Jim Jarmusch - an award-winning Indie filmaker
Noteable indie films
- Down by Law 1986
- Mystery Train 1989
- Lenigrrad Cowboys Go America 1989
- Dead Man 1995
- Year of the Horse 1997
Noteable mainstream films
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- Rita Dove - our homegrown and Pulitzer Prize winning Akron poet
Only two years my senior and quite an inspiration to me and many others, Rita Dove, is an American contemporary poet and author, born and raised right here in Akron, Ohio. Poets come from anywhere and everywhere, and Rita Dove has represented Akron..
Jim Jarmusch 1953-
One year my senior and a former classmate of mine in high school, Jim Jarmusch is an American independent film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor and composer and one of the best. But, I knew him when he was in high school. Well, knew him as much as I could.
Jim Jarmusch sat behind me in English literature class. He was the quiet, silent type. Very good looking but he didn't talk much. He probably wasn't much interested in my chatter either. You know the saying, "still waters run deep." Jim Jarmusch was deep; I just didn't know how deep until his filmmaking career took off.
His filmmaking and direction are brilliant, adventurous. and avant-garde to say the least. He has dropped all convention in his films and has always had a very independent vision for his films. They represent his dissent and obstinate view toward mainstream Hollywood films. He is credited with instigating the American independent film movement and making it more accessible to the average movie goer.
Both Jim and I come from a middle-class suburb of Akron, a city called Cuyahoga Falls. (yes, there really is a waterfall in our city). We both attended and graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High School. But, who knew, that good-looking guy sitting behind me was destined for filmmaking greatness?
His father was a typical businessman and worked for B.F. Goodrich, where my father worked also. Most of our parents worked for one of the tire companies in Akron. His mother was a film and theater reviewer for the Akron Beacon Journal, our local newspaper. When she was busy with work or errands she would drop him off at the movie theater and he began watching films of all sort at a young age.
He was a voracious reader in his youth and had a greater interest in literature at this time in his life. He credits literature with shaping his metaphysical beliefs and the questioning of religion in his mid-teens. He also developed a taste for the counter culture at a young age. He began reading books by such authors as William Burroughs, Jack Kerouvac, and Mothers of Invention.
He graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High School in 1971 and moved to Chicago to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, but was asked to leave because he never took any journalism classes.
Next, he transferred to Columbia University in New York City. At this time he wanted to become a poet and studied English and American literature. Besides writing poetry, he began writing short semi-narrative abstract writings. He also edited the undergraduate literary journal, The Columbian Review.
In his final year at Columbia he attended an exchange summer program in Paris and that changed everything for him. He ended up staying in Paris for approximately ten months to a year and spent a lot of his time at the Cinematique Francaise watching films. Here he was influenced by all kinds of foreign films and was very interested in the Japanese films the cinematique showed. As a result, his writing became more cinematic and more visually descriptive.
In 1975, he graduated from Columbia University and when he returned to the U.S. from Paris in 1976, he attended the Graduate Film School of New York University Tisch School of the Arts. His total lack of experience in filmmaking at that point did not keep him out of this prestigious film school. The portfoliio he submitted for acceptance was a collection of still photographs and a written essay about film. Both were so good that it gained him acceptance into the program and he studied there for four years.
Here he met fellow students and his lifetime collaborators, Sara Driver, Tom DiCillo and Spike Lee. They were all part of the alternative culture scene on the CBGB music club.
At the end of his time at New York University film school he had received scholarship funds from the Louis B. Mayer Foundation to pay for his school tuitition. Instead, he took that money and misapplied it to work on a film for his final project so he could graduate. The university did not like what he did with the scholarship funds nor his film he made so they refused to award him a degree.
But, in 1980, his final year university project was completed as his first feature film, Permanent Vacation. It was a semi-autobiographical feature of a young man as he wanders around downtown Manhattan. The young man has no goals or responsibilities and aimlessly wanders around. This is his most personal film. However, all that wander are not lost, as Jarmusch would prove in his later films.
The critics didn't love it or hate it but It set the characteristics of Jarmusch's coming attractions. His films usually have derelict urban settings and chance encounters with a wry sensibility. He also has a very dark humor.
