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Alex Cox, Rebel Filmmaker - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

June 2008

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When Alex Cox hit the big screen with his debut feature Repo Man back in 1984, it was almost immediately evident that a new cult director had emerged - yet despite the fact that almost all of his subsequent movies were of an equally high quality as his first one, to this day fans do not hold him in the same high regard as John Carpenter (who has long lost his bite), Wes Craven (whose filmography is terribly uneven), Joe Dante (who has long become a part of the mainstream machine), George A.Romero (whose valiant efforts to return to former greatness are flawed to say the least) and Tobe Hooper (who hasn't made a half-decent film since ... since his debut Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] actually).

This is quite a shame since as a director, Alex Cox has remained fresh and unconventional despite over 20 years in the business, and as a writer he's as poignant as ever, and all of his films seem remarkably timeless: His genre films, consisting of witty dialogue, laconic plot twists and a tendency to turn genre conventions on their head, seem like a blueprint for later Quentin Tarantino flicks, only more entertaining and intelligent (and that's coming from someone who likes Tarantin's output by and large), his biopics are as entertaining as they are relevant, and stay true to their subject matter - be it punk rock or politics - rather than just presenting historical facts, and his literary adaptations are remarkably personal films that manage to give decades- or even centuries-old texts a very contemporary meaning without ever betraying their sources. And through all of these films runs a non-conformist, at times even anarchic streak all too rarely found in the works of above-mentioned directors ... or too many other directors for that manner.

 

Above all that, Cox is a director who speaks up when other (Hollywood-)directors would prefer to look away, something that eventually got him blacklisted in big budget Hollywood (even though big budget Hollywood would never admit to a blacklist, of course we all know there is one), when he spoke out against the (deeply flawed) Nicaragua-policies of the Reagan-administration in his film Walker (1987) - and for whatever reason, he was not removed from the black list after the whole Nicaragua-affair came crashing on its head later on. However, maybe that is also a blessing in disguise (not financially though), since a filmmaker as radical as Alex Cox is simply (and sadly) not compatible with Hollywood's money-grabbing studio system. And despite being blacklisted, Cox's films since Walker have remained on a high quality level while the output of mainstream Hollywood has been increasingly dumbed down the last 20+ years ...

 


 

Early Life, Early Career

 

Even though Alex Cox began his film career in America and later also made films in Mexico, Spain and even Japan, he was born in the UK, and when you look at his oeuvre, you will find a distinctive British strain running through it, no matter if his films were made in Nicaragua, the Sonoran Desert, Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Hong Kong ... or even Liverpool.

 

Liverpool is actually the town where Alex Cox was born in 1954, and though he claimed to have grown up in a left wing enviroment, his early life/career seems to follow very conservative guidelines, like completing a law degree in Worcester College, Oxford in 1976, apparently studying alongside later British prime minister Tony Blair (who despite belonging to the Labour Party can't really be considered left-wing, either). Having completed his degree in Oxford, Cox spent a year in Bristol, doing post-graduate Radio-, Film- and Television Studies, before he received a Fulbright Fellowship to study film at UCLA.

Cox never liked Bristol, but he hated LA even more (and when seeing Cox, one can't help but notice he's anything but LA), however, he not only finished his studies there, he ultimately stayed in the City of Angles for eight years (1977 - 1985), realizing this is the best place to be for someone wanting to break into the film business.

 

In 1980, Alex Cox completed his first film, the 40 minute Edge City/Sleep is for Sissies, basically a student film. Though very confusing (the film was made over the course of 2 years within which actors and whole storylines simply disappeared, plus Cox himself cut about one fourth out of the movie after he found it too intelligible), this film about an artist (Cox himself) going mad in Edge City's (= LA, presented as some sort of police state) society features many themes later popping up again in Cox' later, professional films, like a criminal repossessor, a demonstration in favour of the Sandinista revolution, and Sid Vicious singing My Way. Plus, the film already showed Cox' predilection for far-out characters, petty criminals and political satire.

During that time, Cox also worked as assistant director and story consultant on Rosemarie Turko's Scarred, a sort of female Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger) with Jennifer Mayo in the lead, which wasn't released until 1984. Cox also has a small part as porn stud who is ultimately humiliated by his female partners in this one.

