The Stars of ‘Repo Man’ Drop By New Beverly Cinema

Repo Man poster

More than 30 years after its release, Alex Cox’s cult classic “Repo Man” still holds up with its truly authentic punk attitude and black humor. This was proven to be the case when a special screening of the movie was held at the New Beverly Cinema which brought out many fans eager to see some of the actors who starred in it. Among them was the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton who plays Bud, the Mr. Miyagi or Yoda to Emilio Estevez’s Otto. Also there was Tracey Walter who played the philosopher of mechanics, Miller, Olivia Barash who played Otto’s would-be girlfriend, Leila, and Del Zamora as Lagarto, one of the Rodriguez brothers.

“Repo Man” is so defiantly punk and proudly refuses to fit into the realm of regular mainstream entertainment. Never politically correct, it delves into a highly exaggerated, not to mention intense, depiction of the life of a repossession agent. Watching it makes you realize there are not enough movies like this these playing at the local multiplex. We need something to balance out all these watered-down blockbusters which comes to us like McDonald’s Happy Meals from the world of corporate cinema. This movie was actually intended to be a UCLA student film, but somehow it managed to become something much bigger.

The actors came out immediately after the end credits concluded, and they looked really happy to be at the New Beverly. Stanton, however, looked like he was three sheets to the wind and occasionally spoke about things not really related to “Repo Man.” At one point he even asked, “Can I smoke in here?” The other actors sympathetically told him they weren’t sure the theater would allow him to smoke. “We can’t smoke in here?” Stanton said, “That’s fucking nonsense!” The crowd couldn’t help but laugh as Stanton looked like he was perfectly prepared to keep smoking for the rest of his days.

Stanton said he couldn’t remember exactly how he got involved in “Repo Man,” and added this lack of memory up to being one of his “senile” moments. Walter, however, said he got his role after having previously worked with producer Michael Nesmith on “Timerider.” Barash said she was originally encouraged not to do the movie on the advice of her agents as they didn’t know the people involved in it very well, and they thought it might be dangerous for her to even go to the audition. But Barash was and still is a huge punk rock fan, and she got immediately sold on “Repo Man” upon seeing that bands like Black Flag were going to be involved. She even told us Iggy Pop, who composed the movie’s theme song, was her neighbor in the apartment building she lived in back then.

Zamora didn’t say exactly how he got cast, but he did remember how Cox got Nesmith involved as a producer. Simply put, Nesmith’s car had gotten repossessed, so he could relate to those car owners who were not paying up on what they bought. Zamora also talked about how Cox got both Stanton and Estevez involved in “Repo Man.” Basically, Cox caught up with Estevez and told him Stanton was already connected to the movie even though he wasn’t at that point, and then he went to Stanton and told him Estevez was connected to the film even though he wasn’t. Suffice to say, both actors did become involved.

Stanton then went on to say he and Cox didn’t always get along. During the shooting of “Repo Man,” Cox got so sick and tired of Stanton telling the actors what to do and threatened to fire him on the spot. To this Stanton replied, “Kiss my ass! Fire me so I can get paid!” Later on, Stanton asked Zamora to let Cox, whom Zamora is still in touch with, know he’s not mad at him anymore and that he would welcome him as an honored guest the next time he saw him.

“Repo Man” also had an abundance of generic food and drink items on display, and the audience couldn’t help but laugh at just how openly generic they all were. Product placements are usually reserved for big budget movies which are more likely to be bland and inoffensive. Zamora said they really had no money so they did talk with companies who were willing to do product placements in the movie. And then they read the script… What they ended up using was a generic brand from Ralphs Supermarket, one of the most dominant of supermarket chains in Southern California today. Of course, had “Repo Man” been made today, Ralphs might not have been as inclined to be involved.

In the end, Zamora and Walter said the art directors did the majority of the work and succeeded in creating the world of the movie which was very convincing despite the low budget. Then Stanton spoke up again and asked who Zamora played in “Repo Man,” and Zamora told him he played Lagarto, one of the Rodriguez brothers, to which Stanton replied, “How many brothers were there?”

