MY 5 FAVORITE JARMUSCH FILMS:
1. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
-In the year of 1982 when Jim Jarmusch was 29-years-old, he wrote and directed a 30 minute short film entitled Stranger Than Paradise. It was later edited into his motion picture also called Stranger Than Paradise. Technically, Jarmusch's first feature film was Permanent Vacation in 1980 which starred all unknown actors including Chris Parker and Lelia Gastil. The experimental film was ultra low budget and revolved around a young man named Allie (Parker) who is oddly enough obsessed with Charlie Parker. He spends the day wandering around the streets of New York City and meeting various colorful characters along the way that begin to shape his life. The film is not at all up to the caliber of Jarmusch's future films, but you definitely saw some foreshadowing for some brilliance to follow. If you can get past the low budget, it's not half bad. Anyway, back to Stranger Than Paradise. The full length feature film was finally released in 1984 and was financed by Jarmusch's usual production company, Cinesthesia Productions. The film was shot in glorious black and white (as most of his films are) with excellent cinematography by Tom DiCillo (Coffee and Cigarettes, Permanent Vacation). The film centers on big time pre-slacker named Willie (Jarmusch veteran actor, John Lurie of the Lounge Lizards), who gets paid a visit from his Hungarian cousin, Eva (Eszter Balint). She spends several days with him and then moves to Cleveland to stay with her Aunt Lotte. A year passes by, and Willie and his friend, Eddie (Richard Edson), take a road trip to Cleveland to visit her. However, there are many bumps along the way. The film, in my eyes, was an absolute masterpiece. One of many masterpieces to follow. The rhythm of Jarmusch's writing is so cool and hip that it almost feels like jazz music. I would consider Jarmusch to be one of the most original filmmakers out there today. He makes us remember what true filmmaking is all about. Stranger Than Paradise is definitely considered Jarmusch's Mean Streets. It catapulted him into filmmaking stardom. Really launching his career and kick started his long on going collaboration with musician/actor John Lurie. John Lurie was never really much of an actor until Jarmusch threw him into this film and man, does he have quite the presence on screen! He sure can carry a film. Him and Jarmusch work almost as well as De Niro and Scorsese in my opinion. Don't be alarmed by the title of this film or think just because it's in black and white it will be very slow. Couldn't be further from the truth. This film is very entertaining but is also brilliant. This film also made me fall in love with Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You. Stranger Than Paradise influenced many filmmakers to go out and produce their own film on a tight budget. A practical "What the fuck? Just do it!" kind of attitude. I feel like Spike Lee may have waited longer to make She's Gotta Have It if it wasn't for this film. One of Jarmusch's all time best. A true classic.
2. Down By Law (1986)
-This is by far one of my all time favorite films. I remember when my friend, Pete, was raving to me about it (he's a huge Jarmusch fan), and I thought to myself, "Okay. I'll give it a try." I got it on my netflix and I was completely hooked onto Jarmusch from then on. It was this particular film that made me a official Jim Jarmusch fan. I truly think his work in the 80s was his strongest and rawest (much like Woody Allen, I think). Released on September 20th, 1986, this film revolved around three very different men who are held up in a Louisiana prison and start to form an unlikely bond. Eventually leading to them escaping the prison and making a run for it in what becomes an unpredictable journey of friendship. The three prisoners included Jarmusch veterans John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, and of course the man with the golden voice, Tom Waits. The film doesn't drag at all. As soon as it opens, it goes right to the characters and throws them together right away. We are immediately introduced to each character and how they come about getting thrown in prison. Except for Roberto's character, simply named... Roberto, who is brought into the cell once Lurie and Waits are already in there. His confession scene on why he was in imprisoned is one of the finest pieces of acting on Benigni's part. The chemistry the three of them have is incredible. Real dialogue, real situations, real characters. If you are a Jarmusch fan and have not yet seen this film, then do yourself a favor and buy it, rent it, or steal it... and WATCH IT! You will not be disappointed. I consider this Jarmusch's true masterpiece. Finest piece of work.
3. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
-A pet project Jarmusch started to create dating all the way back in 1986 if you could believe it. A lovely collection of short stories told in different diners, restaurants, office lobbies, that all have coffee and cigarettes in common. He directed the first segment, Strange to Meet You, with Jarmusch veteran, Roberto Benigni and the hilarious Steven Wright. Which centered on a couple of random guys sharing coffee and cigarettes in a sketchy diner and Wright tells Roberto that he has to go to the dentist but is absolutely dreading it. Roberto offers to take his place in the dentist's chair and goes to the dentist instead. It's a lot more funny than it may sound. The second segment Jarmusch shot was three years later in 1989 which was called Twins which starred Spike Lee's younger siblings, Joie Lee and Cinque Lee, as identical twins who spend the afternoon bickering about whose idea it was to come to Memphis and which cigarette tastes fresher. Steve Buscemi plays the waiter who sheds some light on their little conversation and their health choices. And then finally in 1990, we were introduced to Somewhere in California with Iggy Pop and one my favorite musicians (as well as another Jarmusch veteran, Tom Waits) playing themselves and discuss random acts of life. The segment was of my favorites among the multiple segments in this film. Finally in 2003, Jarmusch scraped up all three of the past segments and shot a bunch of new shorts as well and combined all of them together to make one whole feature film. It was sheer success. Shot all in black and white. Every single one of the vignettes is a touching tale and keeps you engaged from beginning to end. Practically every indy actor is able to give their two cents in this film. Including Cate Blanchett (in a delightful double role), Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Steve Buscemi, Roberto Benigni, Isaach De Bankole, etc. The list goes on of acting geniuses. What I truly loved about this film is how it's all about the acting and the idea. Such a simple film to put together and it goes to show you that even in tiny settings with a light budget and a bunch of talented actors, you can make a hell of a film. Be sure to not confuse this film with Paul Thomas Anderson's short film from 1993 called Cigarettes & Coffee. They have absolutely no connection whatsoever. I kid you not, Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes is a indy cult classic and a surefire home run. It will make you burst out laughing as well as shed tears before the picture is finished.
