Tag Archives: Jim Jarmusch

XL Popcorn – Down By Law

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 875/1009Title: Down By Law
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1986
Country: USA

And now I close out another director on the list. Before starting this blog, I had never seen a Jim Jarmusch film and now I am on my third. After Stranger Than Paradise I was a bit reluctant to cross of his final film – and when this started I had that reluctance justified as it felt that Down By Law was going in a similar direction. Then Roberto Benigni made his first appearance on screen and things improved from there.

Down By Law is an interesting film because it feels like Jarmusch took the characters from three quite different films and put them together in a jail break movie. You have Tom Wait’s Zack who feels like he would have belonged in Stranger Than Paradise, Jack feels more like a character from a John Cassavetes film and then there is Roberto… who is from some sort of fish out of water comedy where the lead accidentally kills someone in self-defense.

There are two things in this film which are undeniable. First is the chemistry between the three leading actors, which is so evident when they are trapped in prison together and making conversation about not a lot. Then there is the beautiful slow shots of New Orleans and the Louisiana swamps which, in the crisp black and white of the film, look absolutely stunning. It probably made a better case for how interesting this area is to film than the full blown animation of The Princess and the Frog.

XL Popcorn – Stranger Than Paradise

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 670/1007
Title: Stranger Than Paradise
Directors: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1984
Country: USA

I really enjoyed Dead Man when I saw it two years ago whilst cradling my crippled wrist. There was something about this deadpan almost mumblecore take on a western that endeared me and made me chuckle. I hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that he had two other entries on this list, otherwise I would have probably started on them sooner.

And then I would have been disappointed.

Seriously, I think I am one of the very few people out there who actually disliked this film and just found it to be tedious. Sure, there is joy to be found in rough edges, that’s one of the reason that Crumb is such an interesting watch, but in Stranger Than Paradise there was way more roughness than was necessary.

What’s a real pity is that I was actually enjoying this film in the first act. The film starts with a girl called Eva coming to New York from Hungary and staying with her disinterested cousin. The entire act takes place over 10 days and Jarmusch is able to mine some weird comedy beats out of their interactions, which culminates in one hell of an ugly dress.

I really wish, therefore, that this film had ended with Eva moving to Cleveland. It would have been a short film, but it would have been well formed and a weird little deadpan oddity. Instead it just repeats the same beats numerous times and you get more and more aware at just how awful an actor John Lurie is.

Still, at least I’ll always have this scene that made me laugh out loud for some reason:

XL Popcorn – Ride Lonesome / Dead Man

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Ride Lonesome
Director: Budd Boetticher
Year: 1959
Country: USA

There sure are an innordinate number of westerns on the 1001 list. Should the number of westerns not change in the next update of the list, which it could, then I am right on track. I guess that this genre is far more important than I realised.

Clocking in at around 1 hour 10 minutes Ride Lonesome is one of the shortest feature films on the 1001 film list. What’s interesting is that despite how short this film is the outcome is surprisingly fully formed. The story is fairly simple, but there is more lying underneath.

In the end, it’s a story of redemption and revenge which could have ended up feeling a bit dull if it were not for the short running length. Compared to other westerns I have seen this certainly feels a lot more subdued.

I guess that the reason this film is on the list is to give an example of a Budd Boetticher western. It has made for an interesting change of pace compared to some of the overly machismo westerns that I have seen recently and at least it had a decent ending (unlike Red River... the more I think about that the more annoyed I become).

Talking about endings, the one in Ride Lonesome is extremely satisfying. That ending shot of a ‘hanging tree’ burning with vivid red flames is the perfect way to tie together the motives of all characters once they are all finally resolved or at least revealed to one another.

Title: Dead Man
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1995
Country: USA

What has happened to Johnny Depp’s career? I had forgotten just how good he could be in a movie and now it saddens me to think that now he makes films like Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger. Still, it is good to know there are films out there like Dead Man which prove the acting chops of Johnny Depp.

Watching Dead Man directly after Ride Lonesome has given me a great deal of perspective regarding the western genre. As I’ve mentioned before (I think when I was watching Little Big Man) I tend to prefer the revisionist style western over the more traditional. One reason being that the depictions of native Americans and women tends to make me feel more uncomfortable. I think that this film goes so beyond revisionist western that it comes out in a sub-genre of its own.

I have seen Dead Man described as one of many different sub-genres of western. Is it an “acid western”, “weird western” or is it a “psychedelic western” as suggested by the director? It’s hard to say really as all three seem to cross over into each other’s territories. Needless to say this is unlike any western film but I have ever seen.

One thing I do know is how well this film depicts native Americans when compared to the “wife trading savages” of Ride Lonesome. The worst people that we see are the white man with particular notice being paid to hired gun Cole Wilson who we see committing acts of cannibalism and stepping on a dead man’s head so hard that the skull cracks and the brains ooze out (yuck).

Also the people you see show up in this film is astonishing. Not only does it boast Robert Mitchum in his final movie role but also John Hurt, Alfred Molina, Iggy Pop and Gabriel Byrne. The real stars of this film, however, are Lance Hendrickson and Gary Farmer. The former as the bloodthirsty Cole Wilson and the latter as Nobody, the native American who helps Johnny Depp’s character out.

Another star of the show is the score written by rock legend Neil Young. His shredding electric guitar is as much of the character in this film as anyone else. It is what sets this western apart from any other that I have ever seen.

The biggest difference between Dead Man and most (traditional) westerns that I have seen is the choice of destination. Films like a Ride Lonesome, Red River and High Plains Drifter end with the idea of redemption, a debt paid or at least some sort of salvation. Here the destination is death. It’s highlighted really early on by the creepy train firemen that William Blake’s journey west will end in death. The bullet that he receives next was heart on his first night pretty much secures that prophecy and the rest of the film is his journey to “that place where the sea meets the sky”.

Despite this Dead Man doesn’t take itself that seriously. There were times when I found myself laughing out loud; usually at something said by William Blake or Nobody. It made for a good breaks in the tension.

It just goes to prove how far you can stretch the definition of western. Films like this keep the almost extinct genre alive, which can only be a good thing.

Progress: 560/1007