 Speaking of the Rodriguez brothers, Stanton’s character of Bud has this intense confrontation where he wields a baseball bat which he threatens to bash the brothers with. Stanton said Cox gave him a rubber bat to use, but he wanted to work with a real one instead, and this led to a fight between the two of them. Zamora remembered this moment on set and said Stanton was under control, but Stanton, who was starting to remember more of the filming, made it bluntly clear he was really crazy and didn’t have any idea of what he was doing.

Walter was asked about his famous “shrimp monologue” scene, and he said it was originally meant to be just an audition piece. It was never intended to be in the film, but Walter fought for it. Indeed, it makes for one of the most memorable moments in “Repo Man” as his character of Miller describes the way he sees things:

“A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

To this day, Walter says that every once in a while he runs into someone who utters one of his signature lines from “Repo Man” like, “John Wayne was a fag!” But of course, the real signature line of “Repo Man” belongs to Stanton’s character of Bud who says, “The life of a repo man is always intense.”

One audience member asked the actors if they still talk to Estevez after all these years. Zamora and Walter said Estevez still works, but more as a producer and director these days because that’s where his passion lies. Estevez still acts occasionally, but it apparently doesn’t interest him as much as it used to.

Wrapping up the evening, the actors were asked if they knew they were making something special during the filming of “Repo Man.” Some of them believed they were, but Stanton bluntly said, “I didn’t give a shit if it was special while making it.” Despite his apparent demeanor and not being able to remember his entire experience on this particular movie, Stanton still had us laughing hysterically. Not once did he try to ruin the fans’ appreciation of “Repo Man.” Whether he realizes it or not, no one could have played Bud better than him.

Many were in agreement when Stanton said both “Repo Man” and “Sid & Nancy” were truly the peak of Cox’s directing career. We haven’t heard as much from him since then, but Barash said he just finished making a quasi-sequel called “Repo Chick” which she has a cameo in it. However, this has not stopped Universal Pictures from sending Cox cease and desist letters as they insist only they have sequel rights to “Repo Man.” Still, Cox has been showing it at festivals, so it looks like nothing is going to stop him.

Before everyone got up and applauded, another audience member asked a question which brought to mind one of Bud’s great lines from “Repo Man,” “Is there any good place around here to get sushi and not pay?” Stanton left us with his best answer of the evening, “That’s where we’re going right now.”

 

 

 

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: The Searchers

The Searchers poster

Continuing my education in the westerns of John Wayne, for those of you who read my review of “Rio Bravo,” we come to an even greater one called “The Searchers.” It is a beautifully filmed movie directed by the great John Ford, and it stars John Wayne in what may very well have been his greatest onscreen performance ever as Ethan Edwards, a Civil War soldier coming home to a tenuous welcome. When his brother Aaron (Walter Coy) and his family are massacred by Comanche Indians, he sets off on a mission of both revenge and rescue as he discovers one of his nieces may still be alive. Along with him on this journey are the Texas Rangers led by the Reverend Captain Samuel Clayton (Ward Bond) and a step-nephew named Marty (Jeffrey Hunter) whom Ethan wants nothing to do with.

Like I said, this is a beautifully filmed western by Ford, and it is the first of his films I have watched. I can see why it is one of Steven Spielberg’s all-time favorite films, and I wonder if Ford’s other films are as beautifully shot as this one was. We get to see wide shots of barren fields which are soon covered by snowfall. Ford makes the passing of time seem all the more evident as we go from one season to another, and we feel the years passing these characters by as they refuse to give up on their quest. It gets to where we are as desperate as them to find those innocent souls who were kidnapped.

Wayne said of all the roles he played, he considered Ethan Edwards to be his best. As a result, he later named a son of his Ethan in a respectful homage to this film. Wayne is simply amazing here as a Confederate soldier who does not feel the need to swear an oath to Texas since his work as a soldier is far more important. Ethan is not an entirely likable person, and neither Wayne nor Ford hide the fact that he is pretty racist. But you cannot help but stay with Ethan on this journey because there’s little doubt he is justified in his pursuits.

