Showing posts with label John Lurie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Lurie. Show all posts

5 October 2014

Jarmusch Collection Blu-ray Review - Down By Law (1986)

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Genre:
Drama, Comedy
Distributor:
Soda Pictures
BD Release Date:
6th October 2014 (UK)
Rating: 18
Director:
Jim Jarmusch
Cast:
Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni
Buy:Jim Jarmusch Box Set [Blu-ray]

Down by Law was Jim Jarmusch’s third film, his best and most popular. It was also recently re-released in the UK cinemas. Jarmusch’s most ambitious film to date, it marked the beginning of a long collaboration with the cinematographer Robby Müller. It’s an absurdist noir black comedy and remains the only film Jarmusch has used “American money” in it’s funding.

The story concerns three different men who are unknown to each other until they are thrown into jail together in New Orleans. Zack (Tom Waits) is a disk jockey, Jack (John Lurie) is a smalltime pimp, and both are innocent of the crimes they are imprisoned for. Their cellmate is Bob (Roberto Benigni), an Italian tourist who is imprisoned for manslaughter. They eventually hatch a plan to escape and end up in the swamps of the New Orleans Bayou.

Tom Waits, who was almost always a bit player, gets a co-lead here and you really get to see how good actor he can be. John Lurie is great as well and it’s a shame he hasn’t done much acting work since the 80s except some work on the TV show OZ, although this is partly down to illness. Benigni, however, steals the film: he gets all the biggest laughs, his character constantly misunderstands his cellmates to hilarious effect.

Robby Müller, one of the world’s best directors of photography from the 1970s to the early 2000s, shot Down By Law. He hasn’t shot a film in over 10 years, but his influence it still felt around the world. Down by Law contains some of Müller’s best work, the scenes in the Bayou are absolutely beautiful. The nearest comparison would be some of the scenes in Tarkovsky’s first film Ivan’s Childhood. He would end up working with Jarmusch on all his features up to and including Ghost Dog, with the exception of Night on Earth.

Almost 30 years after its release, Down By Law remains a high water mark of Independent cinema, and also of Jim Jarmusch’s career. It’s a surreal farcical trip and even on second and third viewings it still works its strange charm on you. It’s also full of great performances and a great soundtrack supplied by Tom Waits and John Lurie.

The film’s transfer onto Blu-Ray, from what I gather, comes from the same masters as the Criterion Blu-Ray. It looks the best I’ve ever seen, it’s crystal clear throughout but regains the right amount of film grain. The disc features a series of phone calls Jarmusch made to the cast for the original Criterion DVD which are funny and insightful regarding the film and their relationship.

★★★★★
Ian Schultz

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

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Genre;
Drama
Distributor:
Soda Pictures
BD Release Date:
6th October 2014 (UK)
Rating: 18
Director:
Jim Jarmusch
Cast:
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 Lautréamont’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.

★★★1/2
Ian Schultz