4. Night on Earth (1991)
-A, what I think, is a Jim Jarmusch classic that unfortunately most people to not know of. Night on Earth was released in the New York Film Festival in 1992 and is yet another collection of short stories. This time centering on taxi cabs and their fares. We follow five cab drivers in five different parts of the world as well as their fascinating passengers. Jarmusch takes us through New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and we end with Helsinki. What's really done well in this film is that each time we enter a new story, we zoom in on a close up of the globe and it spins around at full speed and then it stops abruptly. Wherever it stops is the next part of the world we will be taken into. It is quite cool how it is done. We open up with the story in Los Angeles where Winona Ryder is the cab driver who is also an aspiring mechanic. A major tom boy if you will. Wearing filthy clothes, chewing gum, sucking down cigarette after cigarette. Gena Rowlands enters the cab from the airport. Now Rowlands is a big time talent agent from Los Angeles and is bickering back and forth with a producer on her cell, while she is in the cab, about trying to find the perfect actress for this film she's working on. Eventually Rowlands, as she gets to know Ryder's character more and more, offers her the chance to play the character. Ryder rejects the offer and says she enjoys what she does and wants to run her own auto shop one day. What I loved about this scenario is that it goes to show you that not everybody wants to be a movie star and have tons of fame and fortune. Some people just want to be normal people with a normal life. It really was cool to watch. Next up we are taken into the Big Apple where an immigrant cab driver named Helmut Grokenberger (played by the always incredible Armin Mueller-Stahl). By the way, in regards to Stahl, if you haven't seen Scott Hicks' biographic film on David Helfgott, Shine, WATCH IT IMMEDIATELY! Stahl is terrific as Helfgott's father, Peter. Anyway, Helmut is not a very good driver in the American cab. He eventually passes by YoYo (Giancarlo Esposito), who has been trying to flag down a cab for quite sometime with no luck. When YoYo discovers Helmut can barely speak English or drive, he is about to get out of the cab, but Helmut begs him to stay repeating to him, "I need this. This is very important for me to do this." YoYo gives in and starts to direct Helmut all the way to Brooklyn! From there on they form an unlikely bond together that you would never expect from the beginning. YoYo is a wise cracking African-American. Helmut is a soft spoken German. But throughout this cab ride, they create this very beautiful friendship. Next we are thrown into Paris with the cab driver being the always fantastic Jarmusch veteran, Isaach De Bankole. Who, after throwing out a bunch of obnoxious business men from his cab for making jokes at Isaach's expense, he picks up a mysterious blind French woman with a real bad chip on her shoulder, who in some ways, sees more than he can. What proceeds is a very fiery and philisophical discussion on life and blindness. It starts off rather slow but picks up immediately after she gets into the cab. The bickering they have back and forth is absolutely brilliant. And the chemistry is fantastic. We then are in Rome with the ever so crazy and hilarious Roberto Benigni as the nutty cab driver who picks up an ailing man who he literally talks to death. He then has to haul ass to find a place to leave his body. It is absolutely hysterical and is in non stop motion. Benigni is perfectly cast as this crazy cab driver who does nothing but talk, talk, talk. It was surely one of my favorite segments in this picture. Finally we are shifted into a much deeper segment into Helsinki. It revolves around a soft spoken cab driver who picks up four drunk guys. One of them is an industrial worker who has just been laid off and is passed out. While his friends bicker about the bleakness of life and death. Having the cabbie throw in his two cents as well. The segment is very deep and dark, but is a brilliant way to wrap up the film. What I loved about this picture is that Jarmusch does an excellent job portraying each city and the culture within it. In a way, all these stories are all in the same place in the world. A little cab.
5. Mystery Train (1989)
-This was, in fact, the final film of Jim Jarmusch that I saw, which was recently, considering it was just released on DVD. I was blown away on how fascinating and original it was. Now when I found out this was another multiple story line picture, I was a wee bit hesitant. Then I slapped myself across the face (not literally) and realized to myself, "Hey, the other two multiple story line Jarmusch films were wonderful. So why the hell wouldn't this one be?!" And it sure was. It revolves around three stories that all take place in Memphis and are connected with the spirit of the King of Rock 'N Roll himself... Elvis Presley. The first story being a Japanese couple who are obsessed with Elvis and are dying to see Graceland (even though the male in the couple prefers Carl Perkins). They stay at the Memphis Arcade Hotel. She is very cheery and he is very morbid. But somehow they never stop loving each other. This story unfolds two more stories in the most bizarre and unique fashion. Consisting of a little crime and a little dark humor. All taking place in and around the legendary Arcade Hotel in Memphis. What I loved about this film is that Jarmusch takes the most cliche things we know from most typical American films and flips them on their ass. A couple obsessed with 1950s America and Elvis Presley? Extremely common, no? A Japanese couple obsessed with Elvis? Not so common. Jarmusch takes his originality to a whole new level with this picture and it's a shame it took so long for it to be released on DVD, but I am sure glad it finally did because everyone you should immediately rent this film. The music is excellent, the acting is superb, and the characters make the film. This one may be a rather unknown film in Jarmusch's resume, but is surely not a weak film. Has something for everyone.
FILMBOY - Chris von Hoffmann
"Cinema can fill in the empty spaces of your life and loneliness." - Pedro Almodovar