(adapted from an email to Neil)

Yesterday, Katy and I went out to a VIP opening of a guitar-based art exhibit cosponsored by my company. I brushed against St. Vincent’s guitar, and the one Jack White made in that documentary and one Cobain played on the In Utero tour, and a bunch of musicians and guitar-company bigwigs who I didn’t recognize so tomorrow I’ll ask Steve who they all were.

Anyways, Jarmusch has a new movie called The Dead Don’t Die, which is a star-studded zombie comedy three weeks into its three-week run in Atlanta, so we recruited everyone we know to go see it after the museum thing, and lemme tell ya, it’s not a good movie by any criteria, but it’s surely interesting. Casting Tilda Swinton to play a sword-wielding mortician from outer space (via Scotland) is interesting, as are all the third-wall-breaking references to the movie’s script and theme song and other films the cast members have starred in, and the decision to kill all the main characters, and the constant swipes at hipsters and materialism – none of it works, but it’s interesting. Afterwards, Katy said I’ve now picked two movies in a row which sucked, but at least the Jarmusch movie sucks in unique new ways. His odd, slow pacing and his tendency to comically overemphasize things worked for the vampire movie and his very dry comedies, but fights against the wacky mayhem here.

It’s extremely typical in a zombie movie to make a joking George Romero reference, so someone is driving the same model car as in Night of the Living Dead (and the metaphorical comparison of zombies to shopping-mall consumers is swiped from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), and it’s typical in any self-aware graveyard-set auteur comedy to reference other filmmakers via gravestones, so Zombie Iggy Pop crawls out of a grave marked Samuel Fuller… and the references get more obscure from there… Jarmusch names his town after the one from Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels

Then there’s a scene near the end where Caleb Landry Jones and Danny Glover have barricaded themselves inside a hardware store. It may have been meta-humor, when the zombies finally breach the hardware store, that Jones and Glover, surrounded by weapons, continue their laconic conversation instead of properly defending themselves, and are easily killed by the consumerist swarm. But earlier, they’ve killed a couple of invading zombies whom they recognize… “That’s Dallas and Travis Good… the Good Family… those two brothers were great guitarists… it’s said they were born with guitars in their hands,” they say to each other robotically. I get the Romero and Fuller references, and the Trump joke, and Star Wars stuff, and the ultra-hipster Zappa quote, but why this extended Sadies plug?

And today, pondering all the bizarre choices made in that movie, I realized Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL and the Sadies played the same Hanukkah show in 2017.

Just another Hanukkah show that changed culture forever.

A lovely little movie, spanning a week in the life of Paterson bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver), who lives with quirky, fashionable Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Chicken With Plums, Shirin) and a bulldog (deserved Palm Dog winner).

William Harper (The Good Place) stalking Chasten Harmon:

Paterson with poetry whisperer Masatoshi Nagase (Maiku Hama himself):

“He was a weaver… an anarchist weaver” – the Moonrise Kingdom kids discuss historical figures from Paterson NJ:

Richard Porton:

Paterson is now known to New Jerseyans, if they know anything about it at all, as a poor city, avoided by tourists and locals alike and plagued by gang warfare. Jarmusch’s non-naturalistic conception of Paterson … is instead a cinephilic haven with a cozy repertory cinema that enables the happy couple to attend a screening of Erle C. Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls … Despite a few minor skirmishes in the bar among soused patrons, Paterson and Laura’s soulful English bulldog named Marvin is responsible for the film’s only bona fide act of violence. Marvin’s almost unforgivable act of aggression suffuses the film with a genuine melancholy … Unlike Loach, with his penchant for didactic political fables, Jarmusch favours a more intimate critique of everyday life, as well as savouring the utopian possibilities that might emerge if we reject the inanities of our consumer society and, say, combine bus driving with poetry.

B. Ebiri:

There are many moments that, in other films, could presage the beginning of something more dramatic: a shouting match; an automotive failure; a random, puzzling encounter or two. But the film keeps its even keel. So maybe there are two sides to Jarmusch’s manifesto: Finding joy and beauty in the everyday is not just an aesthetic priority, he seems to suggest, but an existential imperative for the uneasy soul.

Watched for Cannes Month – of the movies I wanted to watch from last year’s fest, I’ve already seen 13, missed 7… 4 are opening soon, and 12 have dropped off the face of the earth (I don’t understand how film distribution works).

Kind of a dark movie, as Depp moves west towards nothing good, becoming a killer of white men before/after being killed by one. But it’s also possibly Jarmusch’s funniest and most beautiful movie, with great music.

Nobody: Gary Farmer (how did I miss him in Adaptation?)

