Posts Tagged ‘Permanent Vacation’

Jim JarmuschTo be honest, never once have I wondered how awesome it would be to stumble upon a Jim Jarmusch collection. You see, a blinding light shone through the weirdly well-lit corridors of Parsons Complex when my eyes caught sight of the Herzog collection. There were fairies and elves prancing everywhere, tossing chocolate-flavoured gummy bears and brightly coloured yo-yos around. In comparison, the Jim Jarmusch DVD was met with a less enthusiastic response. Not that it takes away anything from my regard for the man’s brilliance. Jarmusch certainly rivals Wes Anderson when it comes to infusing films with gloriously offbeat, warm ambience. It should also be said that both the casting and the music in his films are zimbly amazing (most of my friends are mals, it was bound to happen sometime). Hence it is with much delay and delirious coffee-stained nights that I give you the collected works of Jim Jarmusch.

Permanent Vacation: Shot on 16 MM film, Jarmusch’s debut is a weird little feature that follows the trail of Aloysius ‘Allie’ Parker as he walks around Manhattan to find something warm stumble upon anything vaguely comforting. We find out precious little about Allie and the city, which has decisively decided to alienate him. He’s free between the ears (not vacuous), reads French novels, smokes cigarettes, listens to jazz and drifts along without too much fuss. As for Manhattan, well, we discover that she’s into jazz but we already know that from those countless Woody Allen films, don’t we? We meet a few of Permanent Vacation’s characters, as well…gentle, sullen characters who’d sooner light up a cigarette than romance a moment. No surprise it is that nearly a quarter of a century later, he would write an entire film around Bill Murray.

stranger in paradiseStranger Than Paradise: With his 1984 sophomore film, Jarmusch had clearly started believing that musicians would make fine actors; a belief that would yield wonderful results a few years later. In Stranger Than Paradise, musicians John Lurie and Richard Edson are focal characters in all three parts of the film. Lurie, a jazz composer for Lounge Lizards, plays a nonchalant New York hipster (Willie) who is a paid a brief visit by his sixteen-year-old cousin (Eva) from Hungary. And there’s Edson, ex-drummer of alternative gurus Sonic Youth, who plays Willie’s sweet-natured friend (Eddie). Digressive fact: Edson also played Turturro’s brother in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. After a hilariously dramatic note of transition, the film takes us on Eddie and Willies’ journey to meet Eva in Cleveland and then on a heartbreaking road trip to Florida. I must say, the characters have been crafted with such fragility that the adventures they go through seem less tolerant towards them. If you’ve never watched a Jarmusch film, start with this.

down by lawDown By Law: Despite Bill Murray’s greatness that elevated Broken Flowers to level of cinema that would humble most people, Down By Law smugly remains as my favourite film of the collection thus far. In this charmingly twisted tale that takes place in New Orleans, three goofballs – Tom Waits (Zack), Roberto Benigni (Roberto), and John Lurie (Jack) – inadvertently start a prison break, flee into the nightmarish bayou and then wad through the damp Louisiana marshes to escape a lifetime of confinement. Mr Waits is seven shades of awesome as a local radio DJ whose love for booze lands him severe trouble. He looks like a crazed version of Lyle Lovett and talks with the same gnarly lisp that drove some of his finest music (Alice, Rain Dogs). Roberto Benigni is the Italian arty version of Jack Black. He does the one thing that he can do really well – act goofy and silly.

I wasn’t entirely convinced about Lurie’s character but there was too much love that got in the way of such cynicism. For instance, the cinematography and the music are some of the finest I have ever seen in an indie film. Haunting black-and-white shots of the swamp and New Orleans’ weeping nights set to the tunes of dirty jazz and gnarly, whiskey-soaked ballads? Why, thank you, kind sir.

Mystery Train: Jarmusch’s maiden tryst with colour is a typically wisecracking tale involving foreign tourists in the state Tennessee, looking for their very own Elvis Presley experience in some crappy hotel. The tourists – a teenaged couple from Japan, an Italian widow and a British criminal – all get more than they bargained for, but thanks to Jim Jarmusch’s daft strokes, we somehow feel that they were better off prior to spending the night in Memphis. Don’t ask me how; it’s just one of those things that you suspect the director of. Mystery Train marked the first time (a suspicion, once again) that the director riddled his films with stellar cameos performances to egg the story further into the fantasy territory. Funk and soul legend Rufus Thomas, the ungodly cool Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, vice chancellor of punk Joe Strummer, Steve friggin Buscemi make memorable appearances as Mystery Train’s most delightful characters.Night On Earth

