Screens » Screens Etc.

The freaks come out at night

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Cine File is a random reference guide to help explore the vast catalog of films available on Netflix instant viewing, with special emphasis on the interesting, the unusual, and the ones that got left behind. This edition, we feature two unique comedies that capture run-down NYC and Los Angeles of the mid-’80s.

Martin Scorsese, best known for his gritty NYC goomba films, ventured briefly into comedy in the mid-’80s with fantastic but somewhat forgotten results. After Hours is an unusual comedy with a very dark, wicked sensibility. It rarely feels like a comedy, yet Cheech and Chong are in it so it obviously isn’t a drama.

Late at night, a lonely, uptight computer programmer from Midtown (Griffin Dunne) unexpectedly meets a bohemian woman from the Lower East Side (Roseanna Arquette). The film becomes a screwball Odyssey with our male protagonist struggling to get back home from SoHo. After Hours’ kinetic style reflects the (possibly) coke-binged paranoia fueling Scorsese and the characters on film. This was the ’80s after all. Its mild existential cruelty makes the humor more intense, or more disturbing, depending on your sensibility. Throughout, one appreciates the lower Manhattan landscape when it could still be depicted as something “exotic.”

Across the continent at around the same time, Alex Cox was making his first feature, Repo Man, with Emilio Estevez as a young punk rocker who ends up working with dirtbag repo men to make money and have fun. Cox sets the film in the then-decaying downtown warehouse district and infuses the plot with an oddball science fiction element. Repo men and CIA wackos collide while looking for a mysterious Dodge Malibu that may or may not have a connection to UFOs, extraterrestrials, and a neutron bomb. Like After Hours, Repo Man is a comedy but makes no craven appeals towards humor. Daily life is the joke; how well you accept this opinion determines how much you enjoy the film.

Repo Man offers a nihilistic worldview with conspiratorial government interventions, bland consumerist culture, and right-wing Christian TV spiritualism. The repo men serve as quasi-heroic alternatives to the tedium and waste of modern life. And yet, the film ends unexpectedly with a science fiction spiritualism suggesting a better world out there — somewhere — in “the lattice of coincidence.”


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