More than a few movies that I reviewed on this blog came from Best Video in Hamden, CT. Over the years, the video rental that housed, “Forever Evil” on VHS as well as many gems from criterion collections, foreign film and finds obscure enough to put a feather tat on the snobbiest and most discerning hipsters, opened a coffee bar and its doors to live performers and film screenings.
One screening that caught my eye right away was called Gen X Film Series, and the first on the list was Alex Cox’s “Repo Man.”
Like others in the punk and/or goth subculture, I’ve seen “Sid and Nancy.” I have only caught bits and pieces of “Repo Man” and only when it was shown on channel 11, back when it had marathons of franchise horror movies that I would tape, not always cutting off the commercials we would fast forward. Needless to say, on cable television, there was a lot of editing for language.
Nevertheless, I was aware of the soundtrack before I even heard of Circle Jerks, or learned that the band’s bassist, Zander Schloss, played the nerdy yet clueless friend to our story’s hero.
The story is set in 1980’s Los Angeles. This isn’t a glitzy and moneyed Hollywood version of L.A. Rather, this is a trash filled dirty and grim setting where we first meet punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) scowling through his shift at a generic grocery store stocking generic brand food, named ‘Food’ and ‘Beer.’ His mood could have been attributed to his shitty job in a shitty neighborhood, but I can’t imagine his coworker, Kevin (Schloss) singing a generic soda jingle over and over again helped. Otto punches Kevin, leading to further altercation with his boss and the goofy looking security guard. Nevertheless, Otto shows up at a party hosted at Kevin’s house where he runs into his friend, Duke, fresh out of juvenile hall. It seems that juvie got to Duke because it isn’t long before Otto catches him with his girlfriend.
The dirt sprinkle on the shit sundae that was Otto’s day took the form of his aging hippie parents toking up and turning his college money over to a televangelist. While he had no intention of college, that money would have helped him leave town. On a walk in an especially bad neighborhood, he happens onto a repo man named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) who feeds him a story about how his pregnant wife needs to get her car out of a bad neighborhood and would he drive it for him for twenty-five dollars? Soon, the real owners of the car see what’s going on and it becomes apparent that Otto is not just doing a stranger a favor. After some back and forth, Otto embraces the high flying life of automobile repossession and the work methods of it’s various characters.
As Otto is settling into his new line of work, a scientist is carting around something glowy, green and making him sick enough to swerve on the highway as it disintegrates anyone foolhardy enough to open the trunk, including a friend of Otto’s that hooked up with Duke and his former girlfriend to form the kind of crime ring that declares that they will order sushi and not pay. As the mystery trunk makes it’s way to L.A., Otto is subject to random crime, conspiracy theorists, government agents and the glowing green prize is in the trunk of a 1964 Chevy Malibu and guess who gets caught in the middle?
“Repo Man” kicked off the Gen X Film series and what a kick it was. Against the backdrop of a grimier L.A. that Hollywood would gloss over, it gives way to a realism that even the glaring generic quality of the store brand food that became one of many running symbols and subplots can’t deny. It has a few stories merging into one glowing trunk full of something unknown and dangerous, not unlike the cold war and Reaganomics of the period. I was a kid through a lot of this, and seeing the parallels with our current economic climate made this movie scary and by some turns, plausible.
I’m glad that my first time seeing “Repo Man” all the way through was on a large screen and followed by a brief discussion in such a great venue. I don’t visit Best Video nearly enough, but it’s a warm and cozy space surrounded by any movie you can think of and so many more you need to see. I only hope that I can make it to see the next installment in this series.