Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive is like a master class in solving quirky filmmaking puzzles. How does a director make a movie in which the characters can survey and comment on the whole of history without having the film succumb to hackneyed tricks like time travel? Jarmusch’s solution: Make the protagonists undead. Make them vampires. But if one of the aims of the film is identification—i.e., the viewer being able to identify with the protagonists and thus take part in their often-plaintive (re)view of history—then how does the director create this effect when his protagonists are the embodiment of horror? By inverting the traditional relationship between the feared vampires and fearful people and having people be zombies to the vampires. These are some of the brilliant moves Jarmusch deploys in his hypnotizing contribution to the filmic version of literature’s sexiest, weirdest, and most blood-thirsty genre.
Tag: Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 revisionist western Dead Man appropriately begins with a journey west. A fainthearted accountant from Ohio named William Blake travels by train to the distant town of Machine, where he’s been promised a job. En route, he looks bored and mostly avoids interacting with his fellow passengers, instead killing time by reading something called Bee Journal, playing solitaire, and drifting off to sleep. He appears visibly uncomfortable when he spies evidence of the violence of the Old West – destroyed covered wagons and teepees that look like skeletal remains – out his window. When the train’s soot-covered fireman visits Blake at his seat and delivers cryptic warnings about Machine, the accountant clutches his briefcase like a shield. Over the course of their conversation we learn that Blake’s parents have died and his fiancée has left him. He strikes us as a man with few remaining human connections and some hesitance to make new ones, at least with the rough-and-tumble men who fill the train when he gets close to his stop. Comparing him to the rugged characters that surround him, we can’t help but be aware of his vulnerability and seeming innocence.
Could any filmmaker be more associated with the New York punk scene than Jim Jarmusch? At the turn of the 1980s, he seemed ubiquitous on the Lower East Side—playing keyboards with the Del-Byzanteens; making the scene at Danceteria and the Mudd Club with fellow travelers like Basquiat and Keith Haring; and directing a pair of indelible features, PERMANENT VACATION and STRANGER THAN PARADISE. Jarmusch’s early work shares with its musical peers an off-kilter sense of timelessness and an honest depiction of New York City as a seedy enclave. You have to squint at the details that mark these films as contemporary with the early ‘80s, but the characters’ ennui and melancholy, their lived-in apartments and beat-up cars, and the apocalyptic milieu that enveloped them made these films seem as eternally stylish as your favorite Blondie deep cut.
It’s not at all surprising that indie stalwart Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed a vampire movie. Indeed, it only seems surprising that he didn’t do it sooner: Jarmusch has long displayed a feel for misfits, weirdoes, and nightlife in his films, and with works like 1995’s essential revisionist western DEAD MAN, he’s also displayed a knack for making familiar genre tropes interesting again. And hey, the posters for Jarmusch’s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE do look like they could have been beamed in from twenty years ago: Tom Hiddleston’s gothed-out appearance and guitar are evocative of Brandon Lee in THE CROW. But LOVERS feels very much of our own weary times, as its immortal characters search for meaning and hope in the 21st century.
Down by Law – 1986 – dir. Jim Jarmusch
It’s a neat trick if the film you’re watching seems sort of so-what for the first hour-plus, then, in a moment, forces you to reexamine everything you’ve seen without actually revealing any new information. I can sincerely say that this is how Down by Law struck me.