Friday, December 5, 2008


I think I'll rewatch the eight Jarmusch films I haven't seen recently (having seen Night on Earth and Down by Law again recently, and Mystery Train and Ghost Dog pretty recently too but why compromise on freshness?). The thing that's great about Jarmusch's famously tenuous plots is that he's the sole filmmaker, to my knowledge, who has made an entire career explicitly dedicated to only the moments you never seen in other movies. I can spend hours reading his interviews in which he talks about this, in which he talks about Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, Nicholas Ray, etc. He's definitely in the top five of interesting filmmakers to hear speak/read interviews with, and the other four are definitely dramatic/genre filmmakers. You see what I'm saying? It took a completely original, daring, and patient person to make movies about what no one else was making movies about. Because if you think about, Jarmusch does great what bad filmmakers do bad.

Jarmusch's talent is in breaking down his influences, absorbing them, and processing an image from behind that screen of culture. Not of that culture, necessarily, but always from that culture. Not about his influences, but about him as he is influenced. He's also really funny and engaging, and it might be but shouldn't be surprising to know that he was accepted into NYU on the strength of his writing. Might be because he's so visually compelling some could think of him as a purely visual filmmaker. Might be because his films all basically lack a plot (but not action or movement).

I usually finish Jarmusch's stories for him, honestly. You didn't know this? That's because you were too busy also finishing his stories for him. He designs his stories to be finished by the audience. He designs his characters to depart from the screen and the story. It sometimes feels like they're headed to the story the whole time, or that they get to the story too late. In Down By Law there's a complete story of three criminals' arrest, incarceration, and flee. Jarmusch just leaves out the escape. That film still feels like an untold story; when Jarmusch decides to include story he'll often leave out resolution. He'll often leave out the drama. He does both of these in Down By Law. It's the breeziest jail flick of all, including women-in-prison films.

That dramatic restraint is also present in the films of Aki Kaurismaki. I find it amazing these two burst onto the global film scene at roughly the same time. Kaurismaki's films are often more dramatic and story oriented than Jarmusch's, but there's the same truncated expression and detached humor. For example, in a Kaurismaki film the following events will be given equal weight: driving a car, quitting a job, eating a cheeseburger, killing a man. In Down By Law, you feel the same when the men are in the prison and when they're out of the prison.

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