Repo Man (1984)

R | 92 mins | Comedy-drama, Science fiction | 4 May 1984

Director:

Alex Cox

Writer:

Alex Cox

Cinematographer:

Robby Muller

Editor:

Dennis Dolan

Production Designers:

J. Rae Fox, Lynda Burbank

Production Company:

Edge City
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HISTORY

In 1982, British director Alex Cox reconnected with two former film school colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), producers Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy. As noted in Cox’s 2008 autobiography, X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker and a 4 May 1984 HR article, Wacks and McCarthy had recently established a production company in Venice, CA, and were eager to move away from television commercials to develop feature films. Cox and his friends agreed to a three-picture contract, in which each person would direct one film, and they named the company “Edge City” after Cox’s UCLA thesis, Edge City/Sleep is for Sissies (1980).
       Beginning his work for Edge City, Cox initially wrote a script called The Hot Club. However, the movie’s special effects were deemed too expensive for the fledgling studio, and Cox created Repo Man as a low-budget alternative. The story was based on the experiences of real-life “repo man” Mark Lewis, who was a roommate of Edge City actor Ed Pansullo. Cox spent three months driving around Los Angeles, CA, with Lewis, repossessing cars from loan defaulters. Wacks and McCarthy agreed to produce the picture after reading the first draft, and Repo Man became Edge City’s first theatrically-released feature film.
       Cox wrote thirteen additional versions of the script over the next year, naming the lead characters “Bud,” “Miller,” “Lite,” and “Oly” after economically-priced beer brands that were popular in Los Angeles punk-rock clubs at that time, and basing their personalities on the four members of a Los Angeles hardcore band called ... More Less

