An iconic independent filmmaker looks back on his career.
Cox has spent nearly 30 years in the movie business as a director (Sid & Nancy), screenwriter (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and journalist. This book documents the production of ten films. Fresh from UCLA film school, Briton Cox made Edge City for less than $10,000 and internalized the first four of many dictums about low-budget filmmaking sprinkled throughout the text: Don’t shoot where you live (you might cause damage); there are benefits to casting yourself (one less mouth to feed); leave actors’ disputes to their agents; befriend the rich. In 1982 Cox set up a production company and wrote Repo Man, a teen comedy inspired by an acquaintance’s side job and by Southern California’s rowdy music scene. (The book can also be read as a parallel history of L.A. punk.) A friend passed the Repo Man script to former Monkee Michael Nesmith, who brokered a production deal with Universal Pictures. Creating a studio picture, even at moderate cost, was a struggle for the indie-minded director. “If you think this movie’s going to have a punk rock soundtrack, Cox,” Nesmith told him, “think again.” Assertive co-star Harry Dean Stanton unfavorably compared the fledgling director to Francis Ford Coppola, who “let me do whatever the fuck I want!” Cox survived to work on Walker in 1987 with the equally challenging Ed Harris, whose visible hangovers didn’t befit a teetotaling 19th-century revolutionary. The author gives a thorough account of his evolution as a filmmaker, from single-camera projects to transatlantic locales, legal vetting for Sid & Nancy and support from the Sandinistas for the controversial Walker shoot in Nicaragua. Indeed, his overstuffed narrative could stand to lose a few of its agreeable but sometimes tangential anecdotes. They could make room for explanations of technical terms like a split-diopter shot, since the book is clearly aimed at general readers.
Suggests that director commentary is best left to the special-features disc.