Sunday, August 1, 2010

Jim Jarmusch - American Auteur

The Complete Works of Jim Jarmusch: Part I

In a world of popcorn flicks with their hyperactive editing and over-the-top computer generated effects, it can be easy for a true artist like Jim Jarmusch to fall beneath the radar. Staying out of the limelight allows more creative control, and one can't help but wonder if this is the way that he prefers it. Money never seems to be a concern with Jarmusch, and even Harvey Weinstein, the producer for many "independent directors", couldn't persuade Jim to allow Miramax to cut his film with the promise of a national release.

Whether you love or hate his films, you must admit that they will usually stay with you. Many movie-goers are not used to unorthodox narrative structure, and the stagnate nature of the motionless deadpan camera work that is prominent in Jamrusch's films can be offputting to many. When viewing his films, you must be ready to enter a strange world, often beautiful, often ugly, and always filled with symbolism. Jarmusch uses film the way it was meant to be, not just visually stunning, but also thought provoking.

This is part 1 of Jim Jarmusch's full feature lenght filmography. I plan to cover all 10 of Jim's feature length films, levaing out titles that he directed segments of, and the documentary about Neil Young. Much of information that I have is from "Jim Jarmusch Interviews" and "Dead Man" (The book), both of which are linked below. Either purchase these or see if your local library caries them to get more or an insight into Jarmusch's work.

Jim Jarmusch: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series)
Dead Man (BFI Modern Classics)

Permanent Vacation
Not a good starter film for those unfamiliar with Jarmusch 
Permanent Vacation is the first feature length film that Jarmusch directed. Shot on a 16mm camera, this film does have an amateurish feel to it. Obviously Jarmusch was still very young in his career when he made this film. I think that it may be more interesting for those familiar with this work to view this to see his early work. Even his fans have been known to say that Permanent Vacaton was somewhat boring, which leads me to believe that this is not a great starter film.
The story follows, Allie (Aloysius), as he travels through New York and tries to find meaning. Allie is played by Chris Parker, who according to Jarmucsh is musch like this character in real life. We see Allie encounter various characters, including a veteren of the war between the US and China. It is clearly a different version of New York, with a different history than what we know. The characters have experienced events that we have never experienced, but at the same time, they are not unlike ourselves.
As mentioned earlier, for anybody that is unfamiliar with, but is curious about Jarmush's work, this may not be a good film to start with. Boring is not how I would describe Permanent Vacation. In my opinion is it not as good as Jarmusch's later work, but it can still be enjoyable for fans.

Permanent Vacation [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.0 Import - Australia ]

Stranger Than Paradise
Second Round With John Lurie

Stranger Than Paradise is a great display of Jarmusch coming into his own as a director. The film began as a 30 minute short, but was later expanded into a full length feature. The film once again follows members of a subculture that is serperate from the world that most of us know. Dingy and dirty, we see what the characters see in drab black and white as they leave Willie's tiny New York apartment and travel across the drab landscapes.

The original soundtrack was penned by the the actor who plays the leading character of the story, John Lurie. What set this film apart from most films of the period was Jarmusch's choice of casting non-professional actors. He used a jazz palyer: Lurie, the drummer from Sonic Youth: Richard Edson, and a Hungarian violinist: Eszter Balint for his three main characters. This gives the film a different feel as the actors respond to situations differently than trained actors.
The story begins in Willies NYC apartment. He is notified that his cousin, Eva, will be arriving and staying with him for a couple days. At first he and his friend Eddie are not thrilled with this, but they eventually come to enjoy having Eva around. She moves to Cleveland to stay with an aunt, and Willie and Eddie soon join her. They decide to take a trip to Florida togther but a series of events unfolds that seperates them from each other.

I'm not good at summarizing stories, but this is definitely and enjoyable film. If you enjoy deadpan films and independat flicks, then this will no doubt be enjoyable for you.

Stranger Than Paradise - Criterion Collection

Coffee and Cigarettes
Murray, Benigni, Waits, Pop...Too Many To Name!

Coffee and Cigarettes is actually a series of short films that were strung together into one feature. Again, Jarmusch chose to shoot in black and white for each segment. Each segment is about characters and their interactions with each other as they make small talk. Coffee and Cigarettes definitely will not be interesting to everybody, but if you enjoy dry, sometimes absurdist humor, then this may be enjoyable.

The big names that come to mind in this film are: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Steve Buscemi, Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits and of course Bill Murray. The disk from the link below is pretty chaep, but if you're not sure if this would be worth purchasing then rent. Give it a shot and see if you like it. Some of the segments can be pretty funny, and some are just ironic. I really enjoy the segment with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Down By Law
Down By Law is one of my girlfriend and mine favorite Jarmusch films. All three of the main characters are played by actors that Jarmusch had worked with in the past, Lurie, Waits and Benigni. They all seems to have a chemestry together that feels like friends working together to create something, and Tom Waits was in Benigni's movie, The Tiger and The Snow a couple of years ago, which supports my theory.

All three are somewhat unscrupulous victims of circumstance, which utlimately places each in jail, and even in the same cell. They develope a somewhat uneasy friendship from being kept in the same cell for such a period. Eventually they hatch a plan to escape from prison, and do so successfully. They're camaraderie is tested a few times, but they work together to maintain freedom. Roberto finds love along the way on his flight for freedom.

There are many funny scenes, espeically from Roberto Benigni. Tom Waits maintains a comical presence, and John Lurie's performance is good as well. Some may find this movie boring, but I believe that a good portion of people find something funny here.

Down by Law - Criterion Collection

Mystery Train

Finishing the 80's on a strong note

1989's Mystery Train ended the era of black-and-white for Jarmusch. It was also an experiment for him in narrative structure. Mystery Train is an anthology film, but unlike Coffee and Cigarettes, where all the stories were seperate and individual, Mystery Train's stories are all connected and intertwined. The use of actual actors this time changed the feel, and this movie will definitely have a more traditional structure to it than his previous four films.

"Far From Yokohama" is my favorite segment. (Be warned lazy people that you will have to read, unless you speak Japanese, because this is all in Japanese, and subtitled.) We follow two Elvis obsessed Japanese teens as they travel through Memphis. The language barrier is strong, and their reactions to all of the situations are funny. Mitsuko's sitings of Elvis in statues and celebrities is hysterical.

"A Ghost" is the second segment. The lead roll is played by Roberto Benigni's real life wife. She meets another woman, and they end up sharing a room for the night (not for sexual reasons). Luisa finally is able to fall asleep and is visited by Elvis.

"Lost In Space" is the final segment, and it stars The Clash's Joe Strummer as Johnny. Johnny and his friends try to rob a liquor store, and end up fleeing and sharing a room for the night at the same hotel that the Japanese teens and Luisa are staying in. A gunshot is heard and Johnny's friend is shot in the leg. They flee to escape imaginery authorities.

Mystery Train (Criterion Collection)

Famous Dance Scene From Permanent Vacation

Stranger Than Paradise Trailer

Coffee and Cigarettes Trailer

Down By Law Trailer

Mystery Train Trailer

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