 

After having completed his film studies however, Cox found it hard to get work, and one of his most promising projects, a screenplay for Adrian Lyne about the nuclear war called The Happy Hour, came to naught when Lyne did Flashdance (1983) instead ... the nuclear war and a dancing movie - talk about a artistic integrity here, huh ?

 


 

Punk Movies

 


By the early/mid 1980's, Cox was in dire straits financially, but meeting his old friends Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks from UCLA - where they took the same production courses - proved a fortunate reunion indeed since the two had since formed a production company of their own - Wacks-McCarthy - that at time specialized in filming commercials. Somehow Cox managed to persuade them to finance his first - low-budget - feature film, with him acting as writer/director. Initially he planned to film a story by William Burroughs, Exterminator, as The Hot Club, however that project came to naught when it proved to be a tad too expensive for the producers. Thus Cox came up with a second script about a young punk who becomes a car repossessor in futuristic Los Angeles, which met the approval of Wacks and McCarthy, who ultimately granted Cox a budget of $ 1,5 million, and off Alex Cox went to direct what would become an instant genre classic.

 


The film in question is of course Repo Man (1984), on the surface just another science fiction/action movie about several parties chasing a car with a trunk full of something destined to change the world forever, including Emilio Estevez, the young punk turned car repossessor. But what would have turned into a silly spectacle in the hands of a lesser director was made into hilarious, intelligent and decidedly leftfield social satire by Alex Cox, who at the time was inspired by the worldwide punk movement and managed to give his film a rather unique punk-feel - which is something that simply cannot be overrated seeing most other directors of the time failing to capture the punk spirit time and again.

 

But of course, Repo Man didn't come to life only thanks to its punk spirit - actually by 1984, the punk movement was already past its prime - but also thanks to its witty script, its energetic direction, its fast pace, Robby Muller's flowing camera work, and its perfect cast made up of many a great character actor in his own right like Harry Dean Stanton and Sy Richardson.

 


With Repo Man having become an instant punk cult favourite, it's hardly surprising that Cox would do another movie with a punk theme, this time though a bio-pic, the story of Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols-fame and Nancy Spungen (as played by Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb) called Sid and Nancy (1986). Actually, Cox originally wasn't too interested in doing a film on the Sex Pistols, but when he heard that a Hollywood-adaptation of the Vicious-Spungen story was to be made, he decided to make his own version of the events, dusted off an old script of his (which wasn't about Sid and Nancy as such but inspired by the events) and got it into shape together with his then-wife Abbe Wool, resulting not so much in a bio-pic as we know it as a reinterpretation of the story full of cartoon-like versions of real events, a fair share of fiction ... and a movie that effortlessly mastered to combine the rather rigid rules of a film biography and the traditionally anarchic punk spirit.

The film tells the story of Sid and Nancy, from meeting for the first time to her introducing him to heroin, to the American tour of the Sex Pistols, to them splitting up because of Sid's drug-excesses, to Sid and Nancy's attempts to stay clean and build up Sid's solo career, to their decline in New York's Chelsea Hotel, where Sid eventually slashes Nancy, is arrested for murder and takes a fatal overdose within 24 hours of being released on bail.

 


With Sid and Nancy, Alex Cox proved that Repo Man wasn't just an accident, again he filled the film up with social and political satire, a fair share of comedy, witty dialogue, and all the while, he managed to keep things going at a steady pace - and he didn't betray the punk movement as such one moment to make a more consumer-friendly film (even though Cox tagged a happy ending onto the very tragic story, but this is irony rather than audience-pleasing).

 


For Sid and Nancy, Alex Cox returned to Great Britain (quite a logical step too, since this film, among other things, was also about the British punk scene), and the whole thing was produced by British producer Eric Fellner, a former video clip producer, most notably for then incredibly popular Duran Duran. Sid and Nancy was his first feature film, but many more would follow, most notably probably Cox' next, Straight to Hell (1987), a few films by the Coen-brothers including Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998), the Brit-comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), the Bridget Jones-films, and Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) by Edgar Wright starring Simon Pegg - but this list is just scratching the surface ...

