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Monday, May 05, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) d. Jim Jarmusch

Tilda Swinton as vampire Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive

Movie Review
Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
 d. Jim Jarmusch

The release of a new Jim Jarmusch film is a rare and exciting event for anyone interested in Criterion Collection type films.   Jarmusch already has three features in the Criterion Collection proper: Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train and Night on Earth (??)  He also has multiple titles that probably worthy of the Criterion Collection treatment: Ghost Dog and Dead Man.  One Bill Murray starring certified indie hit, Broken Flowers (13 million dollar domestic box office.)  Jarmusch averages approximately one film every four years.  His last movie, The Limits of Control, released in 2009, was his biggest flop.

 Your average Jim Jarmusch joint clocks between 1 and 3 million in box office.  He has resolutely maintained his independence as a film maker, which I think means that he does not do work for hire.  It doesn't mean that he distributes his own films.   Only Lovers Left Alive is released by Sony Classics and his two films before that were Focus Features.

 It's a fair observation 20 plus years in that Jim Jarmusch is not for everyone. When you compare his box office results to similar film makers like David Lynch, the Coen Brothers or other well known indie film makers like Wes Anderson that share a similar "target audience" Jarmusch will inevitably have a smaller audience.

 This is perhaps understandable in terms of Jarmusch's use of a slow, contemplative style that links all of his films with the work of Italian proto-auteur Michelangelo Antonioni.  Jarmusch evokes comments from the Audience similar to critical responses to Antonioni, namely that his movies are slow and boring.  Saying that a specific Jarmusch film is "slow or boring" is not a particularly valid point because the films are supposed to be like that.  He's drawing on a half century of international cinematic language, and it is no surprise that his foreign box office is often double or triple that of the US box office.

 The Antonioni connection is particularly significant in the context of any discussion of the artistic merit of Only Lovers Left Alive because Tilda Swinton, the vampire Eve, is to Jarmusch what Monica Vitti in L'Aventurra, La Notte, L'eclisse,  and Red Desert, is to Antonioni's in his most enduring films.  To put it bluntly, if you want an Audience to sit and stare at the screen for an hour and a half while nothing much happens, put a woman (and/or man) in the frame who merits that much attention.  Tilda Swinton is that woman (or man depending on the role.)

 For a film maker to find such a muse so far into his career seems unusual, if I was to think of examples: Godard with Anna Karina, Antonioni with Vitti, Tarantino with Travolta, I would say the muse usually shows up earlier rather than later.  But Jarmusch has never been in much of a hurry has he?  His progression, from defiantly "art house" pictures, to genre experiments, to some kind of synthesis of the two is typical of that of the independent auteur trying to adhere both to a specific artistic vision AND continue to make films.

  In framing Only Lovers Left Alive as a "vampire movie" Jarmusch has pulled off the clever tactic of cloaking an art house wolf in genre sheeps clothing. It is a tried and true tradition more than a half century old at this point. Ghost Dog and Dead Man represent earlier, and in my opinion less
successful attempts to do much the same thing that he accomplishes in Only Lovers Left Alive.

  Most surprising about Only Lovers Left Alive is the humor, something awol from many of his reent efforts. I laughed aloud repeatedly in Only Lovers Left Alive- it was truly a funny movie, and cool, and thoughtful.  The vampires are the artists, the zombies are the audiences, and the facilitators.  Only Lovers Left Alive is a metaphor about the life of the Artist in the contemporary world.  

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