Repo – the Genetic Opera

While this isn’t specifically on topic…this is a “sin” blog rather than a “sex” blog, and Repo has high fetish value, so I’m gonna “include it in.”

So I spent the weekend with S. and she suggested a Saturday night entertainment.  She said REPO  was in town, and we should go see it.  I said “sure.” 

I’d heard of Repo.  It had been brought to my attention because it concerned a dystopian future where they repossessed people’s personal organs, and that happened to vaguely match a plot I’d been writing for an interactive theater presentation.   But Repo was a musical and I’m not that fond of musicals.  Also a number of people ranted and raved about it, and I’m not a big joiner.  Finally a friend who saw it wasn’t impressed by the “personal sell” element of the Road Tour.

But I didn’t have anything against it either, figured it would be amusing. 

So for people who don’t know the background, here’s the quick rundown.  Repo was an indie arts project playing in black box theatres, that managed to get a budget and a theatrical release as a project of Director Darren Lynn Bousman, best known for the  Saw franchise.  It’s a very SFX and squip heavy satire.  It’s impossible to really say what genre it is.  You could say roughly it fits into the dark musical genre associated with Assassins or Sweeny Todd.  But theatrically it shows more like Frank Miller’s Sin City, or other dark anime rendered into live action.  You might through Guillermo’s Pan’s Labyrinth in there too…but it’s not serious, so that’s a very weird divergence. 

I can understand why it’s a marketing nightmare.  It’s “Springtime for Hitler” level fucked up…like “Hey what if we made Pan’s Labyrinth into a musical comedy.”  It’s the sort of thing that does well on stage but has a very fucking hard time getting in front of a film audience.

One paralell that has been invoked is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the roadshow adapts this framework, encouraging people to come out in costume.  Since the costumes include pretty hot looks for the girls, I’m generally okay with that.   For actual thematic similarity the closest thing I’ve ever seen to it was Brian De Palma’s 1974 Phantom of the Paradise.  In terms of feel and content, it struck me an awful lot like Frank Miller, but the universe complexity and themes really reminded me of  Mike Kaluta’s Starstruck (not the more recent Gaiman piece).   I think the feel may come somewhat from the fact that Starstruck was derived from an off-Broadway play by Elaine Lee, Norfleet Lee and Dale Place.   It’s darker and more “modern” than Starstruck of course, along the lines of Watchmen

At any rate, Repo flunked it’s test-screening badly and Lionsgate sent it straight to DVD.   It missed the mark largely because it was billed to the test audience as a horror vehicle by the Director of Saw II, and it’s not.  It’s not surprising that “Frank Miller as musical comedy” did not play well to that crowd.  It was a flop, and so like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil faced a huge issue getting released.

Theatres are sockets that studios put movies into to make money.   You pick the movies that are going to fill a 200 seat theatre to 200 people.  Not that are going to fill it to 50 people.   It’s true hype and advertising play a role.  But while I don’t agree it is the worst movie ever made, I can see it having real trouble finding a clear advertising method and an audience.  I’m not sure the people who went to see Sin City would like it, and I’m not sure who you’d sell it to.  One thing to understand about movies is just how fucking enormous releases are.  Sin City cost $40 million (a lot more than Repo’s 8m,) but grossed 158 million worldwide.  You can have a TV show, or Broadway show that a fuckload less people are interested in that is still very profitable.   Movies need a big audience to be anything other than arthouse films.  I suspect that Repo’s gore makes it hard to play in art houses like the Landmark E St. Cinema.  And frankly that’s a big drawback.  I can’t say “everybody is going to love this show,” because unlike say Sweeny Todd, if you are not okay with seeing human skin cut open and blood spurt out this is going to freak you right the fuck out.  It’s not incredibly far afield in either tone or gore from Kill Bill, but it’s a lot more fantastic and it’s a musical.

At any rate, Director Darren Lynn Bousman and Writer Terrence Zdunich are touring around with lead Alexa Vega to try and generate a cult following.  Intentionally or not there’s a sort of push for it as a new Rocky Horror, and they want to see a bigger big-screen release.  I think it’s a noble goal, and I doubt it’s really profiting Bousman, though it may be the best thing Zudnich can be doing for himself right now.  If you’ve read Terry Gilliam’s The Battle for Brazil  you have some idea of how these things work. 

They make a good show and it’s fun and friendly.  People who know me know that I’m not big on actresses.  I don’t care much about them…my fandom stops with Ingrid Bergman, Myrna Loy, Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich.   A friend of mine got me half sold on Julie Christie.  But that’s about it.  That said, Alexa Vega kinda kicks ass.  She’s got a commanding personality which is not something you usually hear said about actresses.  When she takes charge, vocally, you actually feel it, and that’s sometimes very hard to do with a pretty girl especially one who’s playing young.  I’m gonna like the girl of course, it’s me, but she’s a cut above. 

I was pleased to meet them all where “meet” = seeing their presentation and passing about nine words in the lobby on the way to the gents.  All friendly words though.

So this film is not without talent.  The big names in the film other than Alexa Vega (who was in Spy Kids and is apparently now on Broadway in Hairspray) are Paris Hilton and Anthony Head (who played Giles on Buffy for folks like me not good with names). Paul Sorvino (Law and Order) rounds out the bill.

There’s also apparently a cameo by Joan Jett though I missed it.

The music is pretty fucked up in a good way.  Sarah Brightman actually has a screen role as does Ogre of Skinny Puppy.  But I think a real chunk of the sell is the soundtrack. You’ve got David Lee Roth’s in studio guitarist Brian Young, the frontman from Filter, the drummer from Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros, the rhythm guitarist from Guns n’ Roses,  David J Haskins the bassist from Bauhaus and Daniel Ash of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets.  It also includes Ozzy’s bassist Blasko, the drummer from Rob Zombie, POE (“Hey Pretty”), and Rami Jaffee, who has played with The Wallflowers, Foo Fighters, Soul Asylum and Pearl Jam. 

The producers were Yoshiki (who I’ve never heard of but is apparently big in Japan the way Elvis was big in the U.S.) and Joseph Bishara who produces Glenn Danzig, which kinda figures.

So what did I think of it?

Well…I did not walk out thinking “this is the greatest fucking movie ever made…I am obsessed with it.”   But I think it has the power to grow on you.  There’s a lot of rich complexity of the sort that you see in Pan’s Labyrinth that feels like there’s a world behind it.  It feels strongly like it was made from a comic or graphic-novel media. 

The music was the same way.  It’s complex and despite it all not all that catchy except for “Zydrate Anatomy.”  Some of it really seems to suborn music for story which since it claims to be an opera you can’t complain about.

But I think it grows on you.  It’s rich and there’s enough there for two watchings.  It’s a fascinating world, and in the end you’ve only sort of licked the dark corners of it. 

I think it’s destined to become a cult classic, though I doubt it will ever see a major theatrical release.  It’s got some serious chops and if it seems a little scratchy in places, it’s really beautiful in others.  And it draws you back.  Sin City was pretty, but I’ll be damned if I remember more than one or two scenes. It was a comic book – bubblegum.  I suspect I’ll remember Repo ten years from now in pretty good detail.

It’s worth buying rather than pirating, and I’d strongly recommend it (out on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 20th).  It isn’t often art is “something else” and Repo is definitely something else.

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