Night On Earth: Like Wikipedia says, it “is a collection of five vignettes concerning the temporary bond formed between taxi driver and passenger in five different cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki.” The thing is I liked only one out of five vignettes. The mildly passable Winona Ryder and Cassavettes’ muse Gena Rowlands sink the LA episode into the sort of dozy conversational piece that I’d expect from some dude called Leyfu Pierre who thinks that a master’s degree in advanced cinema would immediately make his short film infinitely more intelligent than it actually is. The Roberto Benigniridden Rome episode sucks too; gone is the charm that briefly engulfed him in Down By Law. I think it’s high time that Benigni remade Adam Sandler’s Waterboy. The nocturnal anecdotes from New York and Paris hardly pass for a silver lining with its momentary glimpses of sadness and humour. Thank heavens for the Helsinki episode in which the greatness that is Matti Pellonpää (from the fantastic film Leningrad Cowboys Go America) elevates Night On Earth to what it was originally intended to be. Mildly discomforting and thoroughly enjoyable.

Dead Man: Already reviewed here.

Year Of The Horse: Listen, I love me some Neil Young and the Crazy Horse Band. I mean, Rust Never Sleeps is one of my all-time favourite live albums. I have high regards for Jarmsuch too; his only mistake till date (1997) was casting Winona Ryder in a short film. Having said all that, I must question the wisdom of men, mice, horses, musicians and one Jarmusch himself for having released this documentary about the band’s 1996 tour. The audio is really, really bad and the video quality – all 16 MM of it – is unsuitable for capturing the live ambience of explosive bands such as the Crazy Horse. Call me whatever, but I also expected the godfather of grunge to be more insightful.

Ghost Dog, The Way of the Samurai: Already reviewed here.

coffee and cigarettesCoffee And Cigarettes: I’ll admit that I bought this film (or whatever it is) a couple of years ago on the weight of all the talent (actors, comedians and musicians) featuring in it. Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Jack and Meg White, Bill Murray, RZA, GZA, Steve Buscemi, Steven Wright and a few magnificent others star in this series of black and white vignettes that all have coffee and cigarettes as common themes. While some of the vignettes in Coffee And Cigarettes tread dangerously close to the arty farty territory, a majority of them have enough off-kilter, almost nonsensical humour in them to make this an engaging 90 minutes. The inane conversations between Benigni (I don’t know what to do with this bloke) and Stephen Wright, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, Bill Murray and Wu Tang Clan’s finest are perfect examples of Jarmusch’s brilliant pseudo-insider, deadpan comedy. Sort of like a Jerry Lewis film; with the physical humour being replaced by absurdist dialogues. I’m talking about a really, really good Jerry Lewis film.

Broken FlowersBroken Flowers: Oh crazy old Bill Murray, how I choose to admire the expressionless ennui with which you play all those wonderful characters that directors like Jarmusch and Wes Anderson craft for you. It’s no secret that Bill Murray is my favourite actor like ohmygod ever. In Broken Flowers, he plays Don Johnston, loner and self-loather extraordinaire. A spectacularly detached man who once made a busload of money through computers and then lived without ever owning one. As quaintly funny as that sounds, it’s not what the film is about. As fate would have it, Don gets a pink letter out of the blue that informs him about a son that he never knew he had. Don gives it a serious thought for a few fleeting seconds and then almost reconciles that it would take nothing less than being hit by a tsunami wave littered with ninja piranhas to disturb him from his disenchanted slumber (ok he doesn’t actually say that). Thanks to his hilariously intrusive neighbour Winston (a wonderful performance by Jeffrey Wright), an immigrant from Ethiopian who obsesses about detective stories, Don is forced to go on this road trip to discover his son and his elusive mother. I must reiterate that Jeffrey Wright kills it; in fact Ebert brilliantly describes the character as a “go-getter from Ethiopia who supports a wife and five kids with three jobs, and still has time to surf the net as an amateur detective.”

There is about a million other things that I want to appreciate in this film (stunning Ethiopian jazz, daft one-liners, great performances by the actresses, a Tilda Swanton sighting, and so on), but I fear that I might not have the space to further elaborate on why Bill Murray is the man. In the final scene when the camera pans 360 degrees around Murray’s face, I realized that for the first time in the film, Don Johnston is going through a specific emotion; for those few seconds, I stared at his weary eyes only to realize something far more important. When life gives you lemonades, ask Billy Murray to make rum cocktails.

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