Focus On: Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch is one of America’s few independent directors who has never yielded to the temptations of Hollywood, despite working with some of the world’s greatest actors. His frequent use of black and white photography, dry humour and interest in marginal characters have made Jarmusch the epitome of cool. With his new film Broken Flowers (starring Bill Murray) due to be released late this year it is timely that his previous films have now been made available on DVD.

Permanent Vacation (1980) and Stranger Than Paradise (1984) establish Jarmusch’s droll minimalist style, which became a signature feature in Down By Law (1986). Starring Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni as three prisoners, the wonderful Down By Law is the best-packaged DVD with a second disk of comprehensive extras.

Jarmusch’s next two films feature vignettes happening simultaneously. Mystery Train (1989) depicts three different stories in a Memphis hotel while Night on Earth (1991) takes place in five different taxicabs around the world.

While Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) and Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) represent his most recent work it is the revisionist Western Dead Man (1995) that is Jarmusch’s most defining film. Dead Man is the spiritual and metaphorical journey of accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp) who, after being fatally shot, is guided through the American wilderness by Nobody (Gary Farmer), a Native American outcast. It is violent, absurd, lyrical, dreamlike and tender. A new 10th anniversary DVD release includes deleted scenes and a music video to some of the largely improvised music that Neil Young composed for the soundtrack. It is one of the few films made by a white person that Native Americans have heaped praise upon and Jarmusch’s greatest triumph to date.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 238, 2005

© Thomas Caldwell, 2005