Friday, June 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Repo Man (1984) ****

R, 92 min.
Director/Writer: Alex Cox
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Susan Barnes, Fox Harris, Tom Finnegan, Del Zamora, Eddie Velez, Zander Schloss, Jennifer Balgobin, Dick Rude, Miguel Sandoval, Vonetta McGee

In high school, my friends and I would imagine that the Sheen family (Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen) name was actually Sheen rather than Estevez and act out a scene about Emilio changing his name from Sheen to Estevez. At that point in time, it would’ve made no sense. No actor who wanted to make a name for himself would change his name from a respectable and established Hollywood white name like Sheen to something of obvious ethnicity like Estevez. We would even play it as if his first name was actually Steve—or something closer to the white norm of Martin and Charlie—and he purposely changed it to Emilio Estevez as some strange act of rebellion.

I think the true reason—beyond our own undying silliness—for this imagined fiction from us was that we were such fans of the actor for one film he did that was itself a rebellious outcry over the ridiculousness of Hollywood conformity. “Repo Man” was a cinematic anthem for us as teens. We were white teens from a predominantly white community, comfortably established in the middle class, protected by our parents true caring for us, with no real reason to rebel at all. We dabbled in strange haircuts, rode skateboards, ticked off bank managers by playing on their fears of liability injury claims from skating in their parking lots, and worshiped films like Alex Cox’s “Repo Man” and “Sid and Nancy”.

Of course, the actor whose work really spoke to us from this movie is Harry Dean Stanton. He’s the grizzled veteran—a philosopher—who still has a finger placed in the middle of his fist to throw up at authority and conformity and any “ity” that gets in his way. Esteves was the punk, but Stanton was the rule the breaks the rules. Only Stanton could make a movie about a car loaded with dead aliens that may be a time machine speak to teenaged white boys looking for a reason to rebel and make it work. Plus, he has some great lines.

“Repo Man” is one of those films that plays as something other than it is if you don’t know how to watch it properly. It seems like a B exploitation movie with bad acting, a ridiculous plot, and some inexplicable developments. But, what it really is is all those things with a brain. Cox pulls off some wonderful direction in his feature debut. He just makes it look like trash because it shouldn’t look good. And of course, his production design is brilliant. A lot of people might not remember those generic food labels these days, but his choice to make every food and beverage product generic is a brilliant kick in the face to product placement and consumerism in general, and he accentuates this detail by making the items even more generic than they would be in the real world. When Estevez pulls a can out of his parents’ pantry labeled simply “Food”, you know you aren’t dealing with your average exploitation flick.

“Repo Man” will forever be a favorite of mine, and it plays as well today as it did in my best friend’s basement in high school. You just have to remember, the life of a repo man is always intense.

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