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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

limits-of-control-1

 © 2016 by James Clark 

      Broken Flowers, the Jarmusch film from 2005, has introduced, quite startlingly for a project concerning crushing problematics, a figure who is not hopelessly lost. Carmen, the “animal communicator,” whom protagonist Don regards as having lost her once impressive (to him) rational acuity (as a lawyer), sends him on his way as understood to be a total waste of her time. What makes her so sure of this? The actions of Lone Man, in the film, The Limits of Control (2009), contribute to that understanding, though his career has much more in common with that of the contract killer, Ghost Dog, in the 1999 Jarmusch production of the same name.

Over the past several postings, I have highlighted recurrent pluses and minuses enacted in this filmmaker’s work (and recurrent performers), in witty and heartfelt scenarios, for the sake of awakening viewers to a dilemma like no other, and which would sustain the essential drama far beyond the theatre. Once again, as we get to the nub of The Limits of Control, these currents must be shown in action. But here, instead of concentrating almost entirely upon detailing patterns and personas amid socio-economic preoccupations in the service of reiterating that life on earth is not nearly as lively as it could be, we’ll also look to the cinematography, visual and sonic design and performance as marshalled as never before in a Jim Jarmusch film, in order to embrace the love and ruthlessness evinced by Carmen, and being given a go here by a flamenco troupe, an always-nude hooker and a killer devoted to tai chi. (A very significant shift in sensual delivery appears in the form of the camera work of the brilliant exponent of mood, Christopher Doyle—having lifted many viewers of major works by Wong Kar Wai—replacing here the tenure of Robby Muller, Jarmusch’s long-time stalwart on behalf of kookiness.) (more…)

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broken-flowers-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Just as we have to resist Jarmusch’s Dead Man being seen to be a Johnny Depp movie, we have to resist that remarkable artist’s Broken Flowers (2005) being palmed off as a Bill Murray movie. Roger Ebert regards the latter work as creating “a gentle cloud of happiness,” due to its providing a banal sense of life being short. That would be as close to absolutely wrong as you can get. Notwithstanding the film industry’s survivalist zeal to wrap up their products as various kinds of deluxe candy, the upbeat dimension of Broken Flowers traces to a far from infantile context the neglect of which puts one forever in the dark about the gift at hand.

Don, the protagonist, one of the nouveau riche IT Klondike powers, receives a letter purporting to bring him up to speed that the writer—unidentified and of unknown address—has, after 19 years of raising a child of theirs which had never been brought to his attention, suddenly felt the need to put him on her Friends list. Before she can finalize the dropping of the other shoe, Don has, with the urging and information provided by a sleuthing-besotted neighbor, turned up at her door. If this so-called Penny ever was worth more than her name, she surely isn’t now. “Donny, so what the fuck do you want coming here? I don’t remember any happy ending…” Amidst a rural eyesore cluttered with motorcycles and motorcyclists, the distaff gives Don a seasoned -brawler’s Offensive Tackle’s block leaving him reeling off the Halloween porch. A couple of soft-spoken intimates (sort of sounding like Dead Man’s Charlie just before the killing commenced) beat him senseless and, with multiple facial wounds, he wakes up in his car in the middle of a harvested field you can be sure having nothing to do with Penny’s profit centers. (more…)

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ghost-dog-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

Though the three early films by Jim Jarmusch—Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law and Mystery Train—provide so many laughs that the mere reading of the titles comes to us as a shot of merriment, with the quite emphatic Night on Earth and subsequent Dead Man the pain that is the populace asserts itself in an exponentially severe and transformational way. Arguably the first test run with a view to dynamic viability on that rocky road is Ghost Dog (1999), seemingly infused with the sense of millennial showdown. There we find, at the outset, the eponymous central figure leaving at dark a shack which he calls home on the rooftop of a Rust Belt hulk to (in the capacity of a contract killer) exterminate someone from out of that sea of annoyances rendering planet Earth, to all intents and purposes, a perpetual night.