Sid and Nancy was rather modestly budgeted (at least by Hollywood standards) with a mere 4 million Dollars, but that doesn't mean that the film didn't pack a punch - quite besides launching the career of Gary Oldman, one of the most intense character actors of his time -, and I at least like to think that the Hollywood version of the Sid and Nancy-story did not get made because of the power of this film. And while Sid and Nancy did not become a success of blockbuster proportions (which nobody expected it to become), it did well enough with arthouse audiences, cinephiles of all sorts and (rock-)music lovers to not only make its money back easily but to become another cult-classic - and the second cult item within two features is quite a feat, no matter which way you look at it.

 


By the way, I feel three things need to be noted:

1) Gary Oldman did not get along with Alex Cox the director at all and now does not like to speak about Sid and Nancy anymore, even though that film launched his career.

2) Among the actresses auditioning for Nancy was a young, inexperienced and yet unknown Courtney Love, and while Cox felt that she lacked experience to stand her own opposite Gary Oldman, he was impressed by her enthusiasm and natural talent and wrote a small part, one of Nancy's friends, especially for her. Obviously, Cox was impressed enough by Courtney Love to give her a much larger role (actually one of the leads) in his next film, Straight to Hell.

When filming on Sid and Nancy started though, Love still worked as a stripper.

3) Other supporting appearances include two great character performances by 2 Cox-regulars: Sy Richardson as sympathetic counsellor at a drug clinic Sid and Nancy are visiting, telling them about the importance of punk-anarchy, and Miguel Sandoval as record company executive wanting to sell the Sex Postols a song with the lyrics "I wanna job, I wanna job, I wanna good job, I wanna job, I wanna job that pays, I wanna job, I wanna job, I wanna real job, one that satisfies my artistic needs."

 


 

Western(ish) Movies

 


After having had success with both Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, Alex Cox was adamant to split away from his punkrock image, albeit without corrupting his artistic integrity, and to achieve that, he rather interestingly decided to make a hommage to the Spaghetti Western, one of his favourite (sub-)genres, which is an odd choice only at first. On second thought, the excesses of the Spaghetti Western have much in common with the punk spirit, without one cultural movement trying to replicate the other (and it also has to be mentioned that the film in question starred many a punkrock great nevertheless, including Joe Strummer, the Pogues and Elvis Costello). But this being an Alex Cox movie, the resulting film, Straight to Hell (1987), isn't just a straight Western but a blend of motives from Westerns to Samuel Beckett, mixed with some musical interludes, social satire and cartoon-like craziness, all done in an incredible over-the-top way that's very unique to this film ... and yet, the film became Cox's first commercial failure (even though it bagged one award at an international film festival, the Critics' Prize at the 1987 Madrid Film Festival).

 


Why the film - the story of four gangsters on the run (Sy Richardson, Courtney Love, Dick Rude, Joe Strummer) hiding out in coffee-addicted desert town and releasing hell in the process - failed to attract audiences at its initial release and has not yet become the cult classic it deserves to be is hard to tell, as Straight to Hell is not only incredibly entertaining, fast moving and self-consciously silly, it also anticipates the witty dialogue and pop culture references of later arthouse crowd darling Quentin Tarantino and the mad but fun action sequences of part time arthouse crowd darling Robert Rodriguez (especially hix Mariachi-films) by quite some years - only neither Tarantino nor Rodriguez ever dared to take their excesses as far, while Cox as a director comes out of it unscathed.

 


Alex Cox's next film was many things all at one, his most overtly political film, his most ambitious film, his (arguably) most important film - but also his fall-out with Hollywood, his downfall as a possible mainstream director, and his biggest desaster career-wise. And apart for all that the film is also a masterpiece - neither the first nor the last in Cox's career.

The film in question is of course Walker (1987), another bio-pic, this time about soldier of fortune William Walker (as played by Ed Harris), who started a revolution in Nicaragua in the 1850's and later became the country's president - but in the process he betrayed each and every ideal, each and every friend he once had - until he in the end faces execution himself. Walker however is - just like Sid and Nancy - no bone-dry depiction of historical events, but a film full of social and political satire, done - just like Straight to Hell - Spaghetti Western-style, and the outcome is a film that is as (intentionally) silly as it is intelligent, and as thought provoking as it is entertaining - and it turned into a major financial failure.

