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Watching ‘The Prisoner’ with ‘Repo Man’ director Alex Cox
11.12.2018
06:34 am
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It turns out leaving your house still pays sometimes: if I hadn’t stepped into a bookstore last weekend, I would be unaware of Alex Cox’s latest volume, I Am (Not) A Number: Decoding the Prisoner. Kamera Books published it in the UK last December to mark the series’ 50th anniversary, and the book came out in the US this May.

Like his introductions to cult movies on Moviedrome—like his interpretation of his own Repo Man, for that matter, a movie Cox insists is really about nuclear war—the director’s reading of The Prisoner is idiosyncratic and ingenious. Even though I don’t buy them yet, the solutions he proposes to the series’ riddles are brilliant and original; I won’t spoil them here, but it’s safe to say you’re unlikely to have come up with them yourself.
 

 
The 17 episodes of The Prisoner were broadcast in a different order in the UK and the US, and their correct sequence has never been settled. The Wikipedia page on the subject compares the production order (“not an intended viewing order,” the alt.tv.prisoner FAQ of blessed memory asserts) with four plausible running orders advanced or defended by fans over the years, based on the original broadcast or on different kinds of internal evidence in the shows: dates mentioned, logical sequence of plot developments, etc.

Cox has no use for any of these. Along with the series’ call sheets and screenplays, his interpretation is based on watching the episodes in the order of their filming—i.e., the production order most cultists reject as totally unsuitable for viewing. While this sequence is as reasonable as any other, it radically shuffles the narrative. For instance, “Once Upon a Time,” which is the second-to-last episode in every other programming of the series because it seems to lead directly to the finale, is sixth in Cox’s.

I’ve just started rewatching the series as Cox recommends. It’s too early to say whether the production order supports his conclusions, but I’m enjoying the shake-up so far. Below, the director discusses his book in a short promotional video.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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11.12.2018
06:34 am
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‘Skip Tracer’: Did this 1977 oddball cult film influence ‘Repo Man’?
06.25.2018
08:10 am
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Skip Tracer 1
 
Skip Tracer, a 1977 Canadian film about debt collectors, shares some striking similarities with Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic, Repo Man. The roots of Repo Man date from the late ‘70s, the same time period Skip Tracer was released—could Cox have been swayed by it?

The work of first-time writer/director, Zale Dalen, Skip Tracer was conceived during the era of “Canuxploitation”. The term “skip tracer” refers to someone who tracks down people who haven’t paid their debts. The movie concerns a cold-blooded collection agent, John Collins (played by David Peterson, in his film debut). The character has no feeling for those who are experiencing financial difficulties, and hounds them without mercy. Eventually, though, John begins to feel empathy for these people, resulting in an identity crisis.
 
Skip Tracer 2
 
Aside from fact that Skip Tracer and Repo Man are centered around a debt collector—an uncommon protagonist in film—the most obvious similarity is the mentor/mentee relationship. In Skip Tracer, John is paired with Brent, a younger employee looking to learn from the finance company’s “man of the year.” Fans of Repo Man know there is the similar team-up of Otto and Bud, though Otto is certainly more resistant to the idea. The lead characters also question the profession in both pictures.
 
Skip Tracer 3
 
Repo Man began as a graphic novel while Cox was a film student at UCLA. Around this time, Skip Tracer was making the rounds on the festival circuit, receiving a theatrical release stateside in January of 1979.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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06.25.2018
08:10 am
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Iggy Pop reunites with director Alex Cox for ‘Bill, the Galactic Hero’
01.21.2015
09:10 am
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Good news for fans of the Repo Man soundtrack: Iggy Pop, who wrote and performed the song “Repo Man” (with help from Sex Pistol Steve Jones), has also contributed the theme song to Alex Cox’s latest movie.

Cox made the Kickstarter-funded Bill, the Galactic Hero with his film students at the University of Colorado Boulder, where the movie premiered last month. It’s adapted from the 1965 book of the same name, the first in a series by author Harry Harrison. The director describes Bill as “a classic anti-war science fiction novel” and a “counterblast to STAR$HIP TROOPERS.” I haven’t read the book, but Cox sure makes its prole’s-eye view of war sound timely:

It’s told not from the flight deck but from the engine room: or to be more exact, the fusebays, where ranks of expendable Fusetenders Sixth Class wait to replace burned-out fuses, or die.

