C.O.X. on DVD

"The purpose of making films is to encourage revolution," says director Alex Cox in the new issue of Tin House, adding "If that fails, your fallback positions are that you have made art or money." While most pundits complain that Cox failed at all three, they can't deny he has managed to turn out some of the most interesting movies of the '80s and '90s.

Now living in Oregon, Cox is perhaps both the first and last of the true independent filmmakers. After taking the film world by storm with Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, he seems to have vanished as far as mainstream media is concerned. In reality, he's been directing and acting in Mexico, and making documentaries for British television. But thanks to Anchor Bay, fans can keep up with his career on DVD. Straight to Hell, his faux spaghetti western from 1987, has just been released along with two more recent works, Death and the Compass, based on a Borges story, and Three Businessmen, a Jarmuschian fable.

Straight to Hell is probably Cox's most hated film, and the one that tanked his career. An elaborate, messy in-joke, it stars Joe Strummer, Dennis Hopper, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones, The Pogues, and about a million other rock stars. It's about three pre-Tarantino black-suited hit men/bank robbers, led by Jeri-curled black crook Sy Richardson, and their moll (a pre-cosmetically enhanced Courtney Love) who end up in a crazy western town that exaggerates the "life is cheap" themes of Cox's beloved spaghettis. In the highly informative audio commentary, Cox says that Straight to Hell is about "guns, coffee, and sexual tension," anticipating the three main obsessions of the '90s.

Chances are you haven't seen the other two Anchor Bay releases. Death and the Compass, one of the few films to capture the feel of the Borgesian literary universe, stars Peter Boyle in a complex, often baffling story of a police detective who self-destructs while investigating a series of bizarre murders in a futuristic city. And like a Luis Bunuel film, Three Businessmen is about two frustrated guys (Cox regular Miguel Sandoval, and Cox himself) trying to find a place to eat, and having long conversations instead. It is Cox's subtlest film.

All three discs are packed with additional documentaries/commentaries, and serve as reminders that one of the many virtues of DVD is the accessibility to truly independent filmmakers it can provide.