 


The reasons for this are as simple as they are saddening: Initially, Walker was intended as Alex Cox's film to get a major release, backed by Universal, but when the film made a few too many unfavourable references to the USA's then current war against Nicaragua's Sandinista regime (and Cox had always been pro-Sandinista), Universal did not only feel uncomfy with the finished film and gave it as little exposure as possible (at least in the USA, in Nicaragua it became a box office success), mainstream Hollywood also saw to it that Alex Cox as a director was blacklisted from then on.

This of course was a major blow to Alex Cox's Hollywood career, yet the sad thing is the light it sheds on big budget Hollywood, revealing what should be an artistic melting pot as a conglomeration of turncoats unwilling to express a political opinion of their own - especially if it is not in tune with the respective regime.

And if you look at the various subtle and not so subtle methods of censorship that have flourished under George W.Bush, one can't but note that the state of free speech has even worsened in the 20+ years since Cox has been blacklisted ...

 


 

Filming in Mexico

 

As important as Walker was for Alex Cox peronally, and as much of a masterpiece it is regarded now, as devastating it was for his Hollywood career - as mentioned above:  In 1986/87, he was also offered direction of blockbusters Three Amigos (1986, John Landis) and the Stephen King adaptation The Running Man (1987, Paul Michael Glaser), the latter film at least containing a rudimentary political message, but he had to turn both films down in favour of Walker - and one can only fathom what Cox would have made out of these films. After Walker, such offers simply did no longer materialize, and a film he was already developing for TriStar, Mars Attacks, based on a series of bubblegum cards, did not even go into production after the failure of Walker (only to be filmed in 1996 by Tim Burton for Warner Brothers).

For a time after Walker it seemed as if Alex Cox had given up directing altogether, instead turning his attention to hosting a movie program on BBC called Moviedrome in which he presented all sorts of movies (according to his own account from the terrific to the terrible) and had a chance to talk about international cinema on a regular basis too. Eventually, the program ran from 1987 to 1994.

 

Of course, it has to be stressed that during this time, Cox worked on quite a number of film projects too, some of them even had his name as a director attached to them, but most of the projects simply did not come to fruition for one reason or the other. 

One film that came into being during that time though was Dennis Hopper's Backtrack/Catchfire (1989), starring Hopper himself (who also had a small part in Cox's Straight to Hell), Jodie Foster, Dean Stockwell, Vincent Price, John Turturro, Fred Ward, Sy Richardson, and, in an uncredited role, Alex Cox as the spirit of D.H.Lawrence. Cox rewrote the script of this film together with his later wife Tod Davies, though neither did receive credit for it - which might be all the same, since pretty much everybody on board seemed to be unhappy with the movie and director Dennis Hopper insisted the film to be released as an Alan Smithee-movie. Alex Cox's acting scene, by the way, didn't even make it into the final cut of the film.

Another (yet) unrealized script deserves special mention as well, Doctor Strange, a script based on the famous Marvel Comics-character co-written with Marvel-head honcho Stan Lee, about whose writing abilities Cox was full of praise, even if Cox's anarchic tendencies and the very mainstream world of Marvel Comics seem to have little in common on first sight.

 


Alex Cox found his way back to the director's chair in 1991 for El Patrullero/Highway Patrolman, a comparatively small film shot in Mexico and written and produced by Lorenzo O'Brien, who had also produced Walker and turned out to be one of the people sticking with Cox for quite a few years, no matter what. Working on a smaller budget than he was used to didn't in the least limit Cox as a filmmaker though, he merely proved he could also direct a slower, more unexcited film than his previous efforts (especially when compared to Straight to Hell) with the same kind of enthusiasm, the same kind of insight, and the same kind of inventiveness. And thus, with Highway Patrolman, an only seemingly unexciting and realistic film about the life of a young and innocent highway patrolman (hence the title), Alex Cox delivered yet another masterpiece, a film that effortlessly combined drama and comedy, social satire and stark realism. Unfortunately though, the film did not receive the same attention and the same distribution as his earlier features and is now a little bit of a forgotten film (a fate that unfortunately many of his subsequent films shared).

