The year is 1984. The government is tracking down a rogue Chevy Malibu that is leaking radiation all over Los Angeles. Anyone that dare lay their eyes on what’s inside the trunk will be vaporized to their core. Fortunately for all the repo men in the area, the car is also worth ten grand; so how big of a risk is it really? Now everyone in the city is out to find the Malibu, including scientists, UFO conspiracy theorists, and destructive punkers who like to eat sushi and not pay for it. This is the world of Repo Man (1984), Alex Cox’s directorial debut which he made shortly after graduating from UCLA. Over the years it has become one of the most inspiring and cherished pieces of American punk film making ever made, but it wasn’t always that way…
After overcoming nearly all the odds of a struggling independent feature, Universal picked up Repo Man for a theatrical run in the beginning of 1984… It was pulled from screens just a week after it opened. Watching Repo Man now, it’s not hard to understand why. Despite being one of the most inventive, hilarious, and defining movies of the ‘80s, audiences were not prepared for it’s toxic waste aesthetics and bizarre world view. Here is a film that manages to examine anarchism, consumerism, conspiracy theorists, isolation, and the neutron bomb all in one pale swoop. “I don’t want no commies in my car… No Christians either!”
That quote you just read is spoken aloud in this film by the impeccable Harry Dean Stanton, one of the greatest character actors of all time who is largely responsible for my interest in lost/under seen cinema. In this film he plays a renegade driver named Bud, who recruits a young man named Otto (played by a young Emilio Estevez) to help him make some money after his parents donate all of his savings to a mega church on television. Together they develop a unique bond, and as Otto begins to repo cars he begins to acquire a new identity as well.
Robby Muller is a director of photography who has over 70 credits to his name. He’s worked with some of cinema’s greatest directors like Wim Wenders on Paris Texas, and William Friedkin on To Live and Die in L.A. (both films could be covered in later spotlights). The work he does on Repo Man is exceptional, and has such a unique look. The highlight has to be the glowing Chevy Malibu at the end which was done entirely in-camera. That’s right, they coated the entire car in 3M reflective paint which cost approximately $600 per bucket. The end result is a final scene that you will likely never forget.
When it comes down to it, we have the soundtrack to thank for bringing Repo Man back to the few shelves it is sold on today. The theme song performed by Iggy Pop is another timeless example of how overlooked music is in modern cinema. I often find myself humming along to The Plugz’ Reel Teen when I’m driving down the road, pretending I’m riding off into oblivion in a glowing Chevy Malibu. If you haven’t seen Alex Cox’s Repo Man, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Rarely would I classify a film as “life changing”, but this is one of those instances. A cinematic experience so one-of-a-kind you’ll never look back. You can find it streaming on all of the major platforms such as Amazon Video, Google Play, Vudu, Apple Store (starting at $3.99). You can also own it on Blu-ray/DVD through the Criterion Collection (which I recommend).
Remember: A Repo Man is ALWAYS intense!