However, it is not the darkness of this action which most effectively touches us. No, the first figure we meet is a buoyantly soaring large bird (all but hawk-like), its dark coloration punctuating a not-quite-black, unlimited sky and then tracing a course over a cluttered industrial area of a city, probably that gold mine of the gross, Cleveland, but having licence plates reading, for the sake of global reach, “The Industrial State.” The big bird, soon seen to be a very appropriate pigeon, is (as with wild beasts across the board here) an undiluted joy sustained by the musical uncanniness of luminary RZA, who, like the rest of his band, Wu- Tang Clan, constitutes an electronic river of rhythm and melancholy—assertive and unassertive— (and goes so far, as we shall specify, to dip, rapper-style, into the ultra-obscure 1950s ballad, “Man in a Raincoat”). Hieing to Ghost Dog’s aerie, which we find to be a pigeon sanctuary of sorts, the only-seemingly random sprite ushers in for us the woeful state of the shelter, with its adjacent rickety coop. Nevertheless, we are promptly given to understand that much more than squalor is occurring. The cooing of the birds gives way to a study of sorts where we are introduced to the protagonist at a kind of peace with life in reading (with a quiet and ardent inner voice) a text clearly of great importance and satisfaction to him, namely the Hagakure, that Bible of ancient samurai warriors. The thrust of this treasure is pure hawk, with no signs of pigeon. (Or not yet.) “The way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day, when one’s body and mind are at peace… And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the Samurai.” (more…)

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night-on-earth-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      The films of Jim Jarmusch tend to entail bemusingly limited figures harboring what they believe to be a passport to the fabulous. Many of the interactions pertain to travel in the public domain, where protagonists make their moves in face of people they are meeting for the first time and are unlikely to ever see again.

Having mined within such structures three amazing veins of contemporary concerns and whimsy, in the fourth vehicle, Night on Earth (1991), he felt it was time to convene an array of urban regulars giving an account of themselves in that quintessential sounding board, a taxi on a long run.Attentive to the varied and rich disturbances such a site can reveal, our guide has put into play a series of 5 cabs in 5 modern cities, shaking things up on the same shift. (A first of many caveats as to the many revelations is that whereas the customers may blurt out self-disclosures in the rather unfamiliar venue as something they seldom run with, the complement of drivers may not infrequently tend to let those on the paying end hear about pet concerns distilled by solitary and stressful lives. A second alert catalyzing the front-seat/ back-seat dramas is the graphic design framework of an atlas showing many lands, many cultures, as coming to close-ups introducing, in turn, each region of the specific sagas, along with itemization of the correct time from one of five identical clocks arrayed on a wall.)

Added to the zoom from the general to the particular, the city itself is represented as a flashing light bringing to mind old radio-show movies (this first centre being LA, after all) as well as ushering in the far from old verbal magic of this cinematic windfall. Before loaded words hit the fan, however, there is the first driver, Corky, a young LA woman trying to derive enjoyment from smoking and chewing gum at the same time, with a couple of stoners in the back seat and power chords on her tape deck. Also on display, at the Executive Terminal of LAX, where the brain-dead rock stars were to be shipped out to thrill the nation, is incoming nation-thriller, Victoria Snelling, checking in by phone to the film studio for which, in her capacity of casting agent, she has found (would the term promiscuously be apt?) 10 hitherto middling young lovelies, one of which headed for silver screen sublimity. Victoria is not simply promiscuous for the sake of impressing her studio bosses but she is ballistically promiscuous on hitching her Grace Kelly-blonde, white (and black)-tailored, middle-age presence to Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), whereby the actressGeena Rowlands’ Victoria becomes stalked by Angie Dickinson’s promiscuous Kate (another Grace Kelly-blonde in a white suit that doesn’t stay white very long). This leaves Winona Ryder’s cabby, Corky, having the very tough act of Nancy Allen’s hooker, Liz, to follow, inasmuch as the latter traces to the inspirational better-half of Giuliana (played by super-tailored, super-blonde, super-cool, Monica Vitti, in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964). (more…)

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dead-man-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) is a strange and brilliant delight, but it presents, to the unwary, death-dealing pitfalls. Tackling it, as Roger Ebert chose to do (in the course of hating a ridiculing it), as a self-sustaining offering, is tantamount to rock climbing in flip-flops.

