Jarmusch. He’s an auteur with 5 films in the top 500, a film as sublime as Ghost Dog as his 9th best, and certainly a distinct style. I’ll get to it more below in the style section but he’s one of the few auteurs who is here, first and foremost, because of his structural formal mastery. He is a supreme editor (long ellipsis or dissolves) and can make beautiful films (Dead Man, The Limits of Control) but it’s the repetition, structure, numbering and rhythm here that make up the essence of the case for Jarmusch.

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a stunner from Down by Law

Best film:  Dead Man

  • Hypnotic masterpiece – Jarmusch’s greatest achievement
  • Goes back to black and white photography after two consecutive color films- he’s 3/3 even through 6 films at the time of Dead Man
  • This is his first narrative structure since Permanent Vacation that isn’t broken into distinct sections by region—in Stranger Than Paradise it’s NJ/Cleveland/Florida, then Down by Law it’s New Orleans/prison/escape and of course the 5 separate cities in Night on Earth
  • Easily his most beautiful film visually from a photographic standpoint at this point in his career- only The Limits of Control (2009) would rival it (though Down by Law has some great sequences).
  • The final film performance by Robert Mitchum (couple of great funny scenes)
  • Name “William Blake”- and the poetry is referenced throughout – again Ebert called Jarmusch a poet—Paterson would be about an everyman poet
  • Robby Muller is the DP again- stunning work- this is at the level or near of Kings of the Road which is Wenders’ most beautiful film
  • Neil Young’s achievement here with the music is incalculable—again we have a nod at Wim Wenders (clearly an influence on Jarmusch) with the Ry Cooder score for Paris, Texas– minimal, haunting work by Young
  • journey film— but literal, existential, spiritually—Apocalypse NowPierrot le Fou from Godard
  • Again with Jarmusch the editing is crucial—he fades to black between each scene like he does with Stranger Than Paradise. It lulls you in—you pair it with the evocative photography and the repetitious and radiant score—you feel the dream state Jarmusch is going for in tone. Depp is constantly fading in and out of consciousness (whether he’s sleeping or passes out, etc). We’ve taken off by the end of the film
  • Definitely feeds like a nod to Buster Keaton with Depp’s deadpan— Depp’s performance here is pivotal as well- he underplays it perfectly- he lets all the loud noises come from around him – whether it’s “Nobody”, Mitchum, bickering headhunters-
  • one of Depp’s greatest achievements here- underplaying deadpan comedic brilliance
  • the deadpan humor from Jarmusch—but not winking disparagement
  • A fish out of water comedy- Depp’s Blake is an easterner who is in the west- – the fantastic short film train opening. Very elliptical- he sleeps and wakes up seeing the passengers and window landscape scenery get more and more wild/western. Jarmusch cuts back and forth to the train itself (exterior) – this editing is Ozu- the trains- Ozu—the first word is 6 minutes in by Crispin Glover
  • begins by intertwining the exterior of the trains (hello Ozu) with shot below and fading to black each time
  • 6 minute silent opening Blake’s surroundings change
  • Cleveland again- Blake’s character’s home town
  • I think Jarmusch shows the run-down street (Jarmusch is a modern day urban filmmaker up until now) with art on the wall (equivalent to his beloved graffiti), trash, oral in the alley, to make a statement on the universality (or timelessness) of it all
  • the historical equivalent of Jarmusch’s graffiti? trash art as high art
  • The tobacco repetition in the text—feels like the Coen brothers
  • There are many indications (both text and subtext) that he’s dead—shot in the heart, Nobody sees him as a skeleton
  • Again that elliptic editing huge
  • Sea of white trees photography—immaculate — another section later of the forest
this one is from Dead Man- it’s certainly married to the shot in Down by Law– wall art photographic beauty
  • jaw-dropper art on the wall shot
  • A simple narrative propulsion and a series of unfortunate events
  • Guys chasing him at one point named “Lee” and “Marvin”—gorgeous shot of one of them dead surrounded by the campfire
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  • The fawn photograph— the Native Americans are the heroes, their spiritual village at the end (with graffiti) and they send him on his journey. His friend “Nobody”—the white people are shown shooting at buffalos
  • Depp’s Blake becomes a western legend like Shane—shot and rides off—badass ending with the light coming though and the dissolve edit

total archiveable films: 12

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 5 (Dead Man, Broken Flowers, Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, Mystery Train)

the sublime conclusion to Down By Law

top 100 films of the decade: 7 (Dead Man, Broken Flowers, Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, Mystery Train, Paterson, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai)

