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EL PATRULLERO

 

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EL PATRULLERO

 

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EL PATRULLERO (HIGHWAY PATROLMAN)
 

WHY DID YOU MAKE A FILM IN MEXICO?

Because the story of EL PATRULLERO was set there.   While we were scouting locations for WALKER, Lorenzo O'Brien and I had met a driver who had been a member of the Federal Highway Patrol.  His stories always remained with us and we wanted to turn them into a film.   Interestingly, the story our Highway Patrolman told us which stuck in my head most never made it into the film.

WHAT WAS THAT?

Our friend had pulled over a car at night on a long highway called the Recta de Matehuala, in North-Central Mexico.   A gringo was at the wheel.   The guy had the stereo cranked way up, and it was playing "Sympathy for the Devil."  Our young cop knew the gringo was stoned and he could probably bust him, but he thought, what the heck?  It might turn out to be a hassle, maybe the gringo had lawyers and money, and it was late at night.  He turned his back on the guy for just a moment, planning to let him go, and he heard this little click-click sound... 

Our friend recognized the lock-and-load of an Uzi.   He threw himself to the ground just as the shooting began, scrabbled off into the dirt and dark, into the nopal-filled night, and lay there, in a cactus patch, with a bullet in his leg, pretending to be dead and listening as the Camaro started up and drove away, hearing the Rolling Stones grow fainter and finally disappear.    And of course, his car had been destroyed in the firefight and he had to walk back, with a bullet in his leg, to the destacamento (police station).

I loved that story when I first heard it, because it seemed to be about how no good deed goes unpunished, and about the impossibility of ever behaving properly or achieving anything.   "God helps the bad when they outnumber the good."  And yet it is essential that we do the right thing, as we can, that we not behave as badly as the monsters that confront us, that we have our own code, and do our best to live by it... 

Mexico is a great teacher of this lesson.  Because, no matter how the Mexicans are abused by their powerful neighbour to the north, no matter how much their politicians are bribed, their activists murdered, and their cops corrupted, they always retain a high degree of dignity and repose, a sense of politeness and personal honour and correctness which can never, ever, be defeated.  The poorest man in Zacatecas or Durango or Cuahuila will address a stranger with such courtesy, such absolute formal respect, and will hope to be dealt with courteously in return.  "Bienvenidos, señora, caballero.  You have take possession of your house."   "Now I must take my leave of you."   "Here you always have your home."   "Hopefully we will see each other again before too long."  "Indeed so - if God wills it." 

WAS THE CREW THE SAME AS THAT OF WALKER?

The producer / writer, Lorenzo, was of course the producer of WALKER.  Cecilia Montiel, who had been WALKER's art director, was the production designer.  Miguel Sandoval and Claudia Becker were again responsible for casting.  And, of course, Carlos Puente was the editor.  Aside from them, it was a different crew - from the STIC union instead of the STPC.  STIC was based at Estudios America in Mexico City - which is now a television studio only - and STPC is at Estudios Churubusco / Azteca.  I'd wanted to work with Miguel Lima, who is a great first assistant, but he was unavailable:  instead the first a.d. was Rene Villareal, who is also exceptional though quite different in style.  The cinematographer was Miguel Garzon, who had done outstanding work in Jorge Fons' brilliant ROJO AMANECER. 

WHAT'S ROJO AMANECER?

It's a feature about the Government's massacre of students at Tlatelolco (the Plaza of the Three Cultures) in Mexico City in 1968.   It was made in the mid 80's in a warehouse in Mexico City:  made clandestinely, without the support of  any studio.   When it was finished, it was banned for a couple of years by order of the Presidential Guard: but its reputation was such that the system of State Censorship collapsed, and ROJO AMANECER became, domestically, the most successful Mexican film of all time.  It stars Hector Bonilla, Maria Rojo, Demian and Bruno Bichir, and Jorge Fegan..  The whole movie takes place inside one family's apartment, overlooking Tlatelolco:  the massacre itself is never seen. 

WHERE WAS EL PATRULLERO SHOT?

In Mexico City and on location all over northern Mexico.  We began in Parras, Coahuila, which - by complete coincidence - was the town where Peckinpah filmed THE WILD BUNCH.  We travelled west through the desert to El Chocolate, Torreon, Gomez Palacio, and Mapimi;  thence to Durango and the surrounding hills;  and down to Sombrerete in Zacatecas, and the Desierto de los Organos.  Superb locations, but we were only scratching the surface -- as I learned later, directing DEATH & THE COMPAS and acting for Arturo Ripstein in LA REINA DE LA NOCHE and for Luis Estradda in LA LEY DE HERODES, Mexico is the most visually stimulating place on earth.