Stranger Than Paradise (1984), was his first major film and was received with much critical acclaim. Jim Jarmusch had arrived in the indie film genre. It is a deadpan comedy of a strange journey of three disillusioned youths from New York City through Cleveland to Florida.
This film broke many of the Hollywood conventions of traditional filmmaking and won the Camera d'Or award at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, the 1985 National Society of Film Critics Award from Best Film and became the landmark work in modern independent film.
His early work became the American road movie and was accepted and embraced by art house audiences not mainstream film goers. His early work was brooding with a contemplative tone with extended silent scenes and prolonged still shots. Not much different than the classmate that sat behind me in literature class.
Jamusch is a minimalist filmmaker and unhurried in his films. They do not always follow the traditional narrative structure and actually sometimes lack a clear plot progression. He focuses more on mood and character development and likes to provide "approximate real time for the audience."
He has experimented with the vignette format in three films and blends his films with styles and genres with sharp wit and dark humor. His signature in his films is his deadpan comedic tone.
Most of his protagonists in his films are lone adventurers and his male characters are usually three time losers, petty thieves, and inept con men. But, they are so likable and charming that the audience roots for them. Jarmusch describes them as "laconic, withdrawn and sorrowful mumblers."
From 1984 through 1997 Jarmusch made his noteable indie films. From 1999 to present his films, although still independent have come to attract a more mainstream audience. His indie audiences have made his films so popular and the critics have acclaimed his work so much that his later films have become accepted by the Hollywood mainstream audiences.
Of his films, the one I have seen is Broken Flowers (2005), starring Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton. It is the story of a recent retiree (Murray) who experiences a mid-life crisis when he receives an anonymous letter on pink notepaper that informs him that he has a son, now grown, that he has never known about and who is trying to find him.
He begins a journey of finding his past five girlfriends, all who could be the mother of the child, and with whom he tries to reconnect. He brings each girlfriend a bouquet of pink roses when he finds them and tries to talk with them. It is a hilarious movie. Bill Murray's deadpan humor is phenomenal and each former girlfriend is more screwed up that Murray's character having the mid-life crisis.
It becomes very sad and poignant at the end when one of the former girlfriends is already dead and when he thinks he has found the young man who is his son when he returns home to his city. He approaches the young man with his story but the young man bolts thinking Murray and his story to be creepy. As Murray watches him flee, a lime-green Volkswagen bug drives by with a young man in it with music blaring that is Murray's favorite.
In the end, Murray is left to wonder if one of the two boys is really his son and his journey and reconnections are left incomplete and he never knows for sure who his son is.
I loved the film and I am a big Bill Murray fan. I think this is one of Murray'[s better performances on film recently. There is a tenderness in this film that Jarmusch brings out that I don't think were in his other films. Although each of the film's characters is screwed up, the audience feels empathy for each one.
Broken Flowers (2005) won the Grand Prix Award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival as his films continued to excite the indie art world and mainstream audiences.
I have not seen his early indie films because they were not shown much around here in Ohio. They were edgy and seemed to be shown more in the larger cities: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles etc. Sadly, there was not much of an audience here for his earlier films. I like the characteristics of his films and fortunately today they can be rented and viewed.
Most of Jarmusch's films are set in the U.S. (one was set in Spain) but are seen "through a foreigner's eyes." He creates more of a form of world cinema that blends European and Japanese film with Hollywood. I tend to like a world view more than an American view and so his films appeal to me.
Some recurring themes in his films and work are the interraction between different cultures, arbitrariness of national identity, irrreverence towards ethnocentric, patriotic or nationalistic sentiment.
Jarmusch has a fascination with music and that characteristic is apparent in his work. Musicians play key roles in his films and his films have a certain tempo and rhythm of blues and jazz.
Jarmusch stated as far back as 1989 in an interview, "I'd rather make a movie about a guy walking his dog than about the emperor of China." He was pretty much stayed with that thought in his films.
He has become an icon of the independent filmmaker and achieved great success in his career. He is by far the most prominent and influential American independent filmmaker we have in our country today.
Jarmusch is very private and rarely discusses his personal life in public. Sara Driver is his long-time live in girlfriend. It is wonderful to have known this great indie filmmaker a bit before he became great, even if it was a surprise to realize what was really going on in his head all those years ago. Oh, and he still has a gorgeous head of hair.
Copyright (c) 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved
Jim Jarmusch film tribute
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