Friday, July 2, 2010

Ranked & Revisited: Jim Jarmusch



On the occasion of Mystery Train getting the well deserved Blu-Ray treatment from the saintly folks at Criterion (and finally with appropriate English subtitles that had previously left many non-Japanese speakers in the lurk), I felt this was as good a time as any to evaluate the career of Jim Jarmusch, New York's preeminent ambassador of all things cool. And like Orson Welles, who I spotlighted in this series last month, Jarmusch has a small but influential catalogue of feature length films to his name, none of which I feel could or should be written off.

Even as far back as his days as a struggling Manhattan musician in such no-wave associated acts as Dark Day and the Del-Byzanteens, Jarmusch quickly established himself as perhaps America's quintessential outsider of the arts. After his no-budget 1980 debut Permanent Vacation-- which, in all honesty is more of a time-capsule than a film, but with enough stylistic and humorous hints at what was to come to classify as perhaps his most charming effort-- things got very serious for the suddenly hip young director. Beginning with 1984s landmark Stranger Than Paradise, Jarmusch embarked on a run of films in the late 80s and early 90s which would help transform the independent film landscape in America.

Bridging the gap between your Cassavetes', Lynch's and Warhol's in the 70s and your Soderbergh's, Tarantino's and Linklater's in the late-80s/early-90s, Jarmusch set a style which is still openly aped to far inferior effect in many modern American indie products. It's an arch, very European style of storytelling, and one that's been appropriated for so long that it can be easy to forget the innocence and unpretentious nature of it's initial employment. And even as he has recently flirted with more mainstream (or at least what we can now classify as indie-mainstream) filmmaking with such new millennium works as Broken Flowers and Ghost Dog, he has retained his indelible and instantly recognizable aesthetic, uncompromising in his faith in the audience's ability to adapt to his many moral and thematic tangents.

Of course, Jarmusch has never been the most prolific of auteurs-- although in the case of his last film, 2009s almost universally reviled The Limits of Control, that may be for the best, since I don't think the full impact of that film will be felt for years to come-- but that's all the more reason to savor what we now have at our disposal. And that is ten films with enough depth, humor and baffling incongruities to last a lifetime. As Allie says in Permanent Vacation, we just want that vibrating, bugged-out sound, and Jarmusch delivers some variation on that theme each time out.

01. Dead Man (1995)
02. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
03. Down By Law (1986)
04. Mystery Train (1989)
05. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000)
06. Night on Earth (1991)
07. The Limits of Control (2009)
08. Broken Flowers (2005)
09. Coffee & Cigarettes (2003)
10. Permanent Vacation (1980)

Previous "Ranked & Revisited" entries:

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