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20 Years of Rex Manning Day: A Look Back at the 1995 Cult Classic Empire Records

March 28, 2015

Empire records poster

My life has reached a pinnacle. Joe is letting me close the store tonight.

With these immortal words we are introduced to the world of Empire Records. The cult classic is full of 90’s independent music and a boat load of future stars. In a recent podcast we had a listener question about what would be the perfect cinematic job. I quickly replied “working at Empire Records.” The employees were cool, the dancing plentiful and they planned an impromptu block party to save the store.

Empire Records dancing gif

Fresh off the success of Dazed and Confused and Clerks, Empire Records looked to perfect the day in the life of teenagers/twenty-somethings film. 1995 was a great year for single day movies as Before Sunrise, Mallrats, Kids, Die Hard: With a Vengeance and Friday were big hits or eventually became cult classics. Empire Records was panned by critics (24% RT) and quickly disappeared from theaters. However, it picked up a massive following on VHS and DVD. It has become so popular people are throwing “Rex Manning Day” parties 20 years later and Huffington Post cast the remake (Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, Aubrey Plaza, Skylar Astin, Ezra Miller, Adam Driver, Kieran Culkin and Jake Johnston).

Why has the legacy lived on? One of the reasons Records is so beloved is because it plays like Breakfast Club met High Fidelity and spawned Dazed and Confused. It juggles subplots with aplomb and has something for everybody. It is easy to like the characters because they come from different walks of life and are able to work together in the coolest store ever. They might not always get along but they are united in their dislike of Rex Manning and saving the store.

rex manning day gif


Empire Records has an odd rhythm that was the product of studio meddling and big editing cuts. Director Allan Moyle in an interview with Buzzfeed had this to say about it:

“The studio was in a cocaine mentality, while we at the movie were in a pot mentality.” Part of the feel of the film was also lost via Regency’s insistence that it remain PG-13, rather than have the R-rating of the original script; that’s why none of the characters could be shown actually smoking cigarettes or marijuana, why they couldn’t swear like actual teenagers, why Eddie couldn’t run his weed operation on the roof — why they couldn’t, in other words, fully behave like the teens they were meant to portray.

Here is the story behind why it received such a limited release:

Regency decided to test the re-cut film on teen audiences — a common practice for any film, no matter the genre. The first screening took place in a white, middle-class area of the San Fernando Valley — and the audience loved it. Moyle was pleased, but Regency wanted to test it again. This time, however, the screening was in a lower-class, Hispanic neighborhood in the Valley — and the results were disastrous. It’s easy to see why: The cast, their character’s concerns, and the music itself are all lily-white.

The limited release is what allowed Empire Records to become a cult classic. Much like Mallrats it is a underachiever that was loved by underachievers. People united around Empire Records because it was a misfit and offered something for everyone. Pretty much everything that could happen in one day happens in the film. It makes the life lessons learned in Breakfast Club seem boring because BC didn’t feature faux-funerals, sex and robberies.

Empire Records Funeral

Another reason why the film is so popular is because it plays like a Generation-X time capsule. I remember buying cassettes and thinking music stores were the coolest thing ever. Watching it 20 years later you can’t help but smile when the Gin Blossoms or Sponge starts playing.  I remember getting my hands on the VHS and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. It was one of those movies that you heard about from somebody else. I also received Donnie Darko and Boondock Saints in this manner and they’ve lived long cult classic lives. The passing along of the film built a community of insiders who looked at it as their film. Empire Records has lived on because its fans won’t let it die.

I don’t think Empire Records could be remade. The era is over and the circumstances that lead to it being loved cannot be replicated. The remake would be too glossy and lack the personality that made the original a cult classic. That is why I am happy that people are discovering or rediscovering the film.

Watch Empire Records. Appreciate the music. Host a Rex Manning day.

rex manning dancing gif

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2015 12:29 am

    I watched this because I was a big fan of Moyle’s Pump Up The Volume and I while I enjoyed it. I never thought it was to become as big as it did. I need to seek out the remix version and give this one another look. Great review


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