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STRANGE PARADISE: THE CINEMA OF JIM JARMUSCH

STRANGE PARADISE: THE CINEMA OF JIM JARMUSCH

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Perhaps you’ve never heard of Jim Jarmusch, or maybe you know some of his films, like GHOST DOG, or LIMITS OF CONTROL, but don’t know the man behind the movies. To a great deal of film fans though, Jarmusch is synonymous with American independent filmmaking and films that are stylish, hip and poetic in their own right. Having studied film and eventually becoming an assistant to the great American director, Nicholas Ray (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), it’s no wonder that Jarmusch’s films have the unique look and feel that they do. If there were such a  thing as American 80’s beat filmmaking, all of his early works, from STRANGER THAN PARADISE to MYSTERY TRAIN, would be the defining films of that genre. There is a certain coolness that Jarmusch captures on film, wether it’s from the costumes taken from a 1940’s bar on the lower east side or music by Tom Waits, Iggy Pop or RZA, there is a distinct hipness to his films that is almost tangible.

Over the next few weeks, TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto will feature Jarmusch’s films on the big screen. If you’re wondering how films from the 80’s can be relevant or important now, you will see how Jarmusch’s minimalist film style is responsible for a whole wave of independent filmmakers, his work having influenced the films of Quentin Tarantino and others. With this retrospective comes the idea of independent filmmaking, and what it means to be a filmmaker not backed by big studios, producers or the most evil of all film funds, nepotism. His films are without a doubt, completely divisive; some will enjoy DEAD MAN’s off beat psychedelic acid Western feel while others will dismiss it as a snooze-fest of the most unsatisfying nature. While some may claim that LOST IN TRANSLATION is responsible for reigning Bill Murray’s stoic comic career, others will have you know that BROKEN FLOWERS was actually written for Murray years before Sofia Coppola’s film was released. Whichever side of the fence you happen to fall, there is no denying the importance of Jarmusch’s films and the appreciation one must have for what he has done for the independent film world.

Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch launches at TIFF Bell Lightbox on July 26th, 2014.

Having trouble deciding which of the many brilliant films you’d like to see? Here at Black Sheep Reviews, we have wrangled up our top picks to make your choices a little easier.

 

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

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If you’re like most people of sound mind, you’ve probably sworn off vampire movies after a certain franchise with a glittery heart-throb singlehandedly ruined the whole genre for many a fan. But if there is only one vampire movie you see this year, make sure it’s Jarmusch’s absolutely stunning ONLY LOVER LEFT ALIVE. Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as Eve and Adam, two centuries old vampire lovers live separate lives in different parts of the world, but are intrinsically linked to one another. After Eve discovers that Adam has contemplated suicide and is going through a deep depression, the two lovers are reunited in Adam’s home in Detroit. Gorgeously shot, this is by far Jarmusch’s most accomplished, poetic and powerful film. The dialogue is typical Jarmusch, with long moments of silence broken by poignant monologues and the film also features an incredible soundtrack by his own band SQURL that adds something so perfect to the rock and roll visuals. This is Jarmusch’s most touching and romantic film and it will leave you feeling at once both melancholic and satisfied.

Screens August 16

STRANGER THAN PARADISE

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Suppose you were to take the look of Film Noir and mash it together with French New Wave Cinema, and add in an homage or two to the great Nicholas Ray, you would have Jarmusch’s first major film, STRANGER THAN PARADISE. It’s a gritty story told in three acts about a hip New Yorker named Willie (John Lurie), whose Hungarian cousin (Eszter Balint) comes to visit and ends up on the somewhat drab beaches of Florida with his best friend Eddie (ex Sonic Youth drummer, Richard Edson). Each scene fills the screen with an appreciable amount of New York dirt and sleaze without being overtly sexual, rude or offensive, yet still manages to be darkly humorous and bleak. What makes this influential indie film important is not only the narrative and techniques used by Jarmusch (each scene is a singular shot with little camera movement) but the wardrobe is almost timeless. With a mix of 1940’s pleated pants and brimmed hats, the characters also sport black Converse shoes, giving the movie a feeling that it very well could have been filmed this year. It is at times funny in its slow pace, but the humour is so dark that it’s almost past funny and into uncomfortable territory. STRANGER THAN PARADISE helped solidify Jarmusch in the American indie film world and was only a glimpse of what was to come.

Screens July 26

DOWN BY LAW

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In 1986, Jarmusch used an actor who was little known to American audiences by the name of Roberto Benigni (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL) in his follow up to STRANGER THAN PARADISE, DOWN BY LAW. Alongside Benigni, Jarmusch cast the incredibly talented musician, Tom Waits and once again John Lurie as three men who are each incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. After a rocky start, the three men eventually follow through on a plan to escape prison. DOWN BY LAW was shot by cinematographer, Robby Muller, who has worked with Jarmusch through much of his career, but was also responsible for the beauty of such films as DANCER IN THE DARK and BREAKING THE WAVES. The gritty Louisiana streets are filmed in beautiful black and white with slow moving camera movements that highlight the urban locals and the surrounding bayou’s, establishing the location as something dark and mysterious (especially at the end of the film).  Both Lurie and Waits are wonderful as anti-heroes whose lives are just as gritty as the streets, and Benigni adds just the perfect amount of his signature humour. Just like PARADISE, LAW is a visually stylish film, from the locations to the costumes, and the soundtrack is a perfect blend of jazz and blues.

Screens July 27

GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI

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Given Jarmusch’s body of work, his most surprising film is still GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI. Jarmusch had previously directed the big budget psychedelic Western, DEAD MAN starring Johnny Depp, and went on to direct a documentary about Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse, called YEAR OF THE HORSE. So naturally, a gangster Samurai film would have to come next. Starring Forrest Whitaker as the title character, this philosophical action film could almost be seen as a late 90’s ROADHOUSE (relax, I said almost), as it takes quotes from various books on the ways of the Samurai and deploys them across the screen. It also cuts in with clips from classic cartoons like Betty Boop, Felix the Cat and Woody the Woodpecker as a means of conveying metaphor throughout the narrative. Like many of Jarmusch’s films, it is heavy on the dialogue and character building and the cinematography is in line with his previous works with slow moving and still shots that fill the screen with the right amount of grit. Ghost Dog himself is seen as a sort of Grimm Reaper throughout the film, wearing all black with a black hoodie, unlike the urban gangs in the film that wear either all red or blue. GHOST DOG is both funny and a meditation on the inevitability of death as seen through the eyes of a warrior.

Screens August 3

For more information on Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch, and for tickets to the screenings, visit tiff.net.

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