My dad has been known to say, “There are really only two different types of people: complicators and simplifiers.” By his statement, I’m sure you can guess which of the two groups he’s in.
In filmmaking, it’s fairly easy to be a complicator. The emotions emanating from the actors in a scene aren’t quite working, add music. The film’s moving a little slow, add some fancy camera move or editing trick. Not every single person watching your movie takes away the same thing, add another scene so there’s no longer anything left unsaid.
Simplying in film is much like deconstructing, keep taking away elements until you’re left with just the bare essentials. I would say that most filmmakers are complicators, even some of the guys I really love (Wong Kar-Wai, Godard, Leos Carax, and De Palma, to name but a few.) But, there’s also a small group of simplifiers. In this group, I would place, among others, Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, some Dardenne brothers, and Jim Jarmusch.
I like almost everything about Jarmusch. To me, he’s the Thelonious Monk of filmmaking. His rhythms are very unique, but off and angular like Monk’s piano playing. Along with David Gordon Green and Terrence Malick, he’s as close to a poet as anyone we’ve ever had in American film. He’s finely attuned to the way that words sound and cuts them and his images in a way that’s less prose-like than it is abstract and atonal.
His work with all his cameramen is staggering. But, I have to single out his collaboration with Robby Muller (particularly Dead Man and Down by Law) as one of my favorite in the history of the medium. Muller also did incredible work with Wim Wenders (Kings of the Road, Alice in the Cities, and Paris, Texas.)
I love his musician collaborations, too. I think with these unconventional composers (John Lurie, Tom Waits, Neil Young, RZA, and Boris), he’s been able to accomplish some of the most interesting scores of the last twenty-five years.
Jarmusch takes his time, both with the pacing of his films and, it seems, the pace of his filmmaking. Since he emerged in 1980, he’s only made ten features and one documentary. As I look around and see my life and our movies seemingly getting louder and faster every year, I take great comfort in knowing that Jarmusch is out there, Zen-like, trying to do it all in a very simple way.
JIM JARMUSCH (in preferential order)
1. Stranger Than Paradise
2. Dead Man
3. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
4. Down By Law
5. Mystery Train
6. Permanent Vacation
7. Night on Earth
8. Broken Flowers
9. The Limits of Control
10. Coffee and Cigarettes
Year of the Horse
Year of the Horse