Thel: Mili Avital, whose film career didn’t take off after Stargate

This was possibly Robert Mitchum’s final film:

Two Marshalls named Lee and Marvin:

The Kid: Eugene Byrd, a regular on Bones
Conway: Michael Wincott of Alien Resurrection and Basquiat

Benmont Tench (at right): Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol

Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in The Doors. This movie has two Andy Warhols!

Whahappan:

If Jarmusch set out to film the coolest vampire movie ever made, he may have succeeded. It helps that it’s about stuff like immortality and eternal love without speaking philosophically about those things, just making wisecracks around the edge of the topics. It does speak directly to human society’s tendency to destroy itself, though.

Tilda Swinton and Loki play the lead couple, with Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska as Tilda’s unwelcome sister, who kills Loki’s only human kinda-friend, Anton “Charlie Bartlett” Yelchin. There’s also old family friend John Hurt, and briefly, blood-supplying doctor Jeffrey Wright, plus a Lebanese singer and an indie rock band. For a couple who’ve lived so long, they don’t seem to have a very reliable blood supply, so when John Hurt dies drinking diseased blood, the others slump around looking hopeless before finding a young couple to pounce on.

A. Tracy picks the film apart in Cinema Scope and argues that it didn’t live up to his potential. I see his point and it’s fair criticism (not too sure about his attack on The Limits of Control though), but I found very much to enjoy in the movie. It helps that the music was on my wavelength, from the introductory slowed-down cover of Funnel of Love to the score by Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem which I played daily for my first couple weeks at work.

Tracy:

As good old George A. Romero’s use of [zombies] for a leftist critique of rampaging capitalism and middle-class apathy has evolved, in this fast-zombie era, into a stealth right-wing vision of the revolt of the underclass hordes, the less overtly political vampire genre has more and more made vampirism a marker of cultural elitism . . . This, of course, is the central—and, conceptually if not in execution, very funny—joke of Only Lovers’ premise: vampires as the ultimate in world-weary hipsters, immortality granting them the ability to quite literally be there for and have seen everything before you did.

On one, very prominent, level, this is what Only Lovers boils down to: a lament by the culturally and cultishly cool about the injustices visited upon the great (themselves included, perhaps) at the hands of the philistine “zombies” who have snuffed out the brightest lights of their culture while poisoning the planet.

“You’re bleeding all over the place, but you never die.”

Watched this directly after That Day, in which a semi-insane man stabs lots of people, often with little reaction by his companion. Same exact thing happens here, making this movie seem like a retread of the one he made thirteen years later.

In foreground: a knife sticking out of Austin:

Ruiz movies are easily distinguishable from his Euro drama contemporaries such as Oliveira or Chabrol though his distinctive use of deep-focus shots, the stagier-than-usual dialogue, and the nothing making any dramatic sense at all. In this one a crazy street dweller named Austin (Michael Kirby, who showed up in a couple Woody Allen movies and The Atrocity Exhibition) enjoys stabbing people and seems to be searching for his son. But when college student Israel helps the guy out and tracks down the son, the man is cagey about whether Austin is his dad. Then that plot thread is dropped so Austin can go about stabbing more people and making Israel confused. There is some talk about God’s will, and lots of shoes. I think all the shoes mean something.

Or maybe not… here are some of the plot points I’ve written down:

– Jim Jarmusch plays a hooded miscreant, bangs Israel’s head against a wall, surprisingly threatening given that he is Jim Jarmusch.

– Some guy who is in love with Amelia holds them all hostage.

– They are at the beach digging a hole looking for Austin and people keep bringing them sandwiches.

– Swiss guy shoots Israel as he’s trying to kiss the girl who claims she killed her husband.

Thug Jarmusch:

It was an amusing movie, but since nothing seems connected by a sensible story, it’s not very memorable. IMDB says it was shot 16mm, so the 4:3 picture I’ve got on VHS may be just fine. I was excited at first about the soundtrack by John Zorn, one of his first, but I didn’t notice it much once the talking started.

Rosenbaum: “In effect, New York’s downtown punk coalition meets Ruiz’s dreamy doodling, and a certain amount of querulousness on both sides grows out of the brief encounter.” The Times loved it, called it a “slight, gleeful work” and noted that “many people get killed but few stay dead.”

Barbet Schroeder gets killed in the first scene:

Ruiz, of course, explains it better than anybody:

I began to watch television in order to study the iconography of American TV. Then I started watching Mexican soap operas on the cable channels. One day after watching two or three soap operas, I decided to write something using the rhythms of soap operas about some experiences I had many years ago while living in New York. I tried to use the dialogue of soap operas as a kind of music.

