Cinema Q&A: Director Alex Cox

Cox talks about Tombstone Rashomon, premiering this week at the Loft Film Fest

Director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) will be on hand at this week's Loft Film Fest for the world premiere of his new film, Tombstone Rashomon, which tells the story of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral from multiple perspectives. Cox, who shot the film at Old Tucson Studios, spoke to the Weekly about Tombstone Rashomon, the state of Hollywood filmmaking and the possible return of the characters from Repo Man in a few years. The Loft Film Fest features 40 films between Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 13, at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Tombstone Rashomon screens on Friday, Nov. 11. For more information on the film fest, visit

You're going to be at the Loft for a screening of Tombstone Rashomon as a work in progress. What do you think of the Loft?

It's turned into a really great independent theater, hasn't it? It was a great independent theater when it was just a little room up the ladder, but now, it's massive. It has three really great screens, it has 70 millimeter, they have really good programming. The schedule at the Loft is just great.

We've had so many books and movies about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral over the years. Why did you decide this was something you wanted to explore?

I always wanted to make that movie. I don't know why. I always wanted to do a film about it and now that I'm getting near the end of my life, I'm figuring out that I should actually make the films I've really wanted to make and try to get as many of them done as I can. So when I was teaching film at the University of Colorado, we made a version of Harry Harrison's novel Bill the Galactic Hero, which I had optioned in 1983 and never was able to get done. So now it's Wyatt Earp's turn.

What was it about Tombstone that captured your attention?

When I was just an adolescent, I read this book in the school library that was called Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. It was just great. It was a very heroic portrayal of Earp and Holliday and very entertaining for young boys to read. So that inspired me and then over the years, I saw the various films, like My Darling Clementine, which is just a work of great beauty, a visually marvelous film with no historical accuracy to speak of. I saw the other movies, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Tombstone and Doc and I just thought, this a really great story. I never lost my interest in it. So now, in my declining years, I thought, well, let's give it a go.

You're doing in the style of the legendary Japanese film Rashomon, from multiple perspectives.

We don't actually take a position. It was interesting, because I read a book by the screenwriter of Rashomon, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hashimoto said he was disappointed with the film even though it's a great film, because the woodcutter in Rashomon tells his story twice and the second time he tells his story, you think, oh, that's what really happened. And Hashimoto said it shouldn't be like that. You should be left with, you really don't know. We show six different perspectives but we don't take a position on it. Maybe Ike Clanton is telling the truth, or maybe Wyatt Earp is telling the truth.

Where is the movie in terms of production at this point? What will the audience see?

They will see the nearly finished film. We're mixing this weekend so we'll have a new mix and then after the screening, we'll go back and make changes. The picture is nearly complete as well. We've got at least three out of the four special effects shots in there and we're hoping we'll have all of the special effects done in time for the screening. So it will be close but we still have to take the opportunity to make some changes if necessary. If we get a very clear response that something is not working or if the film seems too partisan in some way, we still have time to tweak it. So it's actually a very important screening because it's the first time we've sat down with a large group of people—I hope a friendly large group of people. But still, I'd like people to be sincere in their responses and if something's not working or they think we should be doing something somewhat differently, they should speak up.

Your films have always been subversive and low budget—what do you think of the state of Hollywood cinema at this point?

It's interesting that the studios complain that they're suffering from piracy and that piracy is causing job losses in Hollywood. It's simply not true. The studios made a decision 10 or 15 years ago to make as few films as possible and to concentrate all their resources on a handful of very expensive franchise-type films, whether it's Transformers or Marvel Comics character. It's a business decision by these major studios such as Viacom to make as few films as possible and to throw as much money at them as possible, because studios take their 20 percent overhead. So the more money the studio spends, the more money the studio pays itself. So if Studio X makes a giant-monsters-fighting movie that they claim costs $100 million, on the budget goes $20 million worth of overhead in addition to all the charges and imaginary fees that guarantee the film will never break even.

Are there any Marvel superheroes you'd like to take a crack at?

Stan Lee and I wrote a script for Dr. Strange years ago. But it was really Dr. Strange, it wasn't this revisionist Dr. Strange. Isn't it interesting that Hollywood, for all its power, is totally subservient to China now? Because China is such a big market for movies, so Hollywood is terrified of offending the Chinese government. So Dr. Strange's the Ancient One can't be a Tibetan wise guy because the Chinese wouldn't like that. So it's Tilda Swinton of unknown origin.

Are there any movies at the Loft fest you're excited about seeing?

I'd like to see them all, actually! Immediately before us is a film about policing issues, Do Not Resist. And there's a Q&A afterwards with civil liberties people. And that of course is what our film's about too. So it's a really a great double bill, I think. They're both films about how does society police an armed society that has lost its respect for the police?

You're getting the rights to Repo Man back in a few years—will we see more from those characters?

We could. I think so. Today, people like episodic television. Maybe it should be like a Wire Repo Man or a Deadwood Repo Man. I don't know, we'll see how it shakes out. When we were making Tombstone Rashomon, the producers of Snowden came along and gave us a top-up because we had so little money, they matched the money we had been able to raise. And so I'm hoping that when the rights revert to me, I can stay friends with the Snowden guys, who are really great people, and I can perhaps do something with the Repo Man characters.