Jim Jarmusch

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier. Her husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), in Detroit. Eve lives vibrantly from day to day, surrounded by her books. Adam, a musician, is disillusioned with life, hiding away from the world and his fans. At first introductions, they don’t seem to have much in common. However, they love each other passionately and unashamedly. They also happen to be vampires. After Adam hints at ending his life, Eve rushes to his side.

Despite the potential for bloodletting and, god forbid, sparkling in the sunlight, Jim Jarmusch’s latest puts the vampirism on the back burner to a certain extent. Like Trainspotting with its cast of tweekers and junkies, the couple’s cravings are merely an extension of their characters, rather than the complete picture. After all, their thirst for the red stuff is sated through their contacts. For Adam, it’s a trip to a hospital’s bloodbank, whilst Eve gets her supplies from fellow vampire, and previously 16th century poet, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt).

When the couple meet again in Adam’s rundown house, after the initial consolation, they do what any long term couple do. They enjoy each other’s company: going for walks, hanging out and listening to music. These moments are never made any less ordinary simply because they happen solely at night. For Adam, they are part of a reluctant acceptance that there actually are reasons to get up at night. Eve, infectiously played by Swinton, coaxes and coerces him out of his shell, blaming all his misgivings on socialising with Byron and Shelley back in the day.

It’s only when Eve’s sister turns up that things become a miss. Ava, a ginger whirlwind played by Mia Wasikowska, is passion of the immortal unkempt. A party girl without restraint, she tests the couple’s endurance of the outside world; reflecting as she does, everything Adam sees wrong with modern. It’s a superb performance, which, along with The Double, buries the misgivings of Alice in Wonderland.

At its heart, Only Lovers Left Alive is more a romance than anything else. Slow burning being its top speed, the film floats by like the thoughts one has at five in the morning after being up all night. It is an exquisite slice of nuanced filmmaking with a distant yet familiar sense of love. It is further enhanced by a soundtrack of feedback and strings provided by Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL. Put simply, Jarmusch has provided us with a suitably dark present of gothic modernism that is truly haunting.

Dead Man (1995)

The Western, the Great American Western, like baseball, apple pie, roadside diners and that unwritten novel we’re all waiting for encapsulate America to the rest of the world. Jim Jarmusch’s deconstruction of it, dismantling of it, mocking of it and eventually reverential nature toward it is both sacriligious and revalationary. Jarmusch, that photo fit of American independant cinema, takes on the founding father of genres, kicks it about a bit and then disappears up his own backside for a while before emerging with a fresh take and a bright outlook on that most stereotypical of scenarios. Fashioning a Man With No Name from nothing, Jarmusch takes us on a supernatural journey through American and Native American folklore that, like Altman’s McCabe,  has a distinctive voice in that most crowded of arenas.

Depp plays William Blake from Cleveland, travelling to the very edge of the frontier to work as an accountant in a factory in Machine. Finding his position already filled and being chased out by the factory owner (Robert Mitchum, in his last film roll. Jarmusch has EVERYONE’s number it seems.), Blake finds himself stranded, very much at the end of the line, with no money, no job and certainly no skills to help him in this new, harsh world. Somehow, things get worse, Blake is shot by, and then shoots and kills the factory owner’s son. Blake flees, collapses from hs injuries and is rescued by Nobody (Gary Farmer), an outcast Native American who proclaims him a “dead man” and the re-incarnation of the poet, William Blake. Nobody vows to help Blake return to his ancestral home in England. The factory owner, however, lets loose three vicious killers on Blake’s tail.

Blake and Nobody’s journey toward the sea is fraught with danger, from cross dressing trappers (Hi Iggy Pop) to a cannibalistic bounty hunter (Lance Henrikson). Blake dispatches them with varying degrees of luck and skill, gradually filling out the “Dead Man” roll assigned to him By Nobody. These vignettes mirror traditional scenes from countless westerns but forced through Jarmusch’s thick-framed glasses they take on a new, poetic form aided by a suitably eclectic soundtrack.

Neil Young’s grunting, spitting electric guitar score, played directly to the screen in most cases, jarr’s menancingly alongside the action, adding an unusual, lilting darkness to proceedings. The washed out black and white palette conjurs images of silent pictures as does the way many characters move and overly express themselves with grand gestures and wide open faces, none more so than Blake, who, in his funny checked suit and waddling walk certainly resembles Chaplain at the start.

In many ways Jarmusch has created a kind of anti-western, an evolutionary throwback of a western, where myth and folklore are entwined with the violent birth of America. A comedy that turns mysterious, a childlike picture full of extreme violence and imagery. A film full of contradictions, sideshows, wrong turns and ambiguity that adds up to a haunting vision of the transformation of man into murderer and the lasting scars that leaves on America.