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repetition in Mystery Train

most overrated:  Nothing- he has three films in the TSPDT top 1000 (Dead Man, Down By Law, Stranger Than Paradise) and all are underrated or in the right spot.

most underrated: The Limits of Control– panned! A 41 on Metacritic

  • Jarmusch’s formal rigor stretched to the extremes—repetition, tone and visuals over narrative—Jarmusch has never made a more beautiful film
  • It’s demanding and I think Jarmusch misses an opportunity by making it 112 minutes—at 92 and with a superior score (like one from Dead Man from Neil Young or Ghost Dog from RZA) I think this is a masterpiece
  • like Point Blank that inspired it– avant-garde shots and mirror work here
  • Incredible Spanish canvas shot by WKW long-time photographer and collaborator Christopher Doyle
  • As the title says a “Point Blank” production—Jarmusch’s company—this is very much influenced by the 1967 John Boorman masterpiece – a stoic man on a mission—a “B-film narrative” on top of an art-house backdrop (this could be a Antonioni masterwork, Resnais
  • foreground/background focus– low-angle and architecture as character
  • Soft-focus repetition—really quite wonderful.
  • Other formal repetition – Café “Two espressos, in two separate cups”, cafes, red colors, exchanging match boxes, lying in bed contemplating, yoga (in a tailored suit) vignettes with colorful outside characters (from Hurt to Swinton to the beautiful naked gal to Gael Garcia Bernal to Murray at the end)
  • Architecture as character through low-angle shots— others with Isaach De Bankolé lost in the backdrop
  • this is Antonioni– think of the scenes of Jeanne Moreau lost in La Notte swallowed up by the modern architecture
  • Largely a silent film
  • Reoccurring sequences where Isaach De Bankolé goes to the museum to appreciate the art—Jarmusch almost shoots them like two people in love
  • Welles Lady from Shanghai in the text—Swinton’s character saying “the best films are dreams you’re never sure you’ve really had”  — references in the test to Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Kaurismäki
  • Staircase shots with that like ivory color and blood red
  • Repetition of phrases – “you don’t speak Spanish, right?”
  • Great shots of the windmills in the background on the train
  • When he switches towns we get a new color pattern—lots of just walking—escalators, glorious landscapes
  • We’re really watching an assassin film with the drama taken out—the routine between jobs and in the preparation. If it weren’t for the formal construction and breathtaking visuals I’d agree this sounds—um— not enticing
  • Reoccurring overhead shot of the espressos—between that and the stranger meeting vignettes this is surely a companion piece of Coffee and Cigarettes—the assassin plot definitely makes it a cousin to Ghost Dog (De Bankolé in it as well and the quiet lead)
  • Shots walking down the street with graffiti is in just about all of Jarmusch’s films
  • Miraculously detailed final set piece location—white bed sheets draped (De Bankolé then goes to the museum and sees artwork with the bed sheet
  • formal repetition- Jarmusch’s trademark– great symmetry here as well with the image
  • It’s so silent it’s almost jarring when Murray shows up with all the dialogue near the end.
  • When the job is over De Bankolé leaves and the next cut makes it look like we’re going back to the normal world—ties to the dream/sleep quality of both this and
  • Production designer here Eugenio Caballero did Pan’s Labyrinth and Roma
  • Rosenbaum – spot on here— “the urban and rural landscapes here do more for my imagination than the various American suburban stretches of  Jarmusch’s previous feature.”
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architecture set pieces as character in The Limits of Control
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gem I want to spotlight:  Stranger Than Paradise