 


In 1992, Alex Cox returned to Mexico for Death and the Compass, a film that was originally a 55 minute assignement for the BBC, but after a successful television run it was extended to feature length - even if the feature version did not see the light of day until 1996, as the whole thing ran into trouble at the post-production stage.

Shot with pretty much the same crew as Highway Patrolman and with most of the same cast (though Peter Boyle and Christopher Eccelston in the leads were worthy additions), Death and the Compass couldn't differ more from the earlier film: While Highway Patrolman was pretty much a piece of realism, Death and the Compass is an allegoric, labyrinthine thriller full of conspiracy theories and comicbook elements. Basically, the film, a murder mystery based on a short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, is about a police detective (Boyle) assigned to a murder case he desperately tries to solve using methology the fails to realize that his loyal sidekick (Eccleston) is actually the (masked) killer himself - not until it is too late, anyways. But while that might sound only remotely interesting in writing, the film is actually filled up with subtle humour and elements of satire that it easily qualifies as one of the most unusual crime comedies out there. And almost needless to say, the film is another must-see.

 


 

Going Global

 

Years have passed since Walker, but Cox still hasn't been taken off big buck Hollywood's black list (nor is it likely he will ever be). Still, he went on directing films undaunted, and on a global basis too, going pretty much wherever someone is willing to finance one of his films - and I mean not just any odd film but an Alex Cox movie. So the years following his Mexican stint took him pretty much to everywhere, be it Rotterdam, Tokyo, his native Liverpool ... or even the USA.

 


In 1995, Cox was hired to make a film based on the play A Darker Purpose by Wendy Riss, a movie set in the gambling world of Las Vegas, about a guy who can't lose at the gambling table, and who eventually attracts the attention of several less than pleasent characters. The lead in the film was played by Vincent D'Onofrio, but the cast also boasted Rebecca De Mornay (who also had her hands in production), Michael Madsen, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cox regulars Sy Richardson and Biff Yeager. 

Somehow, the film, titled The Winner when it came out in 1996,  sounds like something quite exciting - but it turned out to be Cox's first artistic failure ... and interestingly, it's not his own fault: After delivering a rough cut for The Winner, Cox went to Mexico to finish the extended cut of Death and the Compass, using the money he had gotten from this directing assignment, which was when the production company drastically recut his film behind his back, tossed out the film's original score by Pray for Rain (= Dan Wool, Cox's favourite soundtrack musician), replaced it with what Cox described as "a porno score", and sold it directly to cable TV.

Nowadays, Cox disowns The Winner and calls it "my Alan Smithee-film", and probably the best to be said about the movie is that if gave Cox the opportunity to finish Death and the Compass.

 


Cox's next film, from 1998, saw him going global in a big way: Three Businessmen was filmed in Liverpool, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Spain - and despite the incredible variety of locations, the film manages to look very homogenous (at least on an aesthetic level) as it tells the story of two businessmen, played by Cox himself and his frequent collaborator Miguel Sandoval, as they lose their way in Liverpool and, using nothing but public transport, make a trip around the world without even noticing they have ever left Liverpool in the first place, while talking about everything and nothing, from the internet and mobile phones to credit cards and the real estate business ... and rather surprisingly, the whole thing is pretty funny, not despite but because of its inherent seriousness.

Admittedly, Three Businessmen is not Cox's best film, but judging by the competition, that's really not saying much, and despite everything, it is still good entertainment.

 



Three Businessmen was scripted by frequent Cox-collaborator (and wife) Tod Davies, with whom Cox previously also co-scripted an adaptation of Hunter S.Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was intended to be made into a low budget feature film to be directed by Cox himself, starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro - but soon, all kinds of problems arose, big budget Hollywood in the form of Universal stepped in, and Cox and Davies had the feeling they were used by the producers as scapegoats - so eventually they walked away from the project. Their script was rewritten and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was eventually brought to the screen in 1998 by Terry Gilliam, with Depp and Del Toro in their intended roles.

