5 October 2014

Jarmusch Collection Blu-ray Review - Permanent Vacation (1980)

Soda Pictures
BD Release Date:
6th October 2014 (UK)
Rating: 18
Jim Jarmusch
Chris Parker, Leila Gastil, John Lurie,
Buy:Jim Jarmusch Box Set [Blu-ray]

Permanent Vacation is the debut film by Jim Jarmusch. It was made on a shoestring budget of around $15,000 after he dropped out of film school in New York City. It’s a fascinating film, if somewhat pretentious and amateurish: I’m sure Jarmusch himself wouldn’t disagree, and that’s part of its charm.

The film has the loosest “plot” of any of Jarmusch’s films, which is saying something. It’s about a New York New Waver called Allie (Chris Parker) who wanders aimlessly around the barren landscapes of late 70s New York City. He meets a series of random strange individuals though his travels and ponders his place in the world.

Permanent Vacation is a prime example of No Wave filmmaking. No Wave was a movement in the arts that came out of the New York punk scene, it’s most associated with music but it included different forms of visual art including filmmaking. It was a partly a response to the commercialization of punk and the labelling of more pop-orientated punk bands as “New Wave.” The music became increasingly more experimental, incorporating influences from Free Jazz and Avant-Garde music; Jarmusch himself was in the band The Del-Byzanteens, who are quite good.

The most surprising thing about Permanent Vacation, however, is how fully formed Jarmusch really is at such an early stage. It’s full of references to literature, music and film. There is whole scene dedicated to the protagonist reading excerpts from Comte de LautrĂ©amont’s Maldoror and in pure nihilistic fashion, he tells a friend he can have the book because he has no more use for it. He also goes to see a Nicholas Ray film and the concession girl is reading a copy of J.G. Ballard’s Crash. It has similarities to Bresson’s The Devil, Probably so much so that he picked that as the film to play along side it once at a retrospective. It is also full of the extremely deadpan humour that runs though all of Jarmusch’s films.

It’s flawed but it has enough charm, and the short running time makes it an intriguing watch. It’s great to see the development of one of directors who would become a leading light in the American Independent world of the 1980s and 1990s and who continues to be relevant to this day.

It has been restored onto Blu-Ray, but obviously it still looks rough around its edges due to the film’s budget. It also includes a fantastic documentary on Jim Jarmusch made for German TV around the time of the release of his next film, Stranger Than Paradise.

Ian Schultz

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