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REPO MAN
Blu-ray. Eureka.

Repo ManWatching Repo Man for the first time since the 1980s was an interesting, sometimes daunting proposition. This is, after all, one the the archetypal films of that decade, and while many people are able to watch those childhood favourites through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, I’ve found that all too often, the ultra-cool classics of that time now seem painfully dated. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch Alex Cox’s film. Thankfully, I can report that on the whole, it still holds up remarkably well, and remains one of cinemas most unique oddball experiences.

A weird hybrid of social satire, science fiction, comedy and action, Repo Man is essentially an episodic tale following the adventures of teenage waster Otto (Emilio Estevez), who stumbles into a job as a repo man through a chance encounter with Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a veteran of the business who initially cons him into helping repossess a car and then takes him under his wing, teaching him the ‘code of the repo men’. Alongside a motley crew of fellow employees, Otto then discovers the highs and lows of the job. Meanwhile, a $20,000 reward has been put out for the recovery of a Chevy Malibu that has something in the trunk that lots of people want. Is it alien bodies, as claimed by Leila (Olivia Barasch) or a stolen Neutron bomb? Whatever it is, it instantly vapourises anyone who takes a look, and the archetypal Men In Black will stop at nothing to get it.

In many ways, Repo Man is entirely of its time. A sly satire of the Reaganite world of the time, the film mixes subtle (and non-subtle) digs at 1983 society with more upfront comedy and action, and blends the social realism and conspiracy-theory science fiction quite effectively. Achingly and self-consciously hip, the film actually manages to avoid feeling too dated by tying its main character and its soundtrack to the So-Cal punk scene rather than the sort of crap you’d find on, say, a John Hughes film. Not particularly cool at the time, the music (a few very Eighties synth atmospherics aside) doesn’t sound especially of its time – plenty of bands still play stuff just like this today. Estevez does look like a 1980s fashion victim – it’s hard to accept him as the hardcore punk kid he’s playing at the start of the film – and some of the other punks (notably the criminal gang who provide a sub-story throughout) do come close to the Michael Winner School of Punk Rock Caricatures, but the majority of the characters are the sort of run-down, fringe figures that you could find in any era of cinema.

Repo ManInterestingly, watching the film again now, I was reminded somehow of Street Trash – not in plot or style, but with the constant underbelly of social depravation and despair that sits in the background of the various incidents that make up the film. It’s an interesting thought to wonder who the two films would work as a double bill.

In the end, Repo Man holds up remarkably well. It’s still unlike anything else you’ll ever see, and works on so many different levels that most viewers are certain to take something good from it, even if it’s just a few lines from the eminently quotable dialogue.

The new Blu-ray edition really pushes the boat out too. Not only does the film look and sound amazing, but the extra content is admirable. The highlight, if only for novelty appeal, is the infamous TV version, where profanity was replaced with bizarre phrases like “flip you, melon farmer”. Presented 4:3 and visually less impressive than the proper version, it remains fascinating nonetheless, with a few scenes cut and other outtakes added back in, resulting in a running time that is actually five minutes longer than the official version. There’s also a commentary track (somewhat cluttered with six people involved), three fascinating featurettes (one of which sees Cox discussing deleted scenes with real-life Neutron bomb inventor Sam Cohen!), a choice of remastered 5.1, original mono and music / effects track soundtracks and a new introduction by Cox. Most impressive of all is the gob-smacking booklet, designed by Cox. A remarkable package for an iconic and essential film.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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