Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jarmusch, Jarmusch, Jarmusch

After watching and enjoying Broken Flowers, I decided to familiarize myself with some of Jim Jarmusch's other works. I'd seen Coffee and Cigarettes, but being that it was so disjointed and episodic, I imagined (almost entirely correctly) that it wasn't quite characteristic of this writer-director's oeuvre. I was right in the sense that Jarmusch's other movies are narrative tales that actually have beginnings, middles, and ends that cogently flow from one to the other. I was wrong, however, when it came to style and the choice of subject matter. Jarmusch's much-acclaimed earlier work Down by Law, while having an actual storyline, is much like Coffee and Cigarettes in its avoidance of the dramatic and its focus on the quotidian.

Down by Law tells the story of three men - Zack, Jack, and Roberto (played, respectively, by Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni) - who break out of a Louisiana prison together. Were it written by any other man, this movie would be a suspense thriller all about the hows and whens of the escape plot, as is the case in The Great Escape and Escape from Alcatraz, but, just as their escape is not featured in the title of the film, it isn't featured in the actual body of the work either. As Jarmusch explains in the extra features of the Criterion Collection DVD, instead of focusing on the action of the story, the plot centers in on the moments that happen between the action and the drama. Even when Zack and Jack fight each other in their cell before Roberto - or Bob, as he asks them to call him - arrives, the camera cuts immediately to the aftermath of the fight, showing them leaning against the bars, bruised and fatigued, yet still bored.

This different approach, in conjunction with the film's crisp and beautiful black and white photography, is very refreshing when viewed in the context of contemporary cinema's overwhelming glut of glitzy action/suspense movies (the oh-so-sexy Ocean's 11, for example) that rely far too strongly on clever plot twists and the clever plotting of clever characters. Down by a Law is a movie driven by and about its characters and, as a result, like in Coffee and Cigarettes, it's a whole lot of talk.

Sadly, when I watched this movie, talk was not entirely what I was in the mood for. I was impressed by the cinematography and I was almost equally impressed by the clever and erudite construction of the film (deconstructed with more enthusiasm than I can muster by Nicholas Rapold in Reverse Shot), but I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd have liked. I want to give this movie another chance, but my lukewarm reaction the first time around just goes to show that, no matter how good it is, sometimes you're in the mood for talk, and sometimes you're not.


Blogger A Sheltered Town said...

My stalker sent me Coffee and Cigarettes. I'm only like, half an hour in, it's just painful. I'm not a fan. Love the glasses, babe.

August 25, 2005 5:33 PM  
Blogger A Sheltered Town said...

I rented the first season of Six Feet Under tonight. I've been holding off on it but you convinced me. I'm in for a long haul, 6 dvds to watch.

August 26, 2005 8:43 PM  
Blogger red wine said...

yes, the glasses are nice... babe.

August 28, 2005 9:42 PM  

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