TWO GOODBYES

Sad news from the diaspora of REPO MAN. Robby Muller, the cinematographer, and Martin Turner, the stills photographer, both died last week. Robby’s passing was noted by the MSM, and he was rightly celebrated for some of the wonderful work he did. Our hiring him for REPO MAN was strictly fortuitous: Michael Nesmith, our executive producer, had rejected my first choice of cameraperson. Peter McCarthy told me, “Take this as an opportunity. Now you can ask for anyone you want!” Having been awestruck by his work on THE AMERICAN FRIEND, I asked for Robby Muller. Nesmith was all in favour, and we got him. It was his second American film.

Robby was a genius of lighting, and of composition. He didn’t like closeups, preferring wider shots which celebrated the performances of all the actors in the frame. He wasn’t much interested in camera movement when we worked together. On his other American film he’d been given a Steadicam. He and his crew took it out of the boxes, marvelled at how heavy it was, put it back in the boxes, and used them to sit on.

Robby was a great artist – as was Martin Turner, though he’s perhaps known to fewer people. “Stills photographer” doesn’t do justice to his work on REPO MAN, as he was also a supporting actor and – together with Jonathan Wacks – came up with the concept for the film’s finale. I met Martin at film school – what was then the Radio, Film and TV Studies course at Bristol. He and David Hutt made a highly ambitious student film called NEARLY WIDE AWAKE, based on Knut Hamsen’s “Hunger.” (We paid no attention to things like Copyright! We were students!) I acted in it.

Martin worked for Lindsay Anderson in the art department on THE OLD CROWD and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was responsible for the slide show which the guests in THE OLD CROWD enjoy, and which causes the death of “Tottie.” THE OLD CROWD greatly offended the London critical fraternity, and is rarely seen. I don’t know if a DVD exists. [Update — THE OLD CROWD does exist on DVD! A friend has found it in a set of TV Dramas by Alan Bennett, available on the Network label: Network clearly have good taste since they also distribute THE PRISONER.] But it is a wonderful film – perhaps Anderson’s best work of all, part Buñuel, part Brecht – and Martin had a lot to do with its insane inventiveness.

Back in the days of a government quango called “British Screen” Martin wrote two very good feature screenplays: THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS and INTO A DESERT PLACE (the latter was an adaptation of Graham Mackintosh’s book about travelling Baja California on foot; I was to direct it). I thought them great scripts. But times were increasingly conservative, money was said to be scarce, and if you didn’t have a TV personality from The Young Ones or The Comic Strip pre-cast, it was hard to get a British film going. Too bad! Because they were great stories – especially TORREMOLINOS, an original script in which Martin pitted the English hooligan class against itself, and everything else, in a Spanish seaside tower block.

Martin was also a painter and sculptor. He painted a number of canvases depicting dreadful scenes from THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS, and received a commission to display them at the Torremolinos Festival of Comedy, some years later. Martin and our mutual friend Karl Braun hung all the artwork, and went around the corner for a beer. In their absence the President of the Festival arrived, saw Martin’s art works, and ordered the building locked until the offending paintings could be removed.

Somehow Martin’s stories seemed to end that way: a great idea, a great piece of creative art somehow uncreated, or unseen, or banned, or – in the case of THE OLD CROWD – completed then mercilessly disparaged by clowns. No matter! Martin did his work. in the footsteps of Derek Jarman he moved to Dungeness, where he bought a lighthouse and renovated it, with his own hands. His wonderful partner, Brenda Morris, died a few years ago. Martin died at the lighthouse, at the end of last week. He’s survived by an ace daughter, Kathryn.

drunken turner Picture of Martin in his nautical days, by David Hutt.

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THE REPO MAN BLU-RAY

Michael Nesmith, executive producer of REPO MAN, played here two nights ago. I didn’t get to see him since his show began at the Boulder Theater at 6.30pm (rock’n’roll shows seem to start earlier and earlier) and I teach screenwriting till 7.30pm. Which is a pity (not the screenwriting part — it’s a great class and my students are more literate and inventive than you could possibly imagine) because I wanted to hand him a copy of the Criterion Collection BluRay disk of REPO MAN, which had arrived that day.

