Few filmmakers can actually wear the title of “cult”. Alex Cox legitimately can. He’s been consistently working since the 1980’s, giving us most iconically Repo Man as well as Sid & Nancy, following the turbulent relationship of punk legend Sid Vicious, played by Gary Oldman, with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (and shot by Roger Deakins). Since the late 1980’s he’s been continuously working on new projects, most of them lo-to-no budget features.
He’s been working non-stop for four decades within the industry: few people have as much experience to talk about film as he does. His idiosyncratic voice is also what makes him peerless: he’s been absolutely uncompromising since the beginning, and that shows in his work. That’s why his book, Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective makes for an essential read.
Over 200 pages, he goes over the essentials of cinema, and dissects every part of the filmmaking process while taking a range of examples from film history.
He starts by dismantling the auteur theory, then explains every step of the collaborative process, not just from an artist’s point of view, but also from the standpoint of a craftsman. Editing, cinematography, writing, production design, etc… are all explained from bits of films, more or less famous, before we move on to the wider themes of the film industry, its evolution, world cinema and, crucially, the future of film.
This book is based on a Critical Studies class Alex Cox gave at the University of Colorado a few years ago. It retains an didactic quality that makes for a very easy read. The added value comes from Cox himself: not only is he a seasoned filmmaker with a rare understanding of the film language, he’s also part of the all-too-rare tradition of the “maverick” filmmakers. (No, Top Gun doesn’t apply as maverick filmmaking.) He follows in the footsteps of artists such as Orson Welles, who’ve fought tooth and nail for their vision and to make it happen on the screen, no matter the cost. He’s as radical in his writing as he is known to be in his filmmaking.
There are two kinds of people -those who need an introduction to film, and those who need Alex Cox’s introduction to film.
Whichever category you fall in, it’s a terrific read which will leave you wanting to chat with him about film all night.