Edge City, a/k/a Sleep Is for Sissies, is director Alex Cox’s first movie. Made for $8,000 while Cox was a student at UCLA, the 36-minute picture already includes a number of the distinguishing features of his works. That means a repo man, a Chevy Malibu, and Ed Pansullo; references to Nicaragua and Sid Vicious; class exploitation, absurd violence, and creative sound editing. As usual, characters work at cross-purposes and don’t listen to each other. Jokes are reminiscent of Harvey Kurtzman-era MAD comics.
Cox’s sense of humor is at maximum bananas level. Shots ring out at a crowded LA pool party where a beer commercial is being filmed. A gunman is indiscriminately murdering the guests in broad daylight, but no one notices the shots, screams, or falling bodies. In another scene, when Cox, playing graphic artist Roy Rawlings, answers the phone, a badly overdubbed voice utters the meaningless line: “Hey, baby! Heh-heh-heh-hey!”
Friend, do you like a good yarn? If so, watching this movie might not be the leisure activity for you. Its “trippy, associative editing style,” which Cox says was influenced by Nicolas Roeg and Lindsay Anderson, just about obliterates whatever narrative was there to begin with. “At one point there was a 50-minute version which was sort of intelligible,” Cox explains in Alex Cox: Film Anarchist, “but I was embarrassed by it after a while because the story seemed so mundane. Then I deliberately cut 10 minutes to make it more obscure.”
In his engrossing book X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, Cox elaborates on the perversity of the film’s final cut:
Inevitably, the film reached a crisis point. The screenplay had been 35 pages or so – the length of a 35-minute film. By the time I’d cut in all the scripted stuff and the improv’d scenes and images from downtown, Edge City was a sturdy 55-minute creature. I only needed to shoot another 30 minutes, and I would attain that much-coveted grail, the independent feature.
This was what all of us UCLA auteurs wanted: a 90-minute feature film. Right? Perhaps not. [...] Colliding with the ambition for a feature was an artistic instinct – imagine that! – which distrusted Edge City. Artistically, aesthetically, the film already seemed too long, in danger of acquiring a familiar narrative. Letting it get still longer would make it more normal. Ambition, routed, retreated without firing a shot.
I pruned the picture back to a 36-minute, weirdo film. I think this was the better option (especially for the viewer). It was also shorter and cheaper, which was a consideration when you were shooting film and paying for it yourself.
“Shorter and cheaper” was also the guiding principle when it came to the music on the soundtrack, assembled from Cox’s record collection. Among other things, you’ll hear Metal Machine Music, Another Green World, Tonio K.‘s “The Funky Western Civilization,” Tangerine Dream’s Sorcerer soundtrack, and Sid’s “My Way.”
Good luck figuring out what’s going on. Headphones are indispensable, as is this synopsis from X Films:
The script – written in a fragmented fashion in the style of the director Nick Roeg – told of one Roy Rawlings, an English commercial illustrator based in L.A. Roy seeks to stay one step ahead of his creditors while (a) getting the girl and (b) pursuing his Big Break. His agent is the sinister Smack Hasty, who pays him in drugs. Roy wants to meet the author of the book he’s illustrating, but Smack keeps putting him off.
Roy meets Krishna, a rich hippy girl, at a party, and invites her to the ruined house he lives in. He promises her ratatouille, but when she comes to the party there is none. However, he does have Quaaludes, which restore her equilibrium. While Roy is at the supermarket, Krishna swallows too many Quaaludes, and drowns in the bath.
On his return, Roy is surprised to find two soldiers, or vigilantes, eating the contents of his fridge. He flees just as Krishna’s body is discovered, and heads out to the desert in his sports car, where he meets the mysterious author, and various secrets are revealed.
Edge City part 1
Edge City part 2
Edge City part 3
Edge City part 4
The part of Beauregard, the writer, was nearly played by Timothy Carey, who in 1962 had written, directed and starred in The World’s Greatest Sinner, scored by Frank Zappa; however, just when Cox was about to film Carey’s first scene, the actor demanded $10,000.