Alex Cox, director of Repo Man, joins CU-Boulder's film studies faculty this fall
WW: How did you originally get into the Spaghetti Westerns? I know you're quite the scholar of that genre.
AC: I was just terribly excited by them because I knew already the American form. And then what the Italians were doing was so interesting and perverse. They took the original form and kind of turned it around and turned it inside out. Their assumptions were kind of opposite of what the classic American Western directions were. But it was interesting because I think the sort of convergence... the fact that Peckinpah and that Spaghetti Westerns happened at the same time is not a coincidence. It was such a powerful form, such a powerful genre. But it also had reached like a roadblock and it couldn't really go much further, and then there was this incredible anti-western kind of movement in the 60s... these political films. In the case of the Italian western, there were some genuinely surrealist films that got made.
WW: What was the initial inspiration for Straight to Hell?
AC: Straight to Hell was supposed to be a rock and roll tour of Nicaragua involving all those musicians, but we couldn't raise the money for that. Then, the producer of the rock and roll tour thought maybe he could raise the money for a film if we came up with the script quickly. And Joe Strummer, who was one of the actors in it, was a big enthusiast for Spain, for that part of Spain where they made the Westerns where I had my little house. So we both kind of in unison said, "Oh, if we're going to have to make a feature quickly with a whole bunch of rock musicians, lets make it a Spaghetti Western." So we did.
WW: Speaking of Strummer, you've worked with him a lot. He did a great score for Walker.
AC: Yes, he did. It's an incredible score.
WW It's pretty far removed from the Clash, but it still has elements of it in there.
AC: I think of his solo work, it's the best. Of the non-Clash stuff, I really do like that the best of all. He was just really on when he did that, and when he was really on, when he was really confident about what he was doing, he would mix the vocals really loud. And when he wasn't so confident, like Earthquake Weather or Cut the Crap, he would mix the vocals really low so you couldn't tell what the words were. So you could always tell his confidence level. It was very high on Walker, he was really into that.
WW: Didn't he write a lot of that in Mexico?
AC: It was shot in Nicaragua and edited in Nicaragua. After we finished the shooting we were there for another two months editing, and Joe was there at the same time writing the music.
WW: You recently released Straight to Hell Returns. How does differ from the original Straight to Hell?
AC: It's very different. It's the same film, but it has six extra scenes that got cut out. It has additional music that we didn't put in the first time around. We couldn't figure out where to put it in, including another song by Joe. It's got new stuff that we shot especially for it, like extra skeletons and a shot of Miguel Sandoval's feet. It's got a new color treatment, so it looks very different. It looks very kind of pumpkin-y, sort of yellowy orange and black. It looks really different, almost like something's wrong with it in a good way.
In the process of the soundtrack, the audio part opened up, so although the film remains mono most of the time, when there's like wolves howling or wind or music, sometimes it opens up into 5.1 stereo and then folds back into the mono again. But it's quite different. It's really much better. It's more fully realized, I think. Oh, and there's lots more bloodshed because the special effects guys could do all this digital kind of gore and things get splattered everywhere.