Wednesday, January 05, 2011

I've been busy devouring the contents of my copy of the Destroy All Movies!!! book (written about below two entries ago) the last week. Re-reads and the all-important toilet browse have confirmed my original suspicions that it will likely, as they say, wind up being a classic of its genre, hopefully forever in print, updated annually like the Leonard Maltin film guide and readily available for all those w/ an undying interest in the melting pot of punx + celluloid. Naturally, a closer read will have one disagreeing w/ certain opinions expressed in the book.

The editors, for whatever reason (my guess is that it's likely because of Penelope Spheeris' helpful co-operation w/ the writers/editors for the book [the book is in fact dedicated to her], and the fact that she did make at least one bona fide classic slice of punk rock cinema in Decline of Western Civilisation, and if you're feeling generous, you can also stick the flawed but still highly entertaining Suburbia in there, too... boy, these brackets make me waffle sometimes), consider Spheeris' hopelessly bad - or just plain bad... or hopeless - Dudes from 1987 something of more worth than the steaming pile of terribleness that it is.

And you can just picture my apopleptic rage when I discovered the total absence of the original Mad Max in their tome, despite Mad Max 2 (AKA Road Warrior) given a major tip of the hat (for the record, and as another pointless aside, whilst Mad Max possesses no overt punk rock content, especially so regarding the soundtrack, its punk imagery - all cropped hair, biker boots, black leather and not a flare to be seen - is unlike just about any other film you'll see which was made in 1979. But I digress...).

And then there's the ultimate claim: Repo Man from 1984 is the definitive punk rock film. They may be right there, so far as fictional movies go, but they also neglected to mention that the film ain't that great. Now don't get me wrong: Repo Man - more the soundtrack than the movie itself, to clarify things a little - was a pivotal event for me. I bought the soundtrack LP, which I've still got, when I was 13 and, along w/ other records by the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, it was the gateway towards early '80s American hardcore and all the great things it spawned. I have great sentimental attachment to the film and will defend it to the clueless 'til I'm breathless... but that still doesn't make it a great movie. Good, for sure, a cult classic, too, but not a film I can sit through for repeated viewings w/out acknowledging its occasional tedium and flaws.

The problem may just be that film-maker Alex Cox - God bless 'im, his heart was always in the right place - wasn't as good a film-maker as some claim him to be. Sid & Nancy sucked, I've been reliably informed that Straight To Hell is too painful to watch, and few have ever seen Walker (or liked it). And then there's his other films which no one has ever seen. But this post isn't meant as a beat-up on Cox, the book or the film. Nor is it one whose sole intention is to slay a sacred cow. Maybe I'll just wound it a little.

For one, the storyline isn't much to write home about. And if you did choose to write home about it, I'd still like to see you make some sense of it. It's essentially nonsense about aliens, secret agents and punk rockers. And repo men. The best thing to do is to ignore the attempts at an interesting storyline, for in Repo Man, it's the little things that count, and make it not only worthwhile, but essential viewing, and by that I mean that everyone reading this slice of pointlessness should see it at least once. After all, you do get a terrific slice of '80s SoCal HC w/ star Emilio Estevez's punker pals Duke and Archie, the former played by Dick Rude, who co-authored the film and was a genuine baldie. By my standards, I'd usually consider them horrendous stereotypes, though if you've ever seen Decline Of Western Civilisation and some of its participants (notably the fans), you'd be aware of the fact that the caricatures present in the film aren't that far from the truth.

Mentor to Estevez, repo man and philosopher Harry Dean Stanton steals the show, and just about any scene he's in is worth a shot, hence the clip pasted below. The Circle Jerks make an appearance, a rare glimpse of the short-lived line-up featuring Chuck Biscuits and Earl Liberty. It's a pity they never got to blaze it up as a rock & roll combo on screen, though their brief stint as a nightclub lounge act is still an amusing moment (they're also in it for a split second as a motorcycle gang). Estevez, despite his turgid subsequent career (esp. post-'80s), makes for a decent anti-social asshole in the pic, though his acting is still pretty stonefaced and the character itself is unsympathetic and, by halfway through, flat-out annoying to watch. I wasn't there, but if there is any film which captures that essence of the time for punkers, it's probably Repo Man. I just wish the film itself was better.

What is better is the soundtrack. It's got several classics in its grooves: Black Flag's "TV Party", Circle Jerks' "Coup D'Etat"; some good lunk-headed HC I still have a soft spot for, such as Fear's "Let's Have A War" and Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized" (first album still sounds like fun to me); a surprisingly good solo track by Iggy Pop, the title song, featuring Steve Jones on guitar, and a rare song from Iggy's vast solo catalogue which actually "rocks"; some great Hispanic New Wave/punk cuts by The Plugz, including their cover of the Secret Agent Man theme song and an excellent Spaghetti Western-style closing instrumental; the Burning Sensations' cover of Jonathon Richman's "Pablo Picasso"; and lastly, a cool, sleazy funk churn by the Juicy Bananas, complete w/ dialogue from the film interpersed throughout. Some of these tracks are obviously better than others, but it's all at least "good".

For '80s punk culture on film, I'll vouch for Return Of The Living Dead over Repo Man. It's a better film, even though the soundtrack isn't quite as consistent, despite killer tracks by the Flesh Eaters, Cramps, Damned and Roky Erickson. This review is all based on the fact that, last Sunday evening just gone, inspired by Destroy All Movies, I watched Repo Man for the first time in over a decade. It's aged well, in the sense that I have the same opinion of it that I held upon first viewing as a 14-year-old: a half-decent storyline w/ perhaps a character or two you could give a shit about would make it a really great film. Get the soundtrack.


boy moritz said...

Spot-on, davey boy

kami said...

got myself a copy of the book recently and am still drooling... i wanted it because the fuckers recognised the brilliance of Surf II - one of my favorite dumb ass vhs days teen comedies... and i do love suburbia and sure there are misses... i mean rock and roll highschool is vastly overrated (but still better than repoman) but its a sweet book... and repoman's biggest problem is that emilio estevez never looks like a punk! :D