Wayne has many amazing moments in “The Searchers,” and the strongest ones are when he doesn’t say a word. He may appear tough and resolute one moment, but in the next shot his eyes betray the worry and hurt that tear away at Ethan’s soul. Ethan’s life was torn apart when his young after the Comanche Indians attacked his family, and it has filled him with an unapologetically raw hatred towards them. There’s a powerful moment where we see Wayne coming in from someplace he was searching, and he looks like he is about to collapse in horror. We find out later why he was acting the way he did, but what he shows without saying anything leaves a lasting impression that you cannot get out of your head.

The main relationship Wayne’s character has throughout “The Searchers” is with Marty, and he is played by Jeffrey Hunter who is best remembered as Captain Christopher Pike from the original pilot of “Star Trek.” Marty sticks with Ethan despite Ethan’s cold dismissal of him throughout due to his biracial heritage, but Ethan needs Marty to keep him in check. Ethan’s racism is so deeply rooted to where it could force him to take actions he may spend the rest of his life regretting. Marty soon comes to understand why Ethan would rather see a family member dead than have them be defiled by a Comanche.

Watching “The Searchers” today might seem odd because the movie at times threatens to be as racist as Wayne’s character. It was made back in the days of cowboys and indians, but the main villains here are only one tribe of indians as well as double-crossing white men who should have known better. Not every Indian in this movie is presented as a bad guy. In fact, one of the best moments comes when Marty finds he has inadvertently married an Indian woman when he thought he was just buying a sweater. When we later see the fate of that Indian woman, we learn more about why Indians end up attacking each other over territory.

The movie is filled with incredible vistas Ford captures in all their glory, and I’m convinced that viewing it today is as exciting as when it first came out. I wonder if any other filmmaker today can accomplish what Ford did. We see characters grow from the start all the way to the finish, and Ethan comes to see he has gained a lot of respect for Marty to where he is prepared to give everything he has to him should he be killed. They never really become friends, but they rely on each other more than they would ever admit out loud. There is a lot of heart in this movie behind all that bravado which never covers up the fierce insecurity of its characters.

The Searchers doorway

The final shot of Wayne standing in the doorway while the sun and wind bear down on him is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history, and it stays with you long after the movie is over. It says everything you need to know about Ethan as he is a man destined to walk this earth alone, but who will always be doing his job as a soldier till the day he drops dead.

I’m not sure what else I can say about “The Searchers” that has not already been said. I have absolutely no doubt that this is one of the greatest westerns ever made, and it is clearly one of the defining movies of Wayne’s career. Although some may find the Ethan’s racist attitudes too much to bear, there is still so much to enjoy and be enthralled by. I was never in a hurry to see “The Searchers,” but I’m really glad I finally did.

* * * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Rio Bravo’

Rio Bravo movie poster

I have a confession to make; for years I had never seen a John Wayne western before. I was certainly aware of who he was and of how he is seen as an American hero to many. There is an airport in Orange County named after him, and it houses an enormous statue of him in his western gear that towers over all those taking a flight out of there. Wayne is as conservative as an actor can get in Hollywood, and there are certain people I know personally who don’t want to watch his movies because of that. But come one, we’re here to watch a movie, not debate politics! If I can sit through a Chuck Norris movie, there’s no reason why I can’t see a John Wayne movie.

Rio Bravo” was directed by Howard Hawks and it is widely regarded as one of the greatest westerns ever made. It was made by Hawks and Wayne as a “right wing response” to “High Noon” in which Gary Cooper played a sheriff who urged the townspeople to join him in defending the town they live in. In “Rio Bravo” Wayne plays Sheriff John T. Chance, a man who has no time at for amateurs and will deal only with professionals who know what they are doing. That should give you a good idea of how pissed off Wayne was at Cooper.

The plot revolves around Chance guarding a prisoner named Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) who murdered another man at a bar for no good reason. Working with Chance are an old cripple named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) who is always complaining about something, the town drunk Dude (Dean Martin) who spends the movie sobering up, and the new kid in town Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) who is quick on the draw. They are waiting for the marshal to arrive to take Burdette away, but his brother Nathan (John Russell) will not rest until he is freed. Nothing beats brotherly love when you want to keep your sibling from being someone’s best friend, in a manner of speaking, behind bars.

