The career of film Director Alex Cox of the Colestin Valley peaked in the 1980s with “Repo Man,” “Sid and Nancy” (about Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols punk rock band) and the minor success “Walker,” the true story of William Walker, an American military adventurer who overthrew the government of Nicaragua and made himself president for a while.
It’s a flashy, acton-packed film that starred Ed Harris in the title role and is notable for its time-shifting surrealism, throwing in a Russian helicopter, Zippo lighters and guys reading Time Magazine — all impossible in an 1856 setting.
The point of it, says Cox, is to show “the obvious thing, that it’s still going on, right now. Things are not better. The U.S. still controls what’s going on in Latin America. It’s colonial domination. Venezuela is still run by Rockefeller money.”
Amazingly, it was shot on-site in Nicaragua, during the Contra wars, but in a location where bullets were not flying, he said in an interview.
The film got minimal distribution. It was bundled by Universal and sold with many other slow-selling films, then sold a lot on cable, so there’s no way of telling if it tanked or was loved. In any case, says Cox, he was black-listed by studios since then. Why? He doesn’t know.
Cox will be on hand for a free showing of “Walker” at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at the newly re-envisioned Ashland Literary Arts Festival (ALAF). It shows at Meese Auditorium at Southern Oregon University, in the arts building near the Schneider Museum of Art. Cox; Richard Herskowitz, director of the Ashland Independent Film Festival; and Andrew Gay, who has written, directed and produced both fiction and documentary film and now teaches creative entrepreneurship and digital cinema at SOU, will discuss the film, focusing on its production, reception, historical context and legacy, after the screening.
ALAF is a reboot of the previous Ashland Literary Festival, which for the last six years has been a purely local event, sponsored by SOU. ALAF is an expanded version of ALF, with the focus now on independent story and thought throughout the entire Cascadia region, celebrating not only books, but all forms of expression: literature, poetry, journalism, art, lyrics, comics, film and documentary.
Twenty independent publishers from the region, as well as their authors, will attend. Highlights include a reading from Elizabeth Woody, the Oregon poet laureate and a Wonder Woman costume contest, said Tod Davies, ALAF Program Director and wife of Cox. It’s centered at Hannon Library, SOU, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Walker, a newspaper editor, doctor and college graduate at 14, became a stellar personality in American history, destined for greatness, but, unfortunately for him, he was executed in Honduras in 1860. He was bankrolled by shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt who wanted Nicaragua as a route between the two oceans. Walker believed America was destined to rule the entire Western Hemisphere and wanted to create slave states out of Latin American countries.
“My film depicts that Walker was nuts. He believed his own publicity … It’s a common pathology of rich people, that, since they are born to great wealth, they merited it, with Walker, he strode forth as a “great general” and oligarch.
Cox, a Liverpool native, got a Fulbright scholarship to study film at UCLA, then found the Walker story while researching in that school’s library. He wrote the film and also wrote the sci-fi comedy “Repo Man,” based on his actual work as a repo man in Venice, California, earning $10 a job.
“Repo Man” starred Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez and was destined for “cult film” status, though Cox admits, “I don’t know why. Maybe its longevity comes from being about a Los Angeles punk band and people have nostalgia about that.”
Cox said he went down the punk road because he wanted to get across the message of the danger of nuclear radiation, but “who would pay me to make a film about that?”
Cox met his wife, Tod Davies, at the UCLA film school. She was a filmmaker and his writing partner — and is now a writer and publish. Her publishing company is called Exterminating Angel Press.
Partners for ALAF already include the Ashland Independent Film Festival, the Daily Tidings, the Medford Public Library, Willamette Writers, the Schneider Museum, the Rogue Valley Messenger, the Southern Oregon Literary Alliance, and Cascadia Publishers. It’s planned as an annual festival.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.