But the film does not wallow in its own angst. It bards back to the Weekly World News and headlines about Elvis’ imprisonment by aliens. In this world of grit and generic labels, we see the unique reality of West Coast weirdness on full display. When you combine the wide-angle shots with the flamboyant punks, government agents, and car thieves that populate this unique universe, you glimpse the world through a unique spectrum of narratives that arrive closer to the truth than any newscast.
The film almost seems episodic in nature, but Cox is able to extract meaning in the end. To borrow from the new cognitive sciences, there is the self that experiences and the self that narrates. This film does not look for resolution of this conflict as most do, but attempts instead to hold them in an unsteady tension. Also, while this is certainly a male-centered narrative, it is not sexually exploitative and actually contains a number of strong female characters who definitely do not fall into the victim category.
When I first saw it I thought that the alien subplot was a bit of a red-herring because I was overly focused on the music. It is important to remember that UFO religions were springing up all up and down the coast in the 80s, and thus represented a last ditch effort at transcendence from a culture that had long since abandoned the sacred. It’s not so much that the film tries to kill god, but recognizes that god is increasingly irrelevant.
And yes… If I ever get a classic car—it will be a mid-sixties Chevy Malibu.
Rating: 5 Hits