If you loved the music of the Clash and the Sex Pistols, you loved the movies of Alex Cox. Alex Cox was punk. Alex Cox’s movies were college de rigueur in the ‘80s. No self-respecting lover of punk music and underground film would have a music or movie collection without copies of the VHS and LP soundtracks to Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, and Straight to Hell.
Then Cox went mainstream—as “mainstream” as Cox could be—with Walker, a film about an 1800s American mercenary becoming the president of Nicaragua. But it didn’t have the kitsch-value starring of Joe Strummer of the Clash or Courtney Love, like his punk rock western, Straight to Hell, and we ignored it. And while Alex Cox kept making movies, we, the college-rock crowd grew up, went through marriages and mortgages, births and divorce—and forgot about the films of Alex Cox. (And our Clash and Sex Pistols albums became dust-collecting cardboard tchotchkes).
Cox is the Nicolas Cage and Eric Roberts of directors: he’s either a master of his craft or he’s past-his-prime awful in the eyes of the viewer. Either way, you’re leaving entertained—certainly in the case of Cox’s most recent, previous film: Repo Chick (2009) (yes, it’s a loose sequel-remake of his classic debut). So Cox’s still got it, it’s just that no one sees it. (I wish Cox could have afforded Cage and Roberts to star as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday; not that unknown actors Adam Newberry as Earp and Eric Schumacher as Holliday aren’t good in their roles, because both are great in their roles—it’s just my cinematic wanderlust wanting to see a film with Cage and Roberts on the marquee.)
If you know anything at all about the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral (at least through the back-to-back Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner films Tombstone and Wyatt Earp), and have a passing knowledge of Akira Kurosawa’s oft-pinched Rashomon, then you’re up to speed with Cox’s vision: a reimaging of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral within the multiple-accounts narrative of Kurosawa’s classic.
Oh, right. This is an Alex Cox film. This is Kurosawa: time warped.
Yep, this is a time-traveling sci-fi western mockumentary that, if you know your six degrees of Alex Cox: In addition to producing Cox’s Repo Man, former Monkee Michael Nesmith produced Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, which concerned a futuristic motocross racer who races through a time-travel device and ends up in the mid-1800s old west. And if you know your time travel comedies: Another ‘70s musical teen idol, David Cassidy, starred as a time traveler intending to speak with America’s founding fathers of 1776—and ended up in the era of disco in Sprit of ’76.
So what we have here is This is Tombstone—sans Nigel Tuffnel and David St. Hubbins—filmed by a group of time-traveling filmmakers who arrive in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 28, 1881, to film the actual gunfight (the Tombstone part). But—damn space-time continuum glitches—they show up a day late. So, to save the project, they decide to stick around and interview the survivors and witnesses (the Rashomon part) to create the definitive document as to what happened. Why didn’t the filmmakers just jump back into their flux capacitor contraption and trip back one more day?
Did I mention this is an Alex Cox film? If they did that, the movie would just be called “Tombstone.” And do we really need another Tombstone movie? No. Do we need an Alex Cox Tombstone movie? Yes.
What other filmmaker do you know with chutzpah to finish a film with Doc Holliday jumping into an SUV as casually as mounting a horse? Is he a time traveler?
Dude. How many times do I have to say “Did I mention this is an Alex Cox film?” Did you forget he’s the guy who places glowing bright green McGuffins in car trunks and transforms ‘60s Chevy Malibus into flying saucers?
In recent roadhouse showings, Cox appropriately double-billed Tombstone Rashomon with Repo Man. In another showing, he paired his sci-fi western with Dennis Hopper’s surrealist, metafictional western, 1971’s The Last Movie.
Cox’s Walker and Hopper’s The Last Movie are rife with anachronisms. And both filmmakers were criticized as cut-rate Sam Peckinpah imitators. (In Peckinpah’s 1969 western The Wild Bunch, a band of aging outlaws deal with the traditions of the American West disappearing by way of the advancements brought on by the First Industrial Revolution). Hollywood ostracized Hopper after the failure of The Last Movie. Cox was blacklisted by Hollywood after the failure of Walker; so disliked, Cox’s subsequent films struggled to receive distribution in the United States (which is why he we ended up forgetting him).
In Walker, although an 1800s period piece, the characters of the Nicaraguan-set western use automatic rifles, reusable Zippo lighters, and drink from coke bottles; there’s modern cars on the streets and helicopters overhead. (I always felt Cox crafted a homage to the The Firesign Theatre and George Englund’s “electric western,” 1971’s Zachariah—which everyone seems to hate, except me. And that takes us back to Cox’s Straight to Hell.)
In The Last Movie, Hopper plays a stunt coordinator and horse wrangler on a western filmed in a Peruvian village. After the production wraps, he discovers the villagers are “filming” their own movie with “cameras” made of sticks and killing each other by “acting out” the western violence, as they don’t understand the fantasy of moviemaking.
If Kurosawa has access to Doc Brown’s DeLorean, is Tombstone Rashomon a celluloid anachronism he would have made: an amalgamation of 8th century Japan in an American western puzzle, wrapped in a sci-fi enigma?
Toshiro Mifune, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Nicolas Cage, and Eric Roberts—and what the hell, Mickey Roarke—starring in a sci-fi version of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—where fiction and reality are flux capacitor’d? Maybe Akira Kurosawa could double bill that film with his documentary on Alex Cox: Alex Cox: The Last Filmmaker? Why not? Cox made a biographical documentary on the Japanese filmmaker: 1999’s Kurosawa: The Last Emperor.
Cry cinematic ‘havoc!’, and let flux the capacitors of time!
TriCoast Entertainment will release Tombstone Rashomon onto DVD in-store and online April 21 via Best Buy, CC Video, Deep Discount DVD, DVD Planet, Walmart, and Target. You can also pre-order on Amazon. TriCoast will also release the film onto VOD platforms in July 2020. You can learn more about the film on its official Facebook page.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.