You can hear about a minute of Iggy’s theme song in the movie’s latest trailer. Apparently, life has a lot in common with pizza.
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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01.21.2015
09:10 am
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Sleep is for Sissies: Before ‘Repo Man,’ there was Alex Cox’s mind-bending student film ‘Edge City’
08.20.2014
02:30 pm
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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
 
More after the jump…
 

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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08.20.2014
02:30 pm
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Alex Cox’s cult classic ‘Repo Man’

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It was about Nuclear War. Of course. What else could it be about? Director Alex Cox on his first major movie, Repo Man. Yes. It was about Nuclear War:

And the demented society that contemplated the possibility thereof.  Repoing people’s cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg.  The iceberg itself was the maniac culture which had elected so-called “leaders” named Reagan and Thatcher, who were prepared to sacrifice everything—all life on earth—to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters.  J. Frank Parnell - the fictitious inventor of the Neutron Bomb - was the central character for me.  He sets the film in motion, on the road from Los Alamos, and, as portrayed by the late great actor, Fox Harris, is the centrepoint of the film.

Alex Cox is cinema’s great wayward genius who has continued to make films against the odds and on ever decreasing budgets. After Repo Man (1984) came his flawed punk biopic on Sid and Nancy (1986), which owed more to Cox’s imagination than fact. But let’s be fair, it’s Cox’s imagination that makes his films so interesting, even when it is demented, as was seen in his 1987 romp, Straight to Hell, which starred Dennis Hopper, Shane MacGowan, Elvis Costello, The Clash and Courtney Love in what was really a semi-autobiographical home movie as comic Spaghetti Western.  The film was hated, but not quite as much as his next, the politically weighted Walker (1987), which paralleled the America’s involvement in Nicaragua in the 1800s with American foreign policy in the 1980s:

William Walker was an American soldier of fortune who in 1853 tried to annex part of Mexico to the United States.  He failed, though his invasion contributed to the climate of paranoia and violence which led to Mexico surrendering large areas of territory shortly thereafter.  Two years later he invaded Nicaragua, ostensibly in support of one of the factions in a civil war.  But his real intention was to take over the country and annex it to the U.S.  He betrayed his allies and succeeded in making himself President.  He ran Nicaragua, or attempted to run it, for two years.  In the U.S. he had been an anti-slavery liberal, but in Nicaragua he abandoned all his liberal pretensions and attempted to institute slavery.  He was kicked out of Central America by the combined armies of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

Walker tried to go back twice and was eventually caught by the Hondurans and executed…

...Walker was made in 1987, in the middle of the US-sponsored terrorist war against the Nicaraguan people.  We made it with the intention of spending as many American dollars as possible in Nicaragua, in solidarity with the Nicaraguans against the yanks’ outrageous aggression against a sovereign nation.  Then, as now, this was not a popular position with certain people in power.  But it was the right one.

Denounced by critics and politicians, Walker finished Cox’s Hollywood career - a damn shame, as it is Cox’s masterpiece, a brilliant piece of cinema, that exhibits the kind of intelligence, humor and political film-making Tinsel Town desperately needs.

While Repo Man may be Cox’s best film, it can only be hoped that the future will see Alex Cox given the opportunity to bring his own particular vision to the mainstream, and not tread water with the so-so follow-up Repo Chick (2010), or gimmicks like Repo Pup.

Alex Cox discusses Repo Man here.

Straight to Hell Returns is now available.
 

 
Bonus clip of Alex Cox discussing ‘Walker’, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.18.2011
07:01 pm
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Joe Strummer’s bizarre film ‘Hell W10’ starring The Clash, from 1983

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The Clash’s Joe Strummer wrote and directed this rather strange gangster filck, Hell W10, which stars fellow bandmates, Paul Simonon as Earl, and Mick Jones as kingpin gangster, Socrates. The film centers around a tale of rivalry and ambition, murder and violence, mixing the style of 1930’s gangster movies with 1980’s London. It’s a reminiscent of something Alex Cox might have made (who later directed Strummer in the punk spaghetti western Straight to Hell), and while the film self-consciously meanders, it holds interest, and is aided by a superb soundtrack from The Clash. Watch out for Strummer as a mustachioed cop.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.17.2011
06:30 pm
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