First let me praise the package! Criterion’s artwork is simply lovely, particularly the cover art. This is the very best graphical representation of the film I have ever seen: even better than the old English poster of the smoking boots. The illustration is by Jay Shaw:

Image I don’t need to go into the contents of the box, since they are described in amazing detail at the DVD Beaver site, which compares the original Anchor Bay NTSC DVD with the Universal NTSC DVD, with the Masters of Cinema ‘Region B’ BluRay, with the new Criterion ‘Region A’ release.

The original Anchor Bay was sparse in additional elements, inevitably, since Universal Pictures had refused to create any. Instead, Jay Douglas of Anchor Bay paid for an audio recording in which Nesmith, I, Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, Del Zamora, and  Vicky Thomas all participated. He offered us each a $2000 bonus if Harry Dean Stanton came to the recording session! But Harry declined to attend. Still, the Anchor Bay DVD was popular, so popular in fact that Universal demanded the rights back — terminating their contract with Anchor early, and giving them the DVD rights to EVIL DEAD 2 in return.

Universal, well aware how much money Anchor Bay had made, wanted a piece of that REPO DVD action. But now they faced a problem. Other than the audio recording we had made there were no additional elements. All but eight of the production stills we had delivered had been lost. A solution came in the form of Rick Finkelstein, formerly Nesmith’s attorney and, suddenly, CEO of Universal Pictures. I contacted Finkelstein and suggested Universal bring out a decent DVD of REPO MAN, rather than a vanilla one. Thanks to Rick’s intervention, Universal gave me a budget to create elements for the DVD: I shared the dosh with the film’s producers, Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, and we created three new elements — Peter’s interview with Harry Dean Stanton, Jonathan’s round-table chat, and the “missing scenes” interviews with Sam Cohen and Zander Schloss.

Rolling Stone magazine decreed the result their DVD of the year. At which point Universal should have swallowed their pride, contacted Nesmith, Wacks, McCarthy and me and offered us $20 million to make a sequel. Unfortunately they didn’t: instead they re-branded one of their unreleasable flops as “REPO MEN” and sent a letter threatening to sue me if I ever made a movie with the word REPO in the title.

Charming, aren’t they? I talk a bit about Universal’s weird threats and the studio’s attempts to own the word REPO on the Masters of Cinema BluRay: for some reason, this element doesn’t make it onto the Criterion Blu-Ray disk which is, otherwise, entirely complete. The DVD Beaver site goes into extraordinary detail comparing the visual aspect of the two Blu-Rays. Both look damn good to me. In any case, which one you watch has already been decided for you, depending on where you live, thanks to the MPAA’s regional censorship and profit regime.

Thanks very much to Criterion for this lovely new release. And under no circumstances should you watch the outrageously-offensive, almost certainly untrue hidden additional element created by a pair of Colorado cowboys named Hafnor and Powers. I have no idea who these varmints are, but they’d better watch out, telling such subversive stories about the real origins of REPO MAN. As Hanging Judge Jeffreys said, the fact that the libel may be true, just makes it worse!

By the way, the rights to the original screenplay of REPO MAN revert to me in just a few years’ time. If anyone wants to remake the original script, or do a sequel to it, get in touch with me in early 2015…

UPDATE

The Blu-Ray got a very nice writeup from the LA Times but when I tried to post a comment I was unable to (it seems you have to sign up for a subscription first, which is a bit extreme. Or maybe my browser’s broken…) so here is the comment I wanted to post:

Thanks for that very nice analysis of my film REPO MAN. I do have to correct one misapprehension, though. REPO MAN is not a critique of Reagan policies, because these policies, sad to say, were systematic, whatever party was in power. It’s true that we saw a massive increase in the homeless on our city streets when Reagan came to office (I’d seen the same thing happen in England when Thatcher’s government took power). But it’s wrong to ascribe agency to either politician.
It was generally assumed that George H.W. Bush ran the show during the Reagan years. Bush was a highly intelligent man, fluent in Mandarin, and the former head of the CIA. Reagan was… an actor.
In terms of international politics, the Central American holocaust and the disastrous blowback of Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan were the invention of Jimmy Carter, as CIA chief Gates observes in his memoir, From The Shadows.
So REPO MAN isn’t a critique of any individual, no matter how detestable. Its analysis is systematic: it’s a little clearer in WALKER, which perhaps explains why the studio expended more efforts to suppress that film.