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Alex Cox: From Repo Man To Repo Chick

by Richard Luck
19 April 2011 5 Comments

The Liverpudlian writer-director took the world by storm with cult favourites like Sid And Nancy and Straight To Hell. Now he's back with a new movie...and a new children's book.

Jedward had gone rogue and kidnapped Britney for morbid karaoke games

Alex Cox is the reason I became a film critic. Before you inundate the poor man with hate mail let me provide you with a fuller explanation. Back in the mid-1980s, there was very little in the way of accessible film criticism. Sure, there was Barry Norman but by then he’d collapsed into self-parody, thanks in no small part to Rory Bremner. And as for magazines like Sight & Sound, they made it very clear that ‘cinema’ wasn’t for people like you and me.

Then along came Moviedrome, the BBC2 cult film strand which provided an opportunity to catch rarely screened pictures (the show’s list of UK TV premieres was frighteningly long) and allowed one Alex Cox to hold forth on films, filmmaking, politics, whatever was on his mind, really. Alex’s introductions became must-see TV. That he happened to have directed something called Repo Man and something else called Sid And Nancy was almost by the by. Alex Cox was helping to bring impossibly exciting films into our homes. And by eschewing words like oeuvre and mise-en-scene, he was providing a generation of young film fans with the artillery to criticise movies minus the pretension that made S&S and Cahier Du Cinema so formidable.

With the passing of the years, it became apparent that there was a lot more to Alex Cox than his wise and witty intros. If you’ve yet to see Repo Man, your knowledge of ’80s film won’t be complete until you have. You should also make a date to catch Walker, Alex’s maniacally original biopic about the American doctor-cum-lawyer who made himself president of Nicaragua in the mid-1800s. Made with studio money at a time when the US was supporting a covert war in Nicaragua, Walker saw Cox’s unique vision eclipsed by his artistic courage.

And then there was Straight To Hell, an homage to spaghetti western cinema starring such noted actors as The Pogues and Amazulu. A wonderful advert for chaos, Straight To Hell also features great work from Alex’s actors-of-choice Sy Richardson and Miguel Sandoval, and arguably the finest performance of Joe Strummer’s movie career. Another of those films that you need to see in order to progress in life, this fine comedy is now available in a new cut, entitled Straight To Hell Returns, that features previously unseen footage, superbly spruced-up cinematography and a soundtrack so clean, you can now detect every last burp and fart.

Alex Cox has worked irregularly since Walker. But given that he’s someone who has no interest in making movies within the Hollywood studio system, it’s remarkable how many great films he’s shot over the past 25 years. From the great Mexican police picture El Patrullero to superior BBC-sponsored dramas such as Revengers Tragedy and Death And The Compass, he might have had to overcome huge obstacles – he left Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas following a dispute with Hunter Thompson – but the quality pictures just keep on comin’. His most recent feature Repo Chick isn’t a sequel to his stunning debut but it features similar veins of humour and invention, together with excellent turns from Rosanna Arquette, Chloe Webb (Nancy to Gary Oldman’s Sid) and the aforementioned Miguel Sandoval.

And if that wasn’t impressive enough, our man’s just illustrated his first children’s box, Three Dead Princes written by – would you believe it? – John Prescott’s preferred member of Chumbawamba Danbert Nobacon. No, there’s nothing boring about the career of Alex Cox. And while the likes of Michael Bay might be better paid and have bigger toys to play with, you’ll find more originality in a single excerpt from a Cox film than you will in the Transformers director’s entire oeuvre.

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Simon Martin 11:32 am, 20-Apr-2011

Good stuff Richard. Always liked Mr Cox when he introduced films on Channel 4's Moviedrome. Very insightful and I don't know why they don't still use him.

Seth 2:27 pm, 20-Apr-2011

I've liked a lot of Cox's films but Straight to Hell is basically a load of shite only notable for the fact that The Pogues appear in it.

steve 5:29 pm, 20-Apr-2011

Or BBC 2's Moviedrome even. I loved Straight to Hell but I can see its a niche film.

Simon Martin 7:37 pm, 20-Apr-2011

That's them. Channel 4's the one that just makes reality shows now isn't it?

David L 9:32 pm, 27-Apr-2011

Film Four seemed to have some fairly interesting cinematic nuggets, a la Moviedrome, back when it was a pay per view - but now that it's a freeview channel...jaysus, what a load of almost completely unmitigated (albeit free) shite. Plus, if you can get hold of the US DVD of Repo Man, on it Mr. Cox comperes one of the very best group commentaries out there.

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