The funny part about “Repo Man” is that, upon its initial release in March 1984, it was not a hit film. Even after a re-release spurred on by the relative success of the soundtrack, the film only ended up grossing about $2.3 million in theatres before finding its cult status on home video and on cable. Growing up as a semi-punk in Santa Cruz, California at the time, my friends and I were instantly drawn to the film when we saw the preview for the first time at the Del Mar Theatre, rushing from our high school in Aptos that Friday it finally made it to our small town (small films like “Repo Man” usually did not make it to our area until weeks or months after their initial release, leaving us to literally counting the days until we could see the films we had read about in magazines or seen commercials for on television). After catching it three or four times the few weeks it played in town first run, we would catch it every time it played at the Sash Mill, our local revival theatre house (and if you don’t know what a revival theatre is, you missed one of the greatest things about being a cinephile). For a couple years, until we got swept away by “The Toxic Avenger” (which still had such a strange hold on me even in my adult years, I spent two years working for Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in New York City as their webmaster, barely earning a living wage but learning more about the film industry than any film school education could ever provide), “Repo Man” was the cult film of choice in my circle of friends.
If you haven’t seen “Repo Man” by now, and there is no logical reason why you shouldn’t have, the film is either, based on your point of view, a complete waste of time or a hilarious satire on the lies of society and consumerism. Aimless Los Angeles punk rocker Otto (still Emilio Estevez’s best role) finds himself drawn away from his pseudo-anarchist lifestyle when he inadvertently becomes a skip tracer under the tutelage of Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). Full of conspiracy theories, thinly veiled comments on the then-rampant Reaganomics and more quotable lines this side of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Repo Man” is still a breath of fresh air, a fantastic time capsule looking back at a moment in time most of us would like to otherwise forget. Because, let’s face it — despite what VH1 thinks, the 1980s mostly sucked, except for what became the last bastion of non-corporate mentality at the major distributors. Would a company like Universal today really green light a low-budget anarchist comedy which didn’t just bite the hand that feeds it but chewed it off like a rabid dog and devoured it wholer At best, it would pawn it off on “indie” arm Focus Features, who probably wouldn’t consider it unless it had a proven talent behind the camera (which Alex Cox most certainly was not, at the time), or Focus might pawn it off on their “genre” unit, Rogue Pictures, if it a remake of some semi-obscure 1970s movie with a sizeable name cast who sells in the international market (which Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton are not, then or now). Outside of Lionsgate, there probably isn’t another company today that would finance a film like “Repo Man,” but that is another gripe for another day.
Going back to the time capsule comment for a moment, one of the wonderful things about “Repo Man” is its gorgeous cinematography. If you look closely at the credits, one would note not only the presence of the extraordinary Robby Muller as cinematographer (whose work with Wim Wenders on such films as “The American Friend” and “Paris, Texas” is legendary), but also future celebrated cinematographers Robert Richardson (Oscar winner for “JFK” and “The Aviator”) and Tom Richmond (“House of 1000 Corpses” and all five Keith Gordon films) as camera assistants and operators. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clear and vibrant, perhaps even better than its theatrical prints. Very little ghosting and grain is visible in the transfer. The original mono theatrical soundtrack has been remixed for both 5.1 and 2.0 systems, with excellent bass and treble levels balanced with crisp, clear dialogue.
While the feature commentary with director Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson (Lite), Zander Schloss (Kevin) and Del Zamora (Lagarto Rodriguez) is the same as Anchor Bay’s 2000 limited edition release (one of the rare commentaries that is as enjoyable as it is entertaining, and wisely not re-recorded for this release), what makes this release a must-own for “Repo Man” fans are the three new featurettes: the twenty-one minute “Up Close with Harry Dean Stanton,” which features the iconoclastic actor speaking about acting, religion, nihilism and Marlon Brando in an insightful and fascinating interview; the twenty-five minute “Reposeesed,” which finds producers Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy in conversation with writer/director Alex Cox about the highs and lows of the film’s creation and production, as well as short visits with Dick Rude (who was Alex Cox’s first choice to play Otto before Estevez came aboard, but still quite memorable as Otto’s punk brother Duke), Sy Richardson (who claims to have ad-libbed his best line in the film, but totally flubs it more than once while repeating it) and Del Zamora (who doesn’t get much time in this segment but makes it memorable); and the twenty-five minute “The Missing Scenes,” where Alex Cox sits with Sam Cohen, the creator of the Neutron Bomb and a big fan of the film, to watch a dozen deleted scenes. Also included in this collection is a slightly worn copy of the film’s original theatrical trailer, which inexplicably seems to be making its DVD debut here.
It is going a bit far to call “Repo Man” a modern classic (its sci-fi subplot has not aged as well the rest of the film), but it is amongst the defining films of the decade and one that belongs in the most basic DVD collections.
- Film: B+
- Video Image Quality: A
- Sound Quality: A
- Bonus Materials: A
- Overall Grade: A-