Looking for the direction of this film without a strong sense of the films preceding it is, in fact, expository suicide. Jarmusch, we must never forget, is not just another wizard of the weird (and wonderful). He is, instead, a very accomplished writer of interpersonal theatre whereby discursive gambits send off shock waves demanding close and repeated investigation. Dead Man opens with a foppishly clad young man, William Blake, riding a mid-nineteenth-century train for the sake of commencing work in a Rocky Mountain steel plant in the capacity of an accountant. His trip had begun in Cleveland. As far as the bare, immediate facts go, we have to come to terms with this protagonist, whom we have never seen before, being disappointed in his expectation that he has a job to go to—and from there entering a dark and violent misadventure and puzzling entanglement in Native American lore. During the ride out, we hear that his parents had died recently in the Cleveland homestead. But, far more importantly, there is no direct information about why a fragile-looking youngster would travel 2000 miles to seek employment in a Wild West frontier town. As it happens, a very definite and developmentally overt source of enlightenment does supplement the raw narrative. The catch is, this tip-off comes packaged in previous Jarmusch films. In his first full-fledged feature, Stranger than Paradise (1984), a young Hungarian girl travels far more than 2000 miles to obtain work in the form of a Cleveland hot-dog diner. After a year of this, she tells some visitors, “… kind of a drag here…” William, then, in this light, enters the enterprise—seldom elucidated, and never elucidated by our traveller-of-the hour—of turning one’s back on a family heritage (the hot-dog worker comes in for a lot of heat and obscenities from the immigrant aunt who sponsored her). Other versions of quiet renegades getting not only bruised but also assisted by traditionalists appear in the films Down by Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989). In the latter vehicle two young Japanese tourists have their differences about what constitutes the glorious rebellion of vintage Rockabilly; but they both agree the Mountain West is something to be merely and briefly endured (that, even a hundred years after William giving it a go). One other thing about the consequentiality of Cleveland, and the wider deadness you will never explicitly pick up from Dead Man, is that the dash to fulfilling mystery is, in itself, a difficulty factor heavier than those mountains. (The boss at the metal works, totally indifferent to the snail-mail snafu leaving William destitute and desperate, ridicules, “Where did you get that suit? In Cleveland?” But though he is an early detractor of a place much-maligned for being somehow unsatisfactory, he shows in his every move that he doesn’t at all see The Best Location in the Nation the way Jarmusch and many of his creations see it.) (more…)

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mystery-train-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Feature films being pretty high on the entertainment food chain (just spend a few minutes with what Vanity Fair magazine has become), most of us readily subscribe to the truism that each new profit centre has to come up with something “incredibly” different to please appetites forever seeking new thrills. Think of the spectacular range of David Lynch’s fireworks from Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive. Whereas the Surrealist dictates of his muse well accommodate dazzlements from various dimensions of the vast, dark and fertile skies, it may be premature to conclude that all avant-garde commitment must embrace similar dramatic shock on the order of supernova cinematography. This consideration especially rains down on us when we contemplate the many films brought to light by the prolific Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch and his cameraman, Robbie Muller, clearly do not go on location to distant galaxies in order to deliver their goods. Though as unique in his way as Lynch, he sustains an output which could be described as one long, repeated, low-key activation on behalf of a virtually inaccessible rightness, or law. Time drags; gloom seeps into every nook and cranny; and it’s oddly funny and amazing—that, on the basis of dialogue as a generator of generally invisible awe. From the perspective of Lynch’s sensuality, that invoking of the surreal “more” looks inside-out. The cosmic break-out imagined in so many ways by so many auteurs, comes to be tempered in ways which take quite a while to accommodate. The Surrealist thrust for the “more” than discrete advantageousness comes in for a challenge to its downplaying of the creative energies of very human, very error-prone players.

Jarmusch has strongly hinted and gone on to prove in the action of his work to be particularly absorbed with the processes of music. Notably, then, right on the heels of a film from 1984 spotlighting Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the song, “I Put a Spell on You;” and a film from 1986 featuring a disc jockey—we have our film of today (from 1989), namely, Mystery Train, and the mystery of Elvis. And withal we have to scour the tiny portals offering access to a zone of grace (a Graceland) freighted with tons of refuse. (A very early moment has a pair of young Japanese tourists on a pilgrimage to the musical heart of America, and their train passes a striking series of garbage dumps.) An indication that the hitherto gentleness of the prospect of such shortfalls has moved into a less sanguine perception may be most incisively found in the second part of the three-part structure of Mystery Train. There we have an Italian woman, having been a resident of the U.S. for some time, returning to Italy with the coffin of the man in her life. That actress Nicoletta Braschi portrays this enduring of the school of hard knocks represents a very deliberate recall of her role in the preceding Jarmusch film, Down by Law, where she encounters and falls in love with an Italian drifter, felon and fugitive (Roberto). Roberto’s settling down with her has its ominous factor, as enunciated by one of the sayings of DJ, Zack (to be found in the earlier film), “It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop.” (Fellow-fugitive Zack [played by singer Tom Waits] resurfaces in Mystery Train as Memphis DJ, “Domino,” and his domino effect.) Now the dead man in our film, parked in Memphis during a one-day delay in scheduling, remains unnamed and the widow is Luisa, not Nicoletta. But the ongoing aura is not to be missed, in its accomplishing a fresh dimension of an inexhaustible problematic.Whereas Nicoletta was an ardent devotee to the delights of food, dancing and love of Roberto, Luisa, on the phone to Rome with the details of her voyage, covers the reversal with corporate realism: “I’m OK. That’s just the way life is.” Now that assurance precisely activates the work’s labor of love, inasmuch as it’s here to show those of us who can see that such cold-bloodedness is not the way (the essence of) life is, despite a large majority maintaining—in the words of Zack’s departing girlfriend—that “jerking people off a little” is the way to wholesomeness, to being a lawful, productive human being. (more…)

