Filmmaker Alex Cox on Repo Man, his next project and the beauty of black and white film
When filmmaker Alex Cox finished shooting Repo Man in 1983, the first thing he did with the left-over money was option the film rights to the science fiction novel Bill, the Galactic Hero. Now both projects are back in the spotlight. The Criterion Collection recently released a Blu-Ray edition of the 1984 sci-fi punk cult classic, and the Alamo Drafthouse will screen Repo Man at 7 p.m tonight as its first presentation on 35mm -- with Cox in attendance for a Q&A.
Alex Cox dressed in one of the costumes for Bill, the Galactic Hero.
And thirty years after he optioned the book, the prolific Sid and Nancy filmmaker is on his way to making Bill, the Galactic Hero into what he calls the biggest student film ever made, with the help of the film students he teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder. A $100,000 Kickstarter campaign (which you can donate to through April 21) will help turn the anti-war sci-fi novel into a black-and-white film shot on 35mm.
We caught up with Cox in advance of tonight's screening to talk about the inspiration for Repo Man, why he loves black and white, and the future of independent film.
- Artist Jay Shaw on his love of bizarre cinema and even more bizarre film posters
- Tod Davies on storytelling, lost superheroines, and tonight's screening of Wonder Women!
- Photos: Alamo Drafthouse will open Monday; here's a sneak peek
Westword: Where did the idea for Repo Man come from?
Art by Jay Shaw
Alex Cox: I had a neighbor who was a car repossessor in Venice, California, and so he hired me to drive around with him and if he was successful at repossessing a car then I would drive it back to the repo yard. So some of the incidents that take place in the film were actually things that happened to me working for this guy Mark Lewis, who was a repossessor.
Minus the aliens?
Minus the aliens! Yeah, we never found any aliens. But he did always find those little Christmas trees constantly. And they would do all kinds of terrible things, like if there was food in the car they would put the food in the same bag as the personal possessions and that kind of thing and the rats would get into it. So they were really naughty, you know.
Are you excited that it's going to screen on 35mm?
Well I think it is kind of exciting, isn't it? Because the future of 35mm as an exhibition medium is dim, so it's very exciting that they're going to show a print.
When was the last time that you watched the film?
I had to watch it not long ago because Criterion are bringing out a Blu-Ray disc, so they wanted me to look at the transfer, so I watched it a couple of months ago. But I hadn't seen it prior to that for a long time.
What was your experience watching it again after not seeing it for a long time?
You know, I don't know. I've seen it too often is the thing. [Laughs.] I'm terribly familiar with Repo Man. I've seen it so many times. It holds up, I think. It's still entertaining I think. It entertains even me after thirty-odd years.
When you made it, did you have any idea that it would develop the cult following that it did?
No. One of the producers did. Jonathan Wacks kept going, "This is gonna be the Easy Rider of the '80s!" And the rest of us were all, "Ah, you're crazy, man. Shut up." But he was right. How did he know? I don't know. I didn't know.
What was your vision for Repo Man?
Well, we wanted to make a very low-budget movie. We were Roger Corman fans -- he was a big independent director and producer from the '60s and early '70s. He was just tremendous. We were all film students at UCLA and our hero was Corman, so we wanted to do independent films. We didn't want to work for the studio. So it was a complete surprise.
In many of your films,you worked with a lot of interesting figures in the music scene like Courtney Love and Joe Strummer. Where did your interest in musicians and punk rock come from?
Well, I was just around when that thing was happening so it seemed like a very good movement. The good thing about punk was it wasn't just about music, it was also kind of a revolutionary movement. We were gonna change the world and overthrow the government and create new systems. So punk was kind of like the surrealist movement or the Occupy movement. It had a bigger agenda than just rock and roll, even though rock and roll and fashion were a part of it.
What was it like to work with Courtney Love?
[Laughs.] She was all right. I mean, she was young. She didn't really know what she wanted to do at that time. She was determined to be famous, but she hadn't`quite figured out if she was going to be an actress or a rock and roller, and so she was kind of dipping her feet in both of those things. But I thought she was a pretty good actress. I thought she was actually quite talented as an actor and could have pursued it.
She famously called you over and over, berating you to let her play Nancy Spungen.
Oh yeah, she wanted to be Nancy. But the thing was, we'd already cast Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, and he was a very experienced actor. He hadn't been in any films, but he had been in a lot of stage and television and was very experienced and a bit older than she was. And Courtney didn't have any experience at that time. She didn't have the chops to play that part. Whereas Chloe, who played Nancy, was like Gary. She was an experienced actor, she'd done a lot of stage. She could hold her own with Gary Oldman. It wouldn't have been fair to put Courtney in that position, because she wasn't experienced enough.
Continue reading for more from Alex Cox.