WAS IT DIFFICULT DIRECTING IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE?

Not for me!  But for the crew and the actors, I'm sure it was a nightmare..  My Spanish was a little better than it had been on STRAIGHT TO HELL and WALKER, but it was still pretty rudimentary.  But Roberto Sosa, Zaide Silvia Guttierez, Bruno Bichir, Vanessa Bauche, and everyone else was very patient with me.  Everyone was very kind to the mad gringo making a film about the Highway Patrol.

WHAT DID THE MEXICAN HIGHWAY PATROL THINK ABOUT THE FILM?

I doubt that they liked it, any more than REPO MAN appealed to real repo men or SID & NANCY to real Sex Pistols.  Lorenzo and Alejandra Liceaga, our production manager, actually went to see the chiefs of the Federal Highway Patrol at their office in Mexico City.  They wanted to see if the cops would lend us police cars and uniforms, maybe a helicopter or two, as they had done for other films.  But it was not to be.  The chiefs were known by their code names - Dragon and Puma - and they were not pleased with Lorenzo's version of the Highway Code.  One of them asked him if he was gay or if he hated his father (this part of the interview made it into the script, in the scene where Pedro Rojas visits the Police Psychiatrist)..  The other confessed that all policeman that he know had the same fantasy:  to reform a prostitute.  It was an interesting interview, and it ended amicably enough.  The Highway Patrol certainly weren't going to lend us any uniforms or cars, but neither would they give us a hard time as long as we "fictionalized" the police corporation.  Hence the massive Dart police cars, designed by Cecilia, and the original uniforms - the work of Tolita Figueroa. 

HOW DID IT DO?

Roberto Sosa won best actor award at San Sebastian for his portrayal of Pedro Rojas.  Though the film didn't get much distribution, EL PATRULLERO (called HIGHWAY PATROLMAN in the U.S. and Britain) received pretty good reviews. 

*HIGHWAY PATROLMAN Reviews*

"HIGHWAY PATROLMAN is maverick director Alex Cox's finest film to date and represents his best work since his terrific debut feature, the funky, surreal 1984 REPO MAN.  Released in the US in 1994, HIGHWAY PATROLMAN, in Spanish with English subtitles, opens just the way one would expect of Cox -- with a darkly satirical take on the subject, an idealistic young Mexican's training at the National Highway Patrol Academy  in Mexico City. 

"But the British-born Cox and his producer-screenwriter, Lorenzo O'Brien, a Peruvian raised in Mexico, gradually get more serious once their wiry, wistful hero (Roberto Sosa) takes up his first assignment in a remote town in Durango.

"It would seem that working in a foreign language has given Cox the necessary freedom and detachment not to worry about being hip and to take the plunge into classic screen storytelling, backed by O'Brien's superbly structured script.  While it rightly skewers American hypocrisy and complicity in Mexican drug trafficking, HIGHWAY PATROLMAN  abounds in the virtues of traditional filmmaking.  Indeed, there is an epic quality, moral as well as visual, to the hero's odyssey that recalls the westerns of John Ford and such John Huston films as TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE...

"In its way, HIGHWAY PATROLMAN is a coming-of-age film, both for its hero and for Cox himself.  It's also a beautiful, gritty film, shot by Miguel Garzon and scored evocatively by Zander Schloss, steeped in the atmosphere of vast, desert-like vistas slashed by highways sizzling in the heat."

        Kevin Thomas, LOS ANGELES TIMES 

"The hero is a young idealist fresh out of the police academy in Mexico City, ordered to a post in a mountainous, fir-treed outback where corruption reigns supreme.  No one can tread these grounds untouched, not even him.  The performances throughout are intelligent, understated.  There's a nervy moment of stylish flourish when Cox's floating steadicam [sic -- read CAMERA] accompanies our hero, bloodied and limping, down a stretch of highway, midway though his life's defining gun battle -- but for the most part Cox's calm, feline gaze never judges or reproaches, never telegraphs to us what we're supposed to feel about what we're looking at.  HIGHWAY PATROLMAN is an astonishing, mature piece of work.  It's like a Bresson film with a rock & roll pulse."

                      F.X. Feeney, L.A. WEEKLY