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Cult director Cox raises Hell

When film director Alex Cox ('Repo Man,' 'Sid & Nancy,' 'Walker') is told that his bizarre, arty, Bu–uelesque flights of fancy should be highly marketable simply as 'Alex Cox films,' he laughs loudly.

''An Alex Cox Film!' That and fifty cents will get you ... well, not much these days, actually.'

Cox is coming to the Hollywood Theater tonight with his 1987 rock 'n' roll spaghetti Western 'Straight to Hell.'

Also on the bill is the documentary revisiting that film's principals titled 'Back to Hell' Ñ which Cox describes as 'pretty straightforward, all talking heads. It's the 'Sorrow and the Pity' of 'Straight to Hell' ' Ñ and his unreleased 1998 film, 'Three Businessmen.'

And from the self-effacing way he talks, he may be surprised at the rousing reception he'll receive.

Playing rather like a well-funded home movie, 'Straight to Hell' is less structured than his more famous films (read: it's even weirder than usual).

The film came about when

a planned musical tour to Nicaragua in the mid-1980s was dropped for lack of funding. A slate of artists Ñ including the Pogues, the Clash's Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello Ñ had freed their schedules for a month and now had no venue.

'We had to do something with all those people, otherwise we'd let them down,' Cox says. His producer told him that he'd find the budget for a feature film Ñ if Cox could come up with an idea within a week.

The idea he came up with was a Sergio Leone-style Western about a trio of gunslingers (Strummer, Dick Rude and Sy Richardson) with a dazed, Nancy Spungeon-like female (Courtney Love) in tow, on the run after a bank job. They hide out in a town run by a group of incestuous, caffeine-addicted bandits. The film features cameos by Jim Jarmusch, Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones.

Cox wrote the script in three days; the resulting film was shot in six weeks.

'So the story's weakness is perhaps attributable to the swiftness with which it was developed,' he says.

When asked about Love's reputed hesitancy to discuss her role in the movie, Cox says she may now be warming to it: 'Some guy in Canada is asking would I go direct a Courtney film ... so I think now, perhaps, she would say lovely things. But that's because her career has tanked.

'I think she was hoping to have a big career in Hollywood, and to do that you have to dissociate yourself from the sordid, low-budget productions of the past and pretend that you have sprung anew from the womb of Milos Forman,' he says with a laugh.

Cox one of 'three hungry guys'

Cox describes 'Three Businessmen,' as the saga of 'three hungry guys Ñ businessmen Ñ alienated in a strange city, trying to find food, and all the restaurants are closed.'

Naturally, the film is about more than just that Ñ Cox has cited '2001: A Space Odyssey' as an influence.

'In '2001,' the dialogue is resolutely mundane. They just talk about chicken sandwiches and cashmere sweaters having been lost and 'please buy me a bush baby for my birthday,'' he says.

'But behind the sort of blather and the mundaneness of the conversation in '2001,' there are these great things at work, great wheels turning in the cosmos. That's the conceit of 'Three Businessmen' as well Ñ that behind the mundane chitchat of the protagonists, there are bigger things happening.'