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Jim Jarmush

Sunday 23 November 2003, by arthur

An incomplete work on Jim Jarmush’s amazing art and work.

With the future release of Coffee & Cigarettes (2003) directed by Jim Jarmusch, we had the pleasure of re-discovering the world of this amazing movie director, and plunged ourselves into watching as much of his work as we could. And it's never a dissapointment.

Being complete addicts of {{IMDB}} (which we recommend greatly as a source of information) we managed to get our hands on the complete list of his filmography. And here it is :

 Coffee & Cigarettes (2003)
 Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002) (segment "Int. Trailer Night")
 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
 Year of the Horse (1997)
 Dead Man (1995)
 Coffee and Cigarettes III (1993)
 Night on Earth (1991)
 Coffee and Cigarettes II (1989)
 Mystery Train (1989)
 Coffee and Cigarettes (1986)
 Down by Law (1986)
 Stranger Than Paradise (1983)
 New World, The (1982)
 Permanent Vacation (1980)

The news of an upcoming version of his famous Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) intrigued us. Indeed we've seen the ones that came out already (1986, 1989, 1993) and they are absolutely brilliant, three shorts with amazing actors, the simplistic scenarios revolving around coffee and cigarettes which is a passion I shamefully/proudly share with him. Reminds us of the amazing scene in Smoke where Jim Jarmush appears in person and has a scene with Harvey Keitel where he acts as though (maybe it's true) he's going to smoke his last cigarette . He talks for ages about cigarette related content, his first cigarette, his favourite cigarettes, etc. The four shorts grasp in very subtle ways the passion around this - what should we call it - passionnate association of harmfull substances. The first - which was made in 1986- portrays Roberto Benini and Steven Wright. The second one (1989) features Steve Buscemi as an over-talkative waiter serving coffee to Cinqué Lee and Joie Lee who play brother and sister as they are in reality. Finally the one in 1993 is a duo of two great musicians which throughout Jarmush's work seem to appear and reappear, or rather never disappear : Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. The use of musicians as actors is a recuring theme in Jarmusch's work. Tom Waits has often appeared in a role or simply doing the music, Screaming Jay Hawkins as the hotel clerk in Mystery Train, RZA in Ghost Dog. John Lurie stars in Stranger than Paradise and Down By Law but also did their music. As you can see the actors involved in this project are all rare jewels. Back to the comment about the 2003 version, our dear IMDB states that the actors are the following : Roberto Benigni, Cate Blanchett, Steve Buscemi, Isaach De Bankolé, Genius/GZA, Cinqué Lee, Joie Lee, Taylor Mead, Alfred Molina, Bill Murray, Iggy Pop, William Rice, RZA, Tom Waits, Steven Wright... Jim Jarmush taking under his wing such talented actors is bound to be an amazing cinematografic experience.

What I find incredible about Jim Jarmush's films is his capacity to do story telling without a straight beginning or ending, that deconstruction is found in much of his work. For example in Down By Law the ending -without revealing what it is- is very suprising, doesn't leave a feeling of completeness to the work, but the frustration of the viewer who desires completeness is soon blown away by the outcome not being what is important, but rather the common journey of these three characters.

Stranger than Paradise is Jim Jarmusch's first film as a full on director (since Permanent Vacation is his real first film, but he did that one as a student, and we can get hold of it). The concepts that we find and cherrish in his other films are already in this first masterpiece. Some say that this films revolves aroud the song by Screaming Jay Hawkins "I put a spell on you", which Eva plays on an old school tape player, in a sense this is true in the ways that it portrays a fascination for this foreign girl that takes over the two main characters. The portraits of America are amazing, the film taking place in three different regions of the United States : New York, Pennsilvania, and Florida. A quote that sums up the contradiction of these "paintings" of the lost America is a phrase one of the two main characters says when they get to Pennsilvania from New York, after having praised the place without ever having been there : "You know it's funny, you come to some place new and everything just looks the same".

I didn't really understand or appreciate Ghost Dog at my first viewing. They say the best works of art are appreciated with time. Maybe they're not entirelly wrong - think of Tool's work and how it takes time to appreciate it. It's been a while since I have seen this work, but many things can be said, and an entire article would probably be necessary. The portrayal of American society with its diversity of origin is great, the unspoken communication between Forrest Wittaker and the French ice-cream man, the dying mob culture with hilarious scenes of the italian mob boss singing along to a Snoop Doggy Dog song, the intermettant Samurai words' extracts which tend towards a disturbing universality.

Dead Man is extrodinary in many ways. It is probably the most suprising films by Jim Jarmush. The work on the photographic side of this piece is impressive. The association of images and sounds is again exploited here, with amazing music by Neil Young. He seems to be part of the family as well since Jim Jarmush will make a documentary about his him shortly after. Dead Man is very much bound to a poetic expression, as opposed to the realism found in his earlier films. Still, there is always a hint of irony, with Nobody (one of the characters) thinking or pretending to think that William Blake is the famous author. The main character, a stunning Johnny Depp, takes a journey towards or through death, or as Nobody would put it : back to his real self. We could go on forever about this film, and my sure people are spending hours in film school doing better than this... but let's stick to Jim Jarmush.

A recurring theme in Jarmusch's films is an observation of America in its unexplored forms, suprising places in the US are often portrayed and play a central role. For example in Mystery Train the central place is a hotel in Memphis. The Coffee and Cigarettes shorts also have a sense of place (the sub-titles). The lost american indian civilisation in Dead Man, with a clear distinction between the land 'conquered' by the white man, and the 'indian' land. In Night on Earth each section of the film starts with amazing shots of each city. It has been said about his style that he adopts a foreigners look on America and American society : Roberto Begnini in Down by Law, Masatoshi Nagase and Youki Kudoh as the Japanese Tourists crazy about Elvis in Mystery Train as the Italian character and the English boyfriend, the Hungarian cousin in Stranger than Paradise, Armin Mueller-Stahl as the Tcheck taxi driver in Night on Earth, Nobody in Dead Man who's a foregneir in the USA and England, the French icecream van man in Ghost Dog.

The other thing we love about Jim Jarmush is how his actors seem at ease under his direction. We sense some sort of respect for his work, a mutual understanding. Like we find in the Coen brother's work, the actors form a crew, they appear over and over again, you don't change a winning team. There is a sense of that with Jim Jarmusch, as if he takes on actors on a friendship level first. And we feel that throughout his work.

As far as photography is concerned, his style is mostly simplistic, with the exception of Ghost Dog where a few tricks are used. His noted use of camera work is the "deadpan" shot, which follows sideways a landscape or a character walking along, one of the first shots of Stranger than Paradise, and largely used in Mystery Train.

We also have to give him credit for his wide range of roles across his films, often he writes the scenario for his films, does the photography, does the montage... Maybe that has to do with his excellent film making, understanding film making as a whole. A bit like Spike Lee doing his thing used to piss us off for being so good. The most worked on photography is probably found in Dead Man and Ghost Dog, which doesn't mean the less overwhelming photography in the other films is bad.

Jim Jarmusch is an excellent director, the sort of element in the film industry that gives you hope it will never lower its standards, that great films are still to come, that your vision of the world will, if not challenged, be charmed. He is annoying to directors starting their carreers since his style was already incredible with his first film. The Tish Arts School refused his final year student film/thesis Permanent Vacation, which was later seen and greeted with acclaim overseas. You know who to compare with as far as successfull student films by known directors are concerned. Anyway, we here at Sounds greatly recommend his entire filmography, there are no scratches no errors yet far from desiring perfection...





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