“This is my story, or, part of it.”

Yes, there’s a narrator, and it’s in color – two unexpected things from a Jarmusch film. Follows Allie (Chris Parker) for a few days as he bums around New York meeting a few characters and ultimately decides to leave. A practice run for Stranger Than Paradise, with Jarmusch exhibiting plenty of his spare urban cinematography.

Leila:

Allie lives with Leila, but will quietly leave her at the end. At least she’s forewarned, as he tells her his “born on a train” philosophy. Allie meets crazed Vietnam vet Richard Boes (he had small parts in JJ’s next five films), visits his mentally ailing mother in a hospital, spies on a woman being vocal behind her apartment, converses with Frankie Faison (one of the three curbside shit-talkers in Do The Right Thing) at a theater playing an anachronistic Nick Ray film, then steals a car from a clueless woman (my favorite scene) and fences it.

Allie with mother:

Frankie:

He ends up at the pier, about to flee to Paris for a change of scenery. First he runs into another disaffected young man, a Parisian who fled for New York – a cheerful example of Jarmusch’s dry sense of humor.

I don’t know for sure that this is Sara Driver below, since two women are credited as “nurse.” She worked on most of Jarmusch’s movies, pulling two titles (production manager and assistant director) on this one. Funny enough, Driver was in the Times the day after I watched this, since a quality print of her long-lost first film You Are Not I was just discovered in Tangier.

Jarmusch, from 1980-81 interviews:

The story was inspired by how Chris actually lives his life … About half the things that happen to him in the film actually occurred to him, and the other half I made up for him. I thought up situations and placed him in them. … It’s more about accidental connections that move the audience than about dramatic action.

The question is how to treat social problems. A lot of people criticize my film politically; they say it’s an art film, it’s harmless, and does not take a clear stand. But whenever I watch a film – even if I almost completely agree with its political aims – it will still lose my interest as soon as I notice that the conclusions are self-evident, because then there is nothing left to discover.

The Auteur Completion Project rolls on. I never knew how to see Permanent Vacation until Criterion put it out a few years ago, and now that I’ve finally watched it, I might as well also finally see this Neil Young/Crazy Horse doc that I bought a decade ago. I have a weird attraction to buying concert DVDs and a weird aversion to watching them. Anyway, now I’ve seen every Jim Jarmusch film that I know of, and I feel good about that. Now to move to New York and see them all on 35mm instead of DVD.

Jim and Neil on the bus:

As far as behind-the-scenes musician docs go, this one is top-notch, not for any particular visual superiority (in fact, it was purposely shot on cheap film and video cameras) but because it lets the songs play out in full – even the long jammy ones – without impatiently cutting to some famous person telling us how great Crazy Horse is. If there’s anyone who can be counted on for patience, it’s Jarmusch.

Opening titles: we hear a nice Tom Waits song (the soundtrack is great overall) and see “JVC PRESENTS.” Didn’t JVC used to make blank tapes? The kind that weren’t even as good as Maxell?

Five segments in five cities. Has cute parts, and I guess it’s part of the greater Jarmusch body of work or whatever, but also kinda feels like something that could’ve safely stayed in 1991 (or maybe ’93; it was ahead of its time). What’s funny is that it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that should get easily dated (except through the usual – fashions, cars, mobile phones – only period pieces are immune to those) but it has this early 90’s aura about it, like Smoke or a Hal Hartley movie, which I don’t see in Dead Man or Down By Law or Mystery Train. Maybe it’s just Winona Ryder. Anyway this remains my least favorite Jarmusch picture, though I did enjoy it overall. If you could break it up Coffee & Cigarettes-style, it’d be nice to lead from New York straight into Helsinki, and maybe add Rome every third or fourth viewing.

LA: Winona Ryder is a midget phonebook-sitting wannabe-mechanic driving fancypants cellphone-calling casting agent Gena Rowlands home from the airport. Gena’s client is looking for a tough young girl, an unknown, so predictably she propositions Winona, who turns Gena down. Jim says it’s the first movie Gena agreed to do after John Cassavetes died. I never made it past this segment when I first tried to watch Night On Earth a decade ago… pixie Winona is too hard to take as a street tough.

NY: East German Armin Mueller-Stahl (same year he did Soderbergh’s Kafka) is new to New York and cab driving, so passenger Giancarlo Esposito takes over, picking up sister-in-law Rosie Perez for a miniature Do The Right Thing reunion, wide-eyed Armin taking it all in.