Reportedly, Cox was especially disappointed that the film, intended as a low budget feature, in the end cost tens of millions Dollars to make and market, putting the high budget rather at odds with its source novel's anti-consumerist message. And as if that wasn't enough, Cox and Davies had to fight for their names even appearing in the credits of the film, despite clearly having written the first draft of the screenplay and helped with pre-production.

 

After Three Businessmen and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Alex Cox said feature filmmaking good bye for a while and made 2 doctumentaries, both with movie themes. The first one was Kurosawa: The Last Emperor (1999), a documentary on , you guessed it, Japanese master-filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, one of Cox's favourite directors, while the second one was Emmanuelle: A Hard Look (2000), one of the first intelligent documentaries about the Emmanuelle-series of erotic films of the 1970's and the (more enjoyable) Black Emanuelle rip-off series, featuring interviews with both Silvia Kristel (the original series) and Laura Gemser (the rip-off) [Laura Gemser bio - click here]. And if nothing else, these two films proved that Alex Cox knew his way around both high- and lowbrow filmmaking - as he would also prove with Ten Thousand Ways To Die, a book on the Spaghetti Western, one of Cox's favourite genres, orignially written in 1978 but revised in 2008, as well as an ever growing number of film-related articles in newspapers and magazines.

 


In 2002, Alex Cox returned to the big screen with Revengers Tragedy, a literary adaptation based on a play attributed to Thomas Middleton (after it was believed to have been written Cyril Tourneur for decades) which was first staged back in the Jacobean Age, 1606 (!). Yet despite the fact that the source was already almost 400 years old, Revengers Tragedy the film was pure Alex Cox, a story about social outcasts, lowlives, the corrupt upper class, violence and death, and Cox's very own brand of social satire fits into the Jacobean play quite perfectly.

 



But it wouldn't be Alex Cox, had he brought a Jacobean play to the big screen just like that - rather than making a period romp, he transposed the story as such to a post-apocalyptic Liverpool in the not-too-far future, a depressing industrial town populated by punks and lowlives - which is somewhat reminiscent of Repo Man's LA -, and despite the quite naturally rather old-fashioned language of the whole thing, the combination of Jacobean and sci-fi elements works like a charm, and Cox made an extremely tense film out of a very unlikely play - also helped of course by a terrific cast led by a very intense Christopher Eccleston as the revenger and an unusually restrained Eddie Izzard as his nemesis. And finally, with Revengers Tragedy - which unfortunately never went into wide release on an international basis - Cox proved that he was still a force to be reckoned with, and still fresher as many a younger, more hyped director.

 

In Japan, Alex Cox, who had shot parts of his Three Businessmen there, Alex Cox was still held in high regard, so it didn't come as a big surprise that he was eventually invited to do a television movie there, Mike Hama Must Die, epside 11 of the Mike Hama-series, a series of hardboiled thrillers about private eye Mike Yokohama (as played by Masatoshi Nagase) - whose name doesn't sound more than a little like Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer character by accident.

Despite not speaking any Japanese, Cox liked the experience of filming in Japan (again), especially since the producers respected him as a filmmaker rather than a hired hand, which is highly unusual for what is essentially a television series, and they would let him get away with his Spaghetti Western-like excesses, a bit in the vein of Straight to Hell, and let him get his favourite cameraman, Tom Richmond (who also worked on Edge City and Straight to Hell, and, in secondary poritions, on Repo Man and The Winner), and favourite filmscore musician, Dan Wool aka Pray for Rain. Plus, it gave Cox the opportunity to work with his friend Tomorowo Taguchi, whom he knew from Three Businessmen, and cult-filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto (the Tetsuo-films etc.).

 

From Japan, it was right back to Great Britain, more accurately his hometown Liverpool for his next film, I'm A Juvenile Delinquent - Jail Me! (2004), a TV-movie for the BBC about, you guessed it, juvenile delinquents plus reality TV  - but seen the Alex Cox-way, in whose mind nothing is as easy or as apparent as it seems on the outside, and so his brand social satire creeps in every step along the way.

