Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Two by Jim Jarmusch

OK, I've been posting much too little here lately. I've decided to devote the next week to movies, movies, movies!

Recently saw Stranger than Paradise again (first time on the big screen). It's a landmark in American independent filmmaking, but I hadn't seen it in a while. I found it to be an oddly timeless-looking film (largely, I'm sure, because of the b+w photography). There's something sublime and almost mystical about it. Its sensibility and sense of humor are as fresh and rare today as they were 20 years ago. Richard Edson is absoutely fantastic as Eddie , and his comic skills help forge a strong triangle with leads John Lurie as Willie and Eszter Balint as Eva who play cousins. Is there an implication that Willie loves Eva, and that his frustration at her being his cousin accounts for some of his bad behavior?

Also recently saw Jarmusch's new film, Coffee and Cigarettes. I thoroughly enjoyed it--the time raced by. It's a series of shorts--almost all of a couple people chatting over coffee and cigarettes. My first instinct was that it was lightweight, a bagatelle, a French pastry, if you will, but Mr. Rosenbaum makes a dazzling case for the film as a work of art, pointing out some complexities I missed. But I didn't fail to notice the hilarious comedy of the Bill Murray/GZA/RZA segment, or Cate Blanchett's masterful performance playing two cousins. It walked a tightrope of comedy and melodrama and kept me fascinated. The sheer diversity of the cast, from young to old, glamorous to frumpy, races, origins, accents, styles--just watching these marvelous people, you'll have a great time. I bought the soundtrack. Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to assemble a soundtrack that actually seems like an extension of the film's ideas and themes (as opposed to simply being a collection of sellable tunes). "Crimson & Clover" echoes the duality that's a major motif of the film, and the Purcell Fantazia reminded me of the film's formal structure, fugue-like, almost geometric, yet balanced by the warmly human and poetic. And several of the tracks, many of them instrumentals, are simply cool, and Jarmusch's films are nothing if not an expression of the deepest cool, the characters (and the approach) often minimalistic, rooted in jazzy, smoky city settings.

For the record, I also loved Jarmusch's Ghost Dog and Dead Man and esp. Night on Earth (made back in the days when Winona Ryder made good movies). One of these days I'll catch up with Mystery Train and Down by Law.

Now, time for a tangent. Speaking of Blanchett's multiple-roles, now I wonder what other actors have won acclaim for playing multiple roles? (I won't count all the times actors have played twins.) Let's see, Peter Sellers, famously, and Alec Guiness. Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers have done it more recently. How many women? Miranda Richardson recently gave a great turn in multiple roles in Spider, and according to an Amazon list, Meg Ryan once did. Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep (and other cast members) did, beautifully, in Angels in America. And, cheating a bit, let's not forget my beloved Elizabeth Montgomery, who did the brunette/blonde bad-cousin/good-cousin routine on tv's Bewitched. Somehow I doubt that was Jarmusch's inspiration, though.
Stranger (4 stars out of 4)
Coffee (3 1/2 stars out of 4)

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