Paris: Isaach De Bankolé (stolen from Claire Denis) kicks out some diplomats, picks up a blind girl (Beatrice Dalle, star of Time of the Wolf, also a Claire Denis regular) and asks her a bunch of dunderheaded questions.

Rome: Roberto Benigni picks up a priest, drives like a madman (but there’s no traffic so it’s cool) visits a couple transvestites, and tells horribly perverted stories until the priest dies after dropping his meds on the floor and Roberto quietly unloads him on a park bench.

Helsinki: Cabbie picks up three guys from a hard night on the town. Of course all four of them have been in Kaurismaki films (one of the passengers played Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business. They tell their drunk friend’s hard luck story and the cabbie replies with his own hard luck story. Way to end your movie on a dead baby tale there, Jim.

Nice color cinematography by Frederick Elmes (a Lynch regular who later shot Broken Flowers) – not seen here cuz it was a rental and I forgot to get screen shots.

Unfortunately, I’d already heard that Isaach is a hitman. So when he has a quizzical conversation (opening with “You don’t speak Spanish, right?” “No.”) is given a matchbox with a coded message on it then flies to Madrid, I knew this was the first step in his assignment to kill someone. Then this happens again, and again, a train ride, and again and again, a guitar changes hands, and again and again before reaching his assignment. Along the way I forgot the comparisons I’d read (Dead Man, Le Samourai and Point Blank) and let my mind synch with the rhythm of the film, occasionally wondering if Isaach gets enough to eat or if he has taken a shower. The main interruption/alteration is the naked girl who lives with him for three days, even sleeping at his side while he remains fully clothed. Her presence (and subsequent death and imagined reappearance), the repetition of story elements, the paintings and music, black helicopters and abductions, the foreboding background score (by Boris) and the continual spoken and written phrases about life being meaningless began to build until, during a flamenco dancing scene, I wondered if this all wasn’t some kind of Lynchian nightmare. Maybe it’s Dead Man taken a step further; Isaach is dead, having some kind of hallucination (peyote is mentioned in dialogue), reliving the day-to-day life of his profession and of Jarmusch’s profession: the broken flowers on the street, pigeons on the rooftop. But then he reaches the end of his journey, finds a powerful American in a bunker, gets himself inside (the movie’s biggest joke: after all that workaday buildup it doesn’t show us how he gets inside – “I used my imagination”), strangles him, escapes, changes out of the suit and re-enters the world.

The other day I thought about telling Katy that Jarmusch is a feminist in order to get her to watch the movie with me, but I couldn’t come up with any evidence for that… in fact, all I could think of was evidence against. The only woman in Dead Man is a dead prostitute… the only one in Ghost Dog is a troublesome slut who indirectly causes the hero’s death… and I think the title of Broken Flowers refers to Murray’s damaged ex-girlfriends, who get progressively more depressing as the movie progresses. So I thought about that during this movie, figuring the very presence of Tilda Swinton should change things, but then there’s the nude girl, and Tilda is cool but gets kidnapped, which leaves the driver and a bunch of men.

A day later I’m more forgiving. It’s hard to fault any movie for artistic indulgence when you’re thrilling to the latest Takashi Miike mind-fuck. The civilized, art-loving europeans vs. shadowy, violent americans plot isn’t subtle but the movie is also too pleasurable to write off.

Isaach De Bankolé is a wonder to behold. The guy is an obvious movie star, and watching his impassive face for two hours is no problem at all. I admit I was excited that the ice cream man in Ghost Dog is starring in a film, but he was better in this role than I could’ve imagined. Black guy speaking French at an airport in the first scene was Alex Descas, a Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas regular. Girl on the train was Youki Kudoh, one of the Japanese leads in Mystery Train. Everyone else I was either already familiar with (white-wigged Tilda, foul-mouthed Bill Murray, guitar bearer John Hurt, guitar appreciator and inexpert spy Gael Garcia Bernal) or I’ve at least seen before and don’t recognize, like the naked girl was in Cider House Rules a decade ago but nobody can be expected to remember that.

When Isaach is given a new assignment, he’ll go to the art museum and study an appropriate painting. So the instruction “wait for the violin” had him studying a painting featuring a violin, etc. At the end he’s given a black piece of paper and no instructions so he visits the museum and studies an artwork featuring a large white sheet, maybe to clear his mind and ease himself out of his mission.

Kaurismäki’s La vie de bohème is pointedly mentioned. Anything in this movie that is mentioned is done so pointedly. I misunderstood the constant pointed warning “he who tries to be bigger than all the others should go to the cemetery to understand a little bit better what life is: a handful of dust” to be directed at Isaach, but they were talking about Murray