Jim Jarmusch – From Paradise to Lovers
Last December, I managed to get hold of a ticket for a surprise preview screening at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. No clues had been given as to what the film was, but knowing that it wasn’t going to be released for another few months meant that this was an opportunity that could not be missed. I was caught completely off-guard when the film was revealed as ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’. Ironic, as my parents had long endeavored to get me to watch a Jim Jarmusch film, and had even presented me with an almost complete back-catalogue of his work that I had never got around to watching. ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ was exactly the hook that I needed, and working back through his older works has felt like the unearthing of a very individual style of filmmaking. Jim Jarmusch is the king of cool. And when it comes to describing his films, the word ‘indie’ is thrown around a hell of a lot. ‘Independent’, ‘quirky’ and ‘edgy’ are some of the tedious labels that are often slapped across his work as a unique selling point. There is definitely something to be said about the work of an American auteur who has been able to make films without being under the watch of a studio, but to have that be the sole focus of his career would be a great shame, when there are plenty of far more interesting ways to talk about his films.
Jarmusch released his first main feature, ‘Stranger than Paradise’, back in 1984. Originally a short film, ‘Stranger than Paradise’ was filmed in three parts, and established Jarmusch as an artisan; introducing audiences to the distinctive themes and techniques that would he would carry with him throughout his career. It is a deadpan comedy that offers a foreigner’s perspective on American culture when Willie, a New York youth, is visited by his Hungarian cousin, Eva. An alternative viewpoint is something often offered up in Jarmusch’s films. Not only on lifestyle, but the film making itself. Right off the bat, ‘Stranger than Paradise’ doesn’t exactly follow traditional conventions when it comes to storytelling. The plot is unpredictable and incredibly low-key, and by two thirds of the way through the film, you wonder, “Is anything actually going to happen here?” It is evident that this is a man that is not interested in drama. Having once said that he would rather make a film about a man walking his dog than the Emperor of China, Jarmusch’s films illustrate how it is the smaller and uneventful moments that characterise someone’s life. Through this, the relationship between the audience and the characters becomes a lot more intimate, even though I was initially baffled as to why someone would spend so much time filming their actors watch TV and vacuum the floor (or, as Willie puts it, “choking the alligator”.) Each scene is filmed in a single, brooding shot, captured on 35mm film. No big effects are needed here, which I found refreshing in our current climate of big CGI action flicks.
Thirty years down the line and Jarmusch has not lost his touch. Having explored various cultures, and worked with many actors and musicians, he has now moved onto the supernatural. Two vampires, who have been tied together throughout the centuries, are adjusting to the rapid changes taking place in the world. From the perspectives of Adam, a sulking misanthrope on the edge of Detroit, and Eve, an ethereal lioness, prowling through the streets of Tangier, the film is a celebration of art and culture, but also a sombre look at the way the human race is heading. Production is of a much larger scale, but the attitude remains the same. Jarmusch continues to share his appreciation of life, and colours, an introspective portrait of modern day culture. There is something very cool about the work of Jim Jarmusch. With his wild, silver hair, and outlaw flair, I’m not entirely sure how I didn’t become hooked sooner.