In 1982, British director Alex Cox reconnected with two former film school colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), producers Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy. As noted in Cox’s 2008 autobiography, X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker and a 4 May 1984 HR article, Wacks and McCarthy had recently established a production company in Venice, CA, and were eager to move away from television commercials to develop feature films. Cox and his friends agreed to a three-picture contract, in which each person would direct one film, and they named the company “Edge City” after Cox’s UCLA thesis, Edge City/Sleep is for Sissies (1980).
       Beginning his work for Edge City, Cox initially wrote a script called The Hot Club. However, the movie’s special effects were deemed too expensive for the fledgling studio, and Cox created Repo Man as a low-budget alternative. The story was based on the experiences of real-life “repo man” Mark Lewis, who was a roommate of Edge City actor Ed Pansullo. Cox spent three months driving around Los Angeles, CA, with Lewis, repossessing cars from loan defaulters. Wacks and McCarthy agreed to produce the picture after reading the first draft, and Repo Man became Edge City’s first theatrically-released feature film.
       Cox wrote thirteen additional versions of the script over the next year, naming the lead characters “Bud,” “Miller,” “Lite,” and “Oly” after economically-priced beer brands that were popular in Los Angeles punk-rock clubs at that time, and basing their personalities on the four members of a Los Angeles hardcore band called “Fear.” According to Cox’s X Films, most of the dialogue was lifted from Mark Lewis and his colleagues, including the reference to pine tree air fresheners and the reverence for amphetamine-induced “tense situations.” While the story was initially a road movie, which followed the Chevy Malibu from Los Angeles to the town of Truth or Consequences, NM, Cox centered the story in Los Angeles to maintain the budget. Cox intended to storyboard the entire script as a thirty-six-page comic book, but the task was too time consuming. However, he completed the first four pages, and the comic was used as the frontispiece of the script when Edge City sent out approximately 200 copies to potential financiers.
       The package captured the attention of executive producer Michael Nesmith, who was best known at that time for his role in the television show-rock band, The Monkees. Repo Man marked Newsmith’s first credited role as executive producer of a feature film. After investing his private capitol in preproduction, Nesmith took the project to his contacts at Universal Pictures, where president Thom Mount and president of marketing and distribution, Robert Rehme, offered Edge City a $1.5 million negative pickup deal. On 8 Apr 1983, DV confirmed that Nesmith and Universal were backing production, and the 4 May 1984 HR added that the deal marked a “shift in attitudes” in the Hollywood establishment, in which a major studio was branding a low-budget, independent production.
       In Feb 1984, Repo Man was test-marketed in Chicago, IL, where it received mixed responses. On 4 May 1984, Universal opened the picture at twenty-nine Los Angeles theaters, hoping to determine box-office potential and release strategy. HR noted that the Los Angeles screenings were also monitored by Hollywood executives, who wanted to gauge if collaborations between major studios and independent productions could be profitable. Two weeks later, an 18 May 1984 LAT column announced that Universal was pulling the film from distribution due to poor earnings. However, Cox attributed the withdrawal to a change in command at Universal, and the studio’s shift in marketing priorities. When Thom Mount and Robert Rehme left Universal, their replacements were skeptical of the picture’s economic viability, and those fears were compounded by the low box-office returns in Chicago. According to Cox, Universal planned to cancel the Los Angeles opening, but the studio came under pressure from parent company, MCA, because the Repo Man soundtrack was a success. Failing to realize that the music appealed to disenfranchised, punk-rock adolescents, Universal changed its marketing strategy to attract a mainstream, teen audience, and repackaged the art house film as a sentimental, romantic comedy. Posters were airbrushed to lighten the dark skin tone of African American actress Vonetta McGee, and to remove a hairnet worn by Latino actor Eddie Velez. In addition, Emilio Estevez’s crucifix earring was removed from the image.
       Despite the marketing and release debacle, Repo Man was received with critical acclaim. The 3 May 1984 review praised its “vitality and abundant imagination,” and the 6 Jul 1984 NYT congratulated the first-time filmmakers for providing “a most engaging reprieve from Hollywood’s general run of laid-back comedies of simulated nastiness and half-baked nonchalance.” On 14 Aug 1984, HR announced that Universal had reissued the picture, hoping to capitalize on the good press. The second release grossed $220,000 in New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston, MA, bringing box-office totals to $820,000 since Repo Man’s initial opening. Deeming the comeback a “limited success,” Universal planned to release the film in a new city each week, with openings scheduled for Seattle, WA, on 15 Aug 1984, San Francisco, CA, on 24 Aug 1984, Berkeley, CA, on 7 Sep 1984, and San Jose, CA, on 14 Sep 1984.
       Repo Man was followed by two spinoffs. Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday was not finished or released as of May 2016, but was published as a graphic novel in 2008, and Repo Chick was released in 2011 (see entry).
       Cast credits misspell the last name of Rodney Bingenheimer as “Bengeheimer.”
       End credits state: “Thanks to Michael Chinich, Brant Reiter,” and, “Special thanks: NW Ayer, Inc.; Car-Freshener Corporation; Ralph’s Supermarkets; Helfick Enterprises, Inc. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
8 Apr 1983.
---
Daily Variety
2 Mar 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 1984
p. 1, 29.
Hollywood Reporter
16 May 1984
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 May 1984
p. 1, 3.
Los Angeles Times
18 May 1984.
---
New York Times
6 Jul 1984
p. 8.
Variety
7 Mar 1984
p. 371.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Also Starring
Addl blond agents:
[and]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Michael Nesmith presents
An Edge City production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d cam
2d unit cam
2d unit asst
Gaffer
Elec's best boy
Elec
Key grip
Grip's best boy
Still photog
Video coord
Video tech dir
Video cam
Video eng
Cam, Addl photog
2d cam, Addl photog
1st asst cam, Addl photog
2d asst cam, Addl photog
Grip/Gaffer, Addl photog
Elec, Addl photog
Elec, Addl photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Prop master, Addl photog
Const coord
Lead man
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward asst
MUSIC
Repo Man theme
Score performed by
Score performed by, The Plugz
Score performed by, The Plugz
Score performed by, The Plugz
Score performed by, The Plugz
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Prod sd mixer, Addl photog
Boom op
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Asst sd ed
Foley
Foley
Rec facilities
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Computer graphics
Computer graphics
Computer graphics
Title des
Opticals
MAKEUP
Make-up/Hair
Make-up/Hair, Addl photog
Asst make-up/Hair
Asst make-up/Hair
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Helicopter pilot
Scr supv
Scr supv
Prod exec
Prod controller
Prod coord
Edge City exec
Creative consultant
Creative consultant
Tech adv
Loc scout
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Stunt safety
Craft services
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Police
Police
Security
Security
Tech consultant
Production/Payroll
STAND INS
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunt coord
Stunt coord, Addl photog
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Repo Man Theme Song," written and performed by Iggy Pop
"Coup D'Etat," performed by The Circle Jerks, written by Greg Hetson and Keith Morris, courtesy of LAX Records
"Institutionalized," performed by Suicidal Tendencies, written by Louis Manuel Mayorga and Michael A. Muir, courtesy of Frontier Records
+
SONGS
"Repo Man Theme Song," written and performed by Iggy Pop
"Coup D'Etat," performed by The Circle Jerks, written by Greg Hetson and Keith Morris, courtesy of LAX Records
"Institutionalized," performed by Suicidal Tendencies, written by Louis Manuel Mayorga and Michael A. Muir, courtesy of Frontier Records
"TV Party," performed by Black Flag, written by Greg Ginn, courtesy of Unicorn Records
"El Clavo Y La Cruz," performed by The Plugz, written by Humberto Lorenzo Larriva, courtesy of Fatima Records
"Happy Animals," performed by Big Race
"See See Rider," performed by Louis Armstrong, written by Ma Rainey
"Rhumboogie," performed by The Andrews Sisters, written by Hughie Prince and Don Raye, courtesy of MCA Records
"Lite's Theme," performed by The Juicy Bananas
"Pablo Picasso," performed by Burning Sensations, written by Jonathan Richman, produced by Tim McGovern
"Secret Agent Man," performed by The Plugz, written by Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan
"I Just Want To Satisfy," performed by The Juicy Bananas
"Flor De Mal," performed by The Plugz, written by Steven Michael Hufsteter and Humberto Lorenzo Larriva
"Bad Man," performed by The Juicy Bananas
"When The Shit Hits The Fan," performed by The Circle Jerks, written by Greg Hetson and Keith Morris
"Milk Cow Blues," performed by Almost Famous Figures
"Let's Have A War," performed by Fear, written by Philo J. Cramer and Lee James Jude.
+
COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 May 1984
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 4 May 1984; New York opening: 6 Jul 1984
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 May 1984
Copyright Number:
PA212984
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
92
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27271
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

A rickety Chevy Malibu sedan cruises from Los Alamos, New Mexico, to the California desert, where it is pulled over by a policeman. Despite warnings from the car’s shifty driver, J. Frank Parnell, the officer opens the trunk, and is vaporized by a mysterious, radioactive blast. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, California, a disillusioned grocery store stock clerk named Otto is fired for insubordination, and his punk-rock girl friend, Debbi, kicks him out of bed to have sex with her new mate, Duke. Otto blames society for his failures and sees little hope for his future. Sometime later, he is approached by an older gentleman named Bud, who offers to pay him $25 for assistance in moving his wife’s car. When Otto grudgingly agrees and drives away in the vehicle, the real owner gives chase, and Otto realizes he has been swindled. However, he follows Bud to the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, a shady yet legitimate operation that repossesses cars from delinquent debtors. Otto denounces the “repo men’s” exploitation of people who cannot keep up their car payments, and turns down an offer for more work, even though the office receptionist, Marlene, reminds him that he is already on the payroll for earning $25. Hoping to find a more credible source of income, Otto asks his parents to make good on their promise of $1,000 in return for a high school diploma. When his somnolent father declares that the family savings have been entrusted to a televangelist, Otto returns to the Helping Hand to become a repo man under Bud’s tutelage. One day, Otto meets a girl named Leila, who is ... +


