Collyrium – Jim Jarmusch and the New Wave cinema

As we have seen over the past few weeks, the Cannes festival has announced the films to be screened both in and out of the competition. Among these is the opening film, namely The Dead Don’t Die, the latest work directed by Jim Jarmusch, one of the most famous representatives of the American independent cinema. We, therefore, believe the time is due to dedicate this episode of Collyrium to a name which has managed to break the heart of the most ardent cinephiles although perhaps not known to all.

Jarmusch’s cinema, despite the reputation it has earned over the years, is very simple and frugal. Many critics have called it minimalist, although the director deviates from this definition by claiming that his work moves along an instinctive and emotional rather than an aesthetic or conceptual path. These assumptions make Jarmusch a decidedly outside the box director having over the years has given us extremely varied but still very personal and recognizable films. This original professional approach finds its roots in the socio-cultural movement the American director comes from: the New Wave scene. With the term New Wave, however, we mean a different methodological and cultural approach rather than a particular aesthetic approach or a strongly characterizing trait. Jarmusch’s formation was mainly based in New York, the main center of the post-war cultural world, where he used to hang out in niche circles and approached the avant-garde movements have influenced his works. Among these, there were filmmakers, but also actors, writers, poets, and musicians. Such avant-garde movements that during the 70s listened to the Talking Heads rather than Jimmy Hendrix, refused technical virtuosity to openly welcome spontaneity.

Jarmusch’s cinema originates precisely from these concepts. Jim, as well as his colleagues, did not rely on technique to express themselves, they produced films in all manners by starting with the Super8 and working with friends. It is precisely in this fashion Jarmush will develop his first works, firstly by supporting directors of the standing of Nicholas Ray and Wim Wenders and subsequently developing his own personal style through the making of his first movie: Permanent Vacation (1980). This first work, though in the absence of a grand plot, beautifully portrays an individual’s alienation towards the surrounding society. Allie, the protagonist, is pervaded by an inner emptiness and paralysis in the background of an apparently phantom NewYork. In his first film, Jarmusch narrates a dimension in the balance between reality and illusion, in which society seems non-existent with human beings obliged to wander aimlessly in pursuit of existential answers. Permanent Vacation can sometimes resemble Scorsese’s Taxi Driver alienating universe, though obviously unhinged of the latter’s commercial ambitions

Jarmusch’s first effort is, therefore, a work that is worth more as a starting point for philosophical debate than for the pursuit of entertainment. It must, however, be taken into consideration that this film was conceived as a degree thesis and was made with a budget of just under twenty thousand dollars.

Shortly thereafter, Jarmusch will produce a number of films, that appear to be the conceptual continuation of Permanent Vacation, receiving an increasingly positive critics response, especially in Europe. Among the films of this period we mention Stranger Than Paradise, Daunbailò (which cast includes personalities such as Roberto Benigni and Tom Waits) and the beautiful Coffee and Cigarettes, which is nothing more than a series of short films depicting people chatting and smoking in front of an hot cup of coffee.

This last title, whose plot may appear boring, is instead an almost unique model commanded by the director’s writing skills and by the splendid cast among which Steve Buscemi, Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, and many others stand out. During these years, Jarmusch’s cinema loses the silent and existentialist allure which had characterized its first works to acquire a more “tragicomic” appeal where dialogues are central. Of such directorial thread, it is absolutely necessary to mention also Night on Earth, another low budget movie about four taxi drivers night-time roaming of just as many capital cities.

In these years Jarmusch has been confirmed as one of the greatest New Wave directors, but above all has become a living testimony of New York city cooperating with cultural personalities of different backgrounds and styles such as the post-modern writer Paul Auster but also the king of HipHop RZA (the leader of Wu-Tang Klan), with whom he will collaborate for the production of the movie Ghost Dog, for which RZA will produce a soundtrack that even today, years later, is considered an example of musical experimentation.

The new millennium’s arrival will not stop, the New York director’s creative genius encouraging him rather moving to and experimenting different genres and the most diverse characters without ever losing his elegant directorial touch, which we can be easily heard in the amazing soundtracks, in the perfectly written dialogues, the remarkable cast and, above all, it is the often and willingly tragicomic stories we hear.

Among these films of incredible beauty and originality it is worth citing Broken Flowers, where an old heartbreaker, played by an incredible Bill Murray, starts a journey in search of a possible son; Only Lovers Left Alive, is nothing more than a love story between vampires (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) set in a beautiful degraded Detroit; and finally Paterson, an elegant and sweet movie about a week in the life of a bus driver (played by Adam Driver) whose passion is poetry.

But that is not all. As anticipated hereabove, a new Jarmusch film will soon be presented at the Cannes Film Festival debut. What is The Dead Don’t Die going to cover? As the title suggests, it is a Zombie story having an exceptional cast. The film will feature actors such as Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Denny Glover and others. It’s objectively difficult to make predictions on an author zombie movie with a stellar cast, but we’ll see. On the other hand, Jarmusch is hardly disappointing.

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