Reposessions, bad credit, unemployment soaring... the release of Repo Man on blu-ray couldn’t be timelier.
Back in 1984 it was equally on the nose, its vision of a downtown LA populated by freaks, geeks and speed-snorting repo men playing like a surreal satire.
“Reagan had just been elected,” recalls producer Peter McCarthy in a round-table retrospective on the disc. “The country was going to hell – the wars in South America, the Sandinistas and all the freedom fighters that were being funded against them.
"There were so many things that Alex [Cox, director] was able to consolidate and incorporate into a story...”
Everyone was surprised when Universal picked up the project. Cox is one of those filmmakers who approach filmmaking as a war of attrition. Repo Man was no exception.
The common theme of the meaty extras – which include a group commentary track, interviews and the hilariously dubbed TV cut of the film – is how fraught the $1 million production was. When they saw the finished product, Universal’s execs were understandably alarmed by Cox’s brazen humour.
John Wayne is called a cross-dressing fag; product placement is mocked (the movie’s food and drink are all packaged in unbranded tins); and Russia is praised (“they don’t pay bills in Russia, it’s all free”) by Emilio Estevez’s dim-but-defiant Otto.
Harry Dean Stanton’s cadaverous repo man Bud is the only voice defending the American dream’s cheap credit system. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Repo Man would have stayed on the studio’s shelf if it wasn’t for its pre-released soundtrack: a compilation of West Coast hardcore tracks and an original Iggy Pop theme tune.
Unexpectedly strong sales of the record prompted a bean counter at MCA/ Universal to call up the film division and ask: “So, is there a movie that goes with this?”
Reflecting on this corporate schizophrenia in the extras, Cox is as likeably eccentric as ever, even staging a bizarre meeting with Repo Man’s biggest fan – Sam Cohen, the inventor of the neutron bomb.
Like all the best cult movies, Repo Man is of its time, yet timeless. Estevez and Stanton are first-class, the pace and wild invention never stall and yes, the soundtrack’s ace. It’s ragged round the edges, but that’s part of its charm.
Universal may have thought it was too strange to live, but almost 30 years on it’s still proving too weird to die.