  • A stunning achievement and the announcement of Jim Jarmusch as a major force in world cinema—deadpan comedy, formal master
  • so few films are ambitious in their structure- and I don’t mean complicated 
  • the film is a series of single take long duration shots, elliptically edited with few seconds of blank black screen— set in three cities (NYC (really NJ), Cleveland, Florida) with title cards
  • The symmetry—repetition– makes it so hypnotic
  • hilarious use of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You”
  • a fish out of water comedy with language barriers (Hungarian here)—Jarmusch would do this over and over again along with the three part rigorous formal narrative structure
  • b/w 35mm like much of his work
  • bookend airport opening and closing
  • Episodic but interconnected-  Jarmusch, the formal master, repeats the same set up (five conversations between strangers in taxis at night). This is, of course, is linked to his previous work which all employ a three-part story structure (aside from Permanent Vacation) along with Murray chasing down the separate ladies in Broken Flowers, the days of the week in Paterson, and the multiple encounters over stimulants in Coffee and Cigarettes
  • “Daring in its conception but made with a watchmaker’s care”- Washington Post- love this
  • John Lurie is not only the lead but does the music (like he does for Permanent Vacation, Down by Law and Mystery Train)
  • The washed out color is brilliant- it sets the tone, keeps consistency (repetition is incredibly important when understanding Jarmusch) even when going from freezing Cleveland to Florida (that trip from NYC to Florida reminds me of Midnight Cowboy of course)
  • Ironic music (Hawkins), titles (“new world”)
  • The editing is a crucial choice/structure- huge—sets the film up as a series of vignettes
  • Names of the horses in the race- “Passing Fancy” and “Tokyo Story” (“yeah that’s a good one” from Lurie in the film)- haha from Ozu. Static camera- from Ozu.  The vacuuming has to be from Akerman.
  • The vibe the film creates- we’re watching them watch tv, play solitaire, sleep, drive, go to the movies— it’s hypnotic with the way the film is edited with the ellipsis — it’s not realism
  • NJ for the first 30 mins, Cleveland, Florida- it’s split evenly of course. Ends with “what the hell are you gonna do in Budapest?” irony — you go someplace new and everything looks the same
  • Graffiti in the mise-en-scene, small apartment, small house, fleabag motel in Florida—stark, minimal, garbage art – Gilliam, Wenders
  • Some of the jokes are great. “Did she just call you ‘Bela’ outside?

stylistic innovations/traits:   Jarmusch is one of cinema’s most dedicated formalists. His work involves controlled repetition, slight variations on that repetition, usually, inside of a rigid set structure. Much of his early work is easily numerically organized (3— Down by Law, Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train,  5- Night on Earth, Broken Flowers, 7- Days in Paterson). A Jarmuschian vibe is created by a measured rhythm in the scene (pauses and carries everything a beat long)—– while the skeleton of the film is formally so sound and distinct. Visual poetry—dilapidated and decrepit—a boarded up movie house, bars, graffiti of course in the mise-en-scene– another decaying hotel—but it’s art—pool halls, walking down the street. The narratives most often involve a fish out of water with language as a barrier. They’re often essentially plotless films, requiring patience and attention to detail to pick up his formal cues while his laid-back editing (heavy dissolves or longer elliptical transitions) works on you. Hipster cool. From Camby NYT “the excitement (of Down by Law) comes from the realization that we are seeing a true film maker at work, using film to create a narrative that couldn’t exist on the stage or the printed page of a novel”. He’s largely an urban filmmaker– garbage art- Wenders an influence. He told each scene a beat long- again I believe this is Akerman and Ozu’s influence. The editing a major achievement—it fades to black in many of his scenes.

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urban decay beauty in Down By Law

top 10

  1. Dead Man
  2. Stranger Than Paradise
  3. Paterson
  4. The Limits of Control
  5. Broken Flowers
  6. Down By Law
  7. Mystery Train
  8. Only Lovers Left Alive
  9. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
  10. Night on Earth
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from Night on Earth

By year and grades

1980- Permanent Vacation R
1984- Stranger Than Paradise MS/MP
1986- Down By Law MS
1989- Mystery Train MS
1991- Night on Earth HR
1995- Dead Man MP
1999- Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai HR
2003- Coffee and Cigarettes R
2005- Broken Flowers MS
2009- The Limits of Control MS
2013- Only Lovers Left Alive HR
2016- Paterson MS



*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives