"It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes."
So we are advised in an early scene of one of the great cult movies of the 1980s, Alex Cox's Repo Man. Released 30 years ago, the movie is being shown at the Trocadero in Chinatown on Monday in a double feature with Cox's more famous (and less fun) second film, Sid and Nancy. Do not bring children, or anyone else who prefers a coherent narrative.
The joys of Repo Man are legion: a soundtrack of classic Los Angeles punk, a plot involving a vast conspiracy, and Emilio Estevez's only worthwhile role outside of a high school library.
The story, such as it is, follows a 1964 Chevy Malibu with a deadly secret in its trunk; simultaneously, the film tracks the initiation of Otto (Estevez) into the business of repossessing cars. The two story lines converge as a $20,000 bounty goes out on the Malibu. Otto's cute, if mysterious, new girlfriend thinks expired extraterrestrials are stashed in the car: "These aliens aren't on ice or anything. . . . We've got to find them before they turn into mush!"
Repo Man is so freakishly delightful because Cox enjoyed complete control over the casting, script, and edits. No one at the studio paid any mind to the first-time director's bizarre little no-budget movie.
It is based, in part, on Cox's own experiences: He made cash on the side working with a repo man while attending film school at the University of California, Los Angeles. The movie is studded with cameos by veterans of the West Coast punk scene, but Harry Dean Stanton steals the show as Otto's hardened tutor, Bud, ripped to the gills on a constant stream of intoxicants. The role was meant to go to Dennis Hopper, but Cox and his comrades were unable to find him, even after a pilgrimage to New Mexico. It's a good thing, too: Stanton's coiled intensity is perfect.
Sid and Nancy opens the Troc the same night. The rotten romance at the film's heart is a bit grueling to get through - Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and his girlfriend are doomed junkies, after all - but the movie's ending is hauntingly beautiful. It's also worth remembering that Gary Oldman, whom many millennials know as Commissioner Gordon or Sirius Black, got his start playing a heroin-ravaged wannabe rock star. Oldman's sneering, snotty rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" is brilliant - and sonically more palatable than the one Sid Vicious actually sang for the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. (Both are available on YouTube, and both end in a mock mass shooting.)
The Trocadero hosts Movie Mondays almost every week. This doubleheader is cohosted by the Awesome Fest (theawesomefest.com), which promotes indie movies in interesting places. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; movies start at 8. Admission is $3, which also goes toward a snack or a beer. I would hold off on the depressants until after Sid and Nancy.
Doors open 6:30 p.m. Monday. Double feature, starting with "Sid and Nancy," begins at 8. Combined running time: 3 1/2 hours.
The Trocadero, 1003 Arch St. Cohosted by the Awesome Fest (theawesomefest.com).
Admission is $3.
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