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down-by-law-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Many of the best and the brightest exponents of cutting-edge films approach us from out of formidable cinematographic, optical skills. Several—like David Lynch, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Ridley Scott, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Jacques Demy, Spike Jonze, Wong Kar Wai, Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Glaser, Robert Bresson and Abbas Kiarostami—began their transaction as producers of paintings, graphic design, architecture, photography and fashion. As such their evocation of energies not appropriately recognized in mainstream history tend to unleash virtuoso visual impact (infused with aural complement). Jim Jarmusch, quite to the contrary—describable, I think, as Antonioni for extroverts—though far from inept as to visual and sonic excitement, has a playwright’s appetite for the revelatory range of dialogue and its precinct of interpersonal situations.

Near the outset of his second film, Down by Law (1986), we are treated to a piercing clash of bristling verbiage between a DJ, Zack (all but silent), and his girlfriend, Laurette (quickly living up to her born-to-lose name in the born-to-lose city of New Orleans, where nothing is new and the aura of being burned at the stake carries a lot of weight). As the episode catches fire, we have Zack in the Maid’s role and Laurette adding fuel to the fire in the form of pelting him with swatches of his CD and vinyl collection. “It’s just you… You don’t take care of me!” she declares. “I’m ashamed of you, Zack… I’m finished with you! I’m completely finished with you… I’ve had it with you and your fuckin’ stupid radio show” [with its myriad voices]. Then she skids into a zone where a recognition of glories notwithstanding have to be given some due. Laurette, an avatar of keeping the faith, comes down on her knees to reason with a beau sitting on the mattress on the floor but also thousands of miles away in his own (far less demonstrative) dilemma. “OK… Everything’s OK,” she whispers with tears forming in her eyes. “Why can’t you stay with one station? Why are you fuckin’ your own future? [He looks away] … What are you so afraid of, Zack?” By way of explaining himself, the music man offers, “Yeah, well that’s alright, Laurette… We can’t live in the present forever…” She, taking his in fact possibly complicated consideration to be a sign of welcome simplicity, points out that he could reapply to stations in the far-flung cities which he walked away from. “There’s nothing wrong with asking somebody for somethin’… [Frustration rising] Why is it always so fuckin’ hard for you?” The camera angle has her standing looking our way while Zack crouches on the floor, looking away. From out of this seeming channel of compromise she bids: “You’re a good DJ, Zack. All you gotta do is jerk people off a little… That’s all they really want, you know…” How wrong her hope was, however, is not long in blowing up in his face. He nods, in assenting to her awareness that to get ahead (and thereby take care of her sentimental priorities) you have to be comfortable (as she is) being a peasant. Then he explodes this mismatch by quietly and painfully wheezing, “Well, I never jerk people off… And you fuckin’ know it, Laurette…” Her reaction, predictably, involves more noise and violence. But, this being the work of a film aristocrat, she shows us much more than that. In the first seconds of this clash, she races about tossing those little black flying saucers, and her visage is as much a smile as a grimace. From out of that shaky passion she challenges his interpersonal pedigree. “I’m not talkin’ to you anymore… because you don’t want to fuckin’ be here! I hate you and I’m an idiot for being with you… You’ve made me embarrassed of my own time.” The final step of this honky-tonk refinement comprises her attempting to throw his Louboutin-vintage steel-toe Paris buckaroo boots over their wrought-iron balcony and into a desolate street of dreams. “Not the shoes!” he uncharacteristically yells. Her retort—“No? Go on, hit me, motherfucker! Hit me!” The full thrust of this strangely civilized freak-out involves a cut to that gutter and the wall setting it off with its torn beverage poster saying, “And don’t forget to bring Granddad…” Sitting on the curb, as he does, Zack momentarily seems a letdown. But then he tosses away the loafers he had put on to go downstairs and he slowly puts on the kickers Laurette did manage to violate, brushing them off with a rag. (more…)

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