A rickety Chevy Malibu sedan cruises from Los Alamos, New Mexico, to the California desert, where it is pulled over by a policeman. Despite warnings from the car’s shifty driver, J. Frank Parnell, the officer opens the trunk, and is vaporized by a mysterious, radioactive blast. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, California, a disillusioned grocery store stock clerk named Otto is fired for insubordination, and his punk-rock girl friend, Debbi, kicks him out of bed to have sex with her new mate, Duke. Otto blames society for his failures and sees little hope for his future. Sometime later, he is approached by an older gentleman named Bud, who offers to pay him $25 for assistance in moving his wife’s car. When Otto grudgingly agrees and drives away in the vehicle, the real owner gives chase, and Otto realizes he has been swindled. However, he follows Bud to the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, a shady yet legitimate operation that repossesses cars from delinquent debtors. Otto denounces the “repo men’s” exploitation of people who cannot keep up their car payments, and turns down an offer for more work, even though the office receptionist, Marlene, reminds him that he is already on the payroll for earning $25. Hoping to find a more credible source of income, Otto asks his parents to make good on their promise of $1,000 in return for a high school diploma. When his somnolent father declares that the family savings have been entrusted to a televangelist, Otto returns to the Helping Hand to become a repo man under Bud’s tutelage. One day, Otto meets a girl named Leila, who is part of an underground network of renegades trying to prove the existence of extraterrestrials. Wielding a nondescript photograph, Leila explains that the image shows four dead aliens recently smuggled from the Los Alamos Air Force base by a scientist named J. Frank Parnell in the trunk of his Chevy Malibu. However, the car has gone missing, and the network has spearheaded a search party to locate the aliens in time for a press conference that will alert the world to life in outer space. Otto remains skeptical, but he later sees Leila’s photograph on the cover of the National Enquirer, and a Helping Hand colleague named Miller declares that unidentified flying objects (UFOs) are really time machines. Back at work, Otto helps Bud search for a vehicle that has a particularly high repossession value, and traces its origins to the used car lot of Lagarto and Napoleon “Napo” Rodriguez. The Rodriguez brothers are notorious for selling Helping Hand’s repossessed vehicles at low cash prices and extremely high-interest loans, making the cars easy prey for repo men and keeping them in constant turnover. Bud scorns the scam and vows to seek revenge. Meanwhile, the Rodriguez brothers conduct a secret meeting with Helping Hand receptionist Marlene. Finding a “wanted” poster that offers $20,000 for the missing Chevy Malibu, she offers to give the brothers a percentage of the reward if they find the car. Although Napo and Lagardo agree to the deal, they toss the poster out the window, where it is found by their nemesis, Bud, who embarks upon his own mission to claim the reward. Otto telephones Leila to tell her about the car, unaware that the line is wiretapped by an eccentric alien-seeker named Agent Rogersz. She and her team of investigators have been following the case since the policeman was vaporized. Afterward, Rogersz tracks down Leila, and they join forces to find Otto. In time, J. Frank Parnell arrives in Los Angeles and drives to a gas station. Sickened from his prolonged proximity to the so-called aliens and their radioactive corpses, Parnell steps out of his Chevy to vomit, and the Rodriguez brothers steal the car. When they stop at a public telephone booth to contact Marlene, however, the car is snatched by a gang of three liquor store thieves, led by Otto’s former girl friend, Debbi. Later, Debbi and her partners, Duke and Archie, come across the disoriented Parnell, who, determined to reclaim his car, challenges them to look in the trunk. As Archie is vaporized, the others run away. Meanwhile, Bud and his colleagues, Miller, Oly, and Lite cruise the streets, seeking vengeance against the Rodriguez brothers. Unaware that the brothers have cornered Parnell and the Malibu, Bud confronts the siblings with a baseball bat and Parnell gets away. The next day, Bud is fired, after Oly reports that the brothers have threatened to file a harassment lawsuit against Helping Hand because of Bud’s actions. Elsewhere, Otto spots the Malibu and chases it on foot until Parnell stops the vehicle and offers him a ride. Parnell tells Otto about a “friend” who invented the neutron bomb and got a lobotomy after realizing the consequences of nuclear war. Soon after, Parnell dies from radiation sickness. Otto drags his body out of the car and drives back to the Helping Hand lot. Fearing a rift in his mentorship with Bud, Otto leaves the Malibu behind to search for his friend, unaware that Bud lies in wait to steal the car for himself. After hiding the vehicle, Bud reunites with Otto, and they go to a liquor store where Debbi’s partner, Duke, is committing armed robbery. A shoot out ensues, and Bud is wounded. Otto returns to the Helping Hand and finds Marlene being detained by Agent Rogersz’s henchmen. As Marlene breaks free, Otto is captured and tortured to reveal the car’s location. However, Marlene and the Rodriguez brothers come to his rescue, and they race to Bud’s hospital room, unwittingly leading the agents to the one man who knows the Malibu’s whereabouts. As a chase is underway, Bud remains bed-bound, watching the televangelist who brainwashed Otto’s parents. When the false prophet asks his disciples to recover the Malibu, Bud sneaks away and drives the car back to the Helping Hand lot with his pursuers in tow. There, Otto tries to broker a deal with his mentor, but Bud wields a handgun and is shot down by a helicopter sniper. As Otto holds his dying friend, the car emits a force field of blinding light that deflects men in radiation suits and sets fire to the televangelist’s Bible. However, Miller breaks through, and although the Helping Hand mechanic does not know how to drive, he climbs into the car and invites Otto to be his passenger. The Malibu levitates, darts across the Los Angeles skyline, and blasts into outer space with its two unlikely time travelers. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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