Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I loved Down by Law, my first exposure to Jim Jarmusch; liked Stranger than Paradise and Mystery Train; and I've been glad to see Jarmusch trying to broaden the scope of his filmmaking over the last few years. None of his last few films have impressed me much, though. Coffee and Cigarettes had one truly engaging episode and otherwise meant little to me. Ghost Dog left me flat; the samurai exoticism didn't move me much, the characters seemed more like contrived eccentric sketches of people than real people, and some of Jarmusch's deliberately quirky bits (gangsters talking in deadpan about Indians, say) seemed distracting, annoying, and unnecessary -- seemingly moved by a desire to preserve his reputation as an oddball than by any filmic considerations. Dead Man, too, much as I liked things about it -- it's certainly his most praiseworthy film since Down by Law -- has its share of failed moments, and ends up being subverted by the directors' self-conscious need to maintain a "quirky" reputation -- I mean, Iggy Pop in a dress telling the story of Goldilocks? Such moments leave you questioning whether Jarmusch really knows what he's doing, whether he actually has the control and discipline and insight into his own work to carry out a film as ambitious as Dead Man is without badly fucking up at least 5% of it. I was starting to come to the conclusion that the size of his talent simply didn't match the size of his ambitions, and rather wishing he would attempt to make something a little smaller scale, where his skills lie; I was happy to hear Broken Flowers described as a sort of minimalist mood piece, and I was aware sitting down at the Granville Seven tonight that I wanted badly to like it. I've needed a film to play at a mainstream cinema lately that I could respect and enjoy; it seems like it's been years. I was worried that, even being aware that most of his last few films left me wanting quite a bit more, that my hopes would be too high, and ruin the movie for me.

Turns out I have cause to be relieved and grateful: I was moved by the film and am glad to be able to recommend it (which is all I'm trying to do, here; I have little to say about it, am just pointing to it and saying that you should see it; it's not a film that leaves you overwhelmed with the desire to analyze it, come the end). It still has a few unnecessarily Jarmuschian touches -- the constant invocation of the "Don Juan" theme at the beginning is clumsy and heavy-handed, as if Jarmusch doesn't trust his audience to pick up on such things unless he underlines, italicizes, and boldfaces them; and the animal communication sequence leaves you worried throughout that he'll subvert the mood he's managed to create, too -- its actually a wonder that he doesn't. (As an aside: Jessica Lange is still damned hot, too; how old can she possibly be? She was looking fifty about ten years ago -- and she still does; she just keeps getting sexier, somehow). There is little I can say about the film that will heighten the experience of watching it, and too much chance that I'll subtract from its pleasures by cataloguing them in advance, so that's all I'll say. It's an effective, sad, quiet, gentle, and finely observed film -- basically the only film playing in any commercial cinema in Vancouver that I imagine a thoughtful adult viewer might appreciate.

I think I'll just skip Gus van Sant's Last Days, you know? I saw Gerry. I saw Elephant. I even saw Nirvana in concert, back in the day. I just don't care. It's great that he's imitating Bela Tarr and I hope that it leads to Tarr getting more notice in North America, but my respect just isn't that easily won; after Finding Forrester, it offends me that van Sant has the ego to think he can win credibility for himself through imitation, no matter who he chooses to imitate. I'd respect him more, probably, if he stuck to making well-crafted, hollow commercial films for the masses; there is a point beyond which there is no turning back, and he reached it far too long ago to try to win back the respect of critics and cineastes. Besides, he doesn't really have a whole hell of a lot to say.

Tell me if I'm wrong.

PS: looks like Jessica Lange was born in 1949.

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