THE INTENSE LIFE OF ALEX COX
The director of Repo Man Tells as little
as possible to the IRS
You would think Alex Cox was American. With films like REPO MAN, STRAIGHT TO HELL, WALKER and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS to his credit, he would appear to be a cynical American white boy filmmaker. But looks, as they say, are usually deceiving. Born in England in 1954 Cox studied at UCLA on a Fullbright where he won two Jack Nicholson Awards for screenwriting. In 1984, his first full length film, REPO MAN opened at the Berlin Film Festival and from there on it was movies, movies, movies. Of course he is technically an American. Cox was given honorary citizenship in Tucson, Arizona along with his producer, Lorenzo O’Brien for their work on WALKER.
Anchor Bay just re-released Repo Man, one of the most fun, thought provoking films of the 1980’s. It took our hope away, but gave us a really good soundtrack, Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton. (2 for 2, hey boys and girls?) It also lampooned lower class America’s love of cars, indifference to nuclear war and the downsizing of compassion.
So, anyway, Cox is English and back in the UK. I had to email him there for my interview and got back some very English answers.
CA: First of all, I love your web site, alexcox.com. What do you think of the Internet and its possibilities as far as art and communication are concerned?
AC: The Internet seems best of all as a means of political communication. It was one of the only places one could find opposition to the bombing of Serbia; it is at the forefront of opposition to the new American war against Colombia.
CA: It’s been said that where there is a great capacity for good there is a great capacity for evil. Do you think this holds true for the Internet?
AC: I try not to think in these simplistic terms. Good is invariably used as a synonym for “people who think like us”; evil are those who disagree, such as the president of Yugoslavia.
CA: You refer to yourself as an Anarcho-Socialist, what do you mean by that?
AC: Anarchist in that that is the only morally justifiable system, offering the most freedom. Socialist because I think utilities such as water, telephone, the railway, the airways, are too societally important to be allowed to fall into the hands of private companies. State ownership – as in the US Government’s ownership and subsidy of Amtrak – is the only sensible alternative.
CA: How would you balance the non-government stance of the anarchist and the hands on stance of socialism?
AC: With difficulty.
CA: What kind of title would you give the emerging Internet society?
CA: What do you think of the English Monarchy?
AC: Very little; another bunch of rich gangsters, no?
CA: That said, why do you think people are so willing to be lead by gangsters? What is the basis for the fascination?
AC: They are not asked if they want to be led or not. They are presented with a fait accompli, enforced by guns and money.
CA: Where did you company name, Commies from Mars Associates, come from?
AC: A comic book.
CA: Your editorial on the site talks about the Digital Millennium and Sonny Bono Copyright Acts and how they have extended copyright terms for corporate owned works from 75-95 years. Do you see anyway that artists can break the bonds of corporate servitude, not just for the money but for the dignity?
AC: Artists might have to fight against the notion of intellectual property rights since they are inevitable ceded to the aformentioned multinationals. Alternately they would have to fight in unison to retain them.
CA: Do you see artist ever organizing in such a manner that they could overcome the corporate stranglehold on their work?
AC: This remains to be seen.
CA: Speaking of artists dignity, what’s happening with the writers credit on FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS? On the ever fallible Internet Movie Database, the film lists Terry Gilliam and Hunter Thompson as the writers and your writers credits have the film listed as yours. What’s up?
AC: Ask the IMD where they get their information. They will probably correct it, or give you an answer why.
(for more info on this go to http://www.pscweb.com/repo/ and check it out under, “What’s happening with FEAR AND LOTHING…”)
CA: I noticed while looking at your films that Rudy Wurlitzer did the script for WALKER. He also did the script for another under the radar film, TWO LANE BLACKTOP. Have you ever seen it and what did you think of it.
AC: It’s really good. Very funny. It has aged brilliantly, mainly thanks to the character of GTO and the performance by Warren Oates.
CA: Oates was fabulous and Harry Dean Stanton had a marvelous cameo as the gay hitchhiker Oates picks up as well. Was this the first thing you ever saw Stanton in?
AC: First time I learned HD’s name was in THE MISSOURI BREAKS. I am sure I’d seen him previously.
CA: At the time it came out, Walker was a great education to me about how fleeting fame can be. Here’s a man who was a hot topic in his time who has all but disappeared in ours. Can you think of any politicians that will probably happen to from our time?
AC: Clinton, Bush, Gore, Blair.
CA: If you could make a film about a political celebrity from the past ten years, who would it be?
AC: George Bush Sr.
CA: What do you find noteworthy about him that you would want future generations to know about?
AC: That he ran the US Government for eight years while pretending to be vice president and managed to conceal that he was a) running the show and b) fluent in Mandarin.
CA: Let’s talk about the new release of Repo Man. What do you think of the DVD format?
AC: Good, no?
CA: It was an eclectic film, mixing aliens, atoms and automobiles to form an anti nuclear message. How did you come to include such a strange mix of culture and counter culture?
AC: Those were my interests at the time. Mainly nuclear war, actually, but also patterns of synchronicity. I was never very keen on cars.
CA: You’ve made quiet a few film/shorts/docs about important political subjects, but Repo Man, this quirky pop film about punks and nuclear threat seems to have made the biggest mark in the market for you, why do you think that is?
AC: Good producers, good soundtrack, fortunate production circumstances.
CA: What do you think of the worlds fascination with aliens? Where do you think the need to believe in the unprovable originates?
AC: Unscrupulous media barons such as Rupert Murdoch; the CIA and US Airforce and their need to conceal “black” aviation projects behind a cloak of mumbo-jumbo.
CA: What about the world’s fascination with nuclear war?
AC: It would be odd if people were not fascinated by this subject.
CA: I was listening to an NPR story today about the reality show Survivor. They had a shrink on who was discussing the fact that the really nice, good people were being kicked off the island and the least likable person would probably win because they manipulated the others. The main point was that people who are amoral are more successful over all than people who are immoral or moral based. How would you classify Otto’s morality? (forgive me, I miss college).
AC: Otto has no morality. He is a blank page. He will do anything.
CA: Where did you meet Harry Dean Stanton?
AC: At a pizza restaurant in Los Angeles in 1979. I was trying to persuade him to act in my student film (he didn’t).
CA: What made you decide to cast him in Repo Man?
AC: Dennis Hopper wasn’t available.
CA: The tag line “it’s 4am, do you know where your car is?” is funny on so many levels, especially in relation to the way American’s feel about their cars and children. Repo Man makes a mockery of, well of many things, but definitely of American parenting, was that intentional or just a bi-product of the artistic process?
AC: It was all intentional.
AC: They wrote and asked me if I’d write some. So I did…
CA: Are you a Godzilla fan?
AC: Yes. Though I am a bigger fan of King Kong!
CA: What has King Kong got that Godzilla hasn’t?
AC: A hairy (sorry that’s all that came through cyberspace…ED)
CA: I noticed that on your favorite film list on your web site there aren’t many recent films. What is, say, your favorite film of the last five years, in the English language?
AC: Don’t have one.
CA: What’s going on with your new project, A Hard Look? Is it TV or film?
AC: It’s a documentary about the EMMANUELLE films for Channel 4.
CA: And finally, what do you feel is your proudest accomplishment?