“Rio Bravo” is essentially a big buildup to a final a violent confrontation between the Sheriff and Nathan where bullets fly in all directions. We see these characters going about their normal lives and the Sheriff starting up a subtle romance with the new woman in town, Feathers (Angie Dickinson). Most action movies today would demand filmmakers cut out the character developments and simply go right to the action. It is rare to see a movie like “Rio Bravo” made today as filmmaking gets more faster paced to where we keep losing the art of subtlety.

I see why Wayne was such an incredibly strong presence in movies. He handles the dialogue well, but his best moments come when he doesn’t say a word. There is a moment where he glares at someone he doesn’t recognize as friendly, and he keeps staring at him until the nameless man walks away. Like Chance, Wayne had a face with a lot of history written all over it, and few others could pull off a scene like that so effectively.

You could tell that, like his characters, Wayne had been through a lot in life, and this added immeasurably to the “don’t mess with me” attitude he exhibited onscreen. He was never some pretty boy actor trying to get the ladies, but a seemingly down to earth guy doing his part to serve and protect others.

The other actor who impressed me here was Dean Martin who played Dude, the once famous gunslinger who has spent way too much time drinking to ease a broken heart. Maybe it’s because I have this view of Martin being a member of the Rat Pack to where I thought it completely overshadowed him as an actor. I figured he was more of a star than an actor, but his performance here proved me wrong. Martin takes his character from what seems like an eternally drunk state to a world of sobriety he struggles to keep up with. It’s a battle he can never fully win, but he tries to stay on the right track and Martin makes you root for him throughout.

I can also see why Ricky Nelson was cast here. A big rock star at the time, he was probably cast to help this movie appeal more to women who were crazy about him at the time. Nelson may never have been a truly great actor, but he is very good here as the new kid out to help the Sheriff in times of trouble. Nelson plays it cool here, maybe too cool at times, but you believe he is quick on the trigger.

But the big scene stealer here is Walter Brennan who plays Stumpy. All Stumpy can do is guard the jail with his shotgun and from behind closed doors, and he can be seriously trigger happy if you don’t let him know you’re right outside those jail doors. Every other line he said throughout the movie had the audience I saw it with at New Beverly Cinema in hysterics. The moment where he does that quick impression of Chance had me laughing my ass off.

This is also the first movie I have ever seen directed by Howard Hawks. He shoots with an economy of style and doesn’t overburden “Rio Bravo” with too much style and overlong shots a lot of show-off directors tend to employ. His focus here is on the characters and how they interact with one another. This makes the action more exciting as we come to care about these characters to where we don’t want them to get hurt.

Director John Carpenter pointed out how one of Hawks’ strongest attributes as a filmmaker is his inclusion of strong women. The example of that in Rio Bravo is in the form of Angie Dickinson’s character of Feathers who proves to be the only person in the entire movie who can tame Chance. You never doubt Feathers to be an independent woman who can get by on her own terms. She’s tough, and yet Dickinson manages to bring some vulnerability to Feathers where she doesn’t always appear trustworthy.

The scenes Dickinson has with Wayne are strong, and she succeeds in bringing out his vulnerabilities to the point where he can’t help but appear a little goofy. This is all despite the fact that Wayne was 51 and Dickinson was 26 when they made this movie. It turns out Wayne was very nervous about the love scenes in regards to the age difference. Then again, I don’t think I would have noticed their age difference unless someone pointed it out to me.

“Rio Bravo” is filled with many memorable moments not easily forgotten. The moment where Dude takes out a shooter in a bar is a brilliant one you never see coming. The shootouts are still exciting as hell, especially when good use is made of a flower pot being hurled through a window.

One of my favorite moments comes when the men come in harmony together as they sing “My Rifle, My Pony and Me.” It reminded me of one of my favorite moments from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” when Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw sang “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” I love those moments in films when people find a way to come together despite whatever differences keep them apart.

I found “Rio Bravo” to be an excellent western, and it’s no surprise to me that it is one of the most influential westerns ever made. It certainly holds a strong place in the cinematic history of westerns, and it endures to this very day. Of course, Hollywood in its infinite wisdom will probably end up remaking it after they have pillaged all the horror franchises they can. That’ll be the day!

* * * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.