Interestingly, I'm A Juvenile Delinquent - Jail Me! was made for schoolkids, because - according to Cox - the plot's undercurrents, like American media conglomerates buying out British TV-stations and the like, were too sensitive for the BBC's drama department to touch.

 

Alex Cox's last feature so far is 2007's Searchers 2.0 (2007), a road movie about two aging cowboy actors (Del Zamora, Ed Pansullo), who go from Venice, California to Monument Valley, Arizona, to see a screening of John Ford's The Searchers (1956) - and to have their revenge on a movie producer (Cox-regular Sy Richardson) who they think has wronged them. The film also stars B-movie legend Roger Corman [Roger Corman bio - click here], legendary film critic Leonard Maltin, and newcomer Jaclyn Jonet playing the daughter of one of the leads - who has to drive them to their destination.

Though all of this might sound a bit boring, like the travelogue of two old men, the film actually plenty of quirky piece of comedy and (you guessed it) social satire, plus many references to Western filmmakers like John Ford (naturally, regarding the title) and Sergio Leone - which is where Cox the filmfan shines through.

The film was commissioned by the BBC and produced by Jon Davison - a retired film producer who in his time produced such big budget spectacles like Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven), Starship Troopers (1997, Paul Verhoeven) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer The Sixth Day (2000, Roger Spottiswoode) and who was lured out of retirement by Searchers 2.0 -, with Roger Corman acting as executive producer, and even though major studios showed interest in production, Alex Cox is proud to have turned all offers down and has instead done it on a micro budget (costing roughly $ 200.000) shot on video cam - which doesn't say so much about the quality of this film but about how over-budgeted Hollywood flicks really are ... and as if to mock big budget Hollywood, Searchers 2.0 works just fine the way it is !!!

 


 

Alex Cox Today

 


Despite all the problems Alex Cox has run into over the years getting a film off the ground, he keeps pushing onwards undaunted, and tries new ways of letting his projects see the light of day. For example, when an attempt to make a semi-sequel to Repo Man came to nothing, he made the script available on the internet and encouraged comicbook artists to make their own versions of it in the form of a graphic novel, and if one such graphic novel gets published, he and the artist would split 50/50. The result of this experiment is Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday, drawn by Chris Bones and Justin Randall and published by Gestalt Comics in 2008.

 

Apart from that, Cox also tries to raise $ 1 million to make 4 (count them, four) micro budget films, as he seems to have fallen in love with this kind of unpretentious moviemaking.

The four projected films are Ropewalk, a horror comedy to be shot in one take, Ten Murders and a Dog, a very British murder mystery, Emmmanuelle in Winnemucca, Cox's take on the Emmanuelle- and the Black Emanuelle-series (and the three m in the title are no accident I'm sure), and the docu drama Northwoods. Cox tries to make these 4 movies as a package as he figures a package of four movies is easier to sell than just one to DVD companies and TV-stations alike.

Whoever knows Alex Cox will also know that these films need to be made, and if you want to learn more about the project as a whole, please visit http://www.alexcox.com/future_prod.htm, and should you have enough money to get involved, do, as Cox doesn't ask for a donation but for an investment you might even get money and tax cuts out of ...

 

Apart from directing and writing, Alex Cox has also acted in several movies by other directors, including Perdita Durango (1997, Alex de la Iglesia), La Reina de la Noche/The Queen of the Night (1994, Arturo Ripstein) and La Ley de Herodes/Herod's Law (1999, Luis Estrada), though usually he only plays supporting parts. He has also written four Godzilla comicbooks, and, with his frequent collaborator and wife Tod Davies, has become co-artist-in-residence at St Johns College, Oxford, in 2003. Plus, in 2004-2005, he directed several national election broadcasts for the Green Party in England, Wales, and Scotland.

For more on Alex Cox, go visit his website, conveniently called http://www.alexcox.com, where you can not only find plenty of information about Cox and his films, written by himself, but also his other projects, and where you can download many of his screenplays for free, even a few unfilmed ones.

But more importantly, buy his films and watch them, and demand he makes more, because he is one of the rare filmmakers who hasn't lost his edge in his 25+ years of filmmaking, something all too rare in today's movie business.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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a Burglar wants to kill you
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