Over the next month or so, Edinburgh’s Filmhouse Cinema is presenting a special programme showcasing the films of legendary American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. In light of this, we over at The Student thought we’d take a closer look at the man who redefined the culture of American independent cinema, and has managed to retain his influence for the last thirty years.
Jim Jarmusch’s first film to make a significant impact was a bleak, dry comedy entitled Stranger Than Paradise. Presented at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and winning the Camera’dOr for the best first feature film. It received huge critical acclaim and showed the world of cinema that independent films did not need to be incredibly obscure and inaccessible. Since that day Jarmusch has continued to impress and inspire with his trademark ultra cool style and his surprising resilience to the charms of big budget studios. It’s almost unheard of for a filmmaker with his level of success and experience to never once succumb to the chubby wallets of a large studio.
Although Jim has never wavered from his independent principles, it could easily be argued that his films have become more mainstream, although he’d rush to deny it. His last three starring roles went to Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray. Actors from this high up the A-list were very uncharacteristic of Jarmusch until a few years ago, especially since one them made his fame in films like Thor and The Avengers. Of course none of them are mere vapid stars; they all brought incredible performances to his writing, but it’s undeniable that when you cast someone as well known as Bill Murray it’s never just his performance that’s bringing the appeal. Regardless of the actual film, there’s a substantial audience going to see ‘that new Bill Murray one’.
Mainstream, however, might be the wrong word for the slight change in Jarmusch’s style. A better one might be ‘mature’. It’s only natural that a filmmakers work, even in small ways, reflects their own life, and it seems Jarmusch is no exception. In his early work, his protagonists were brooding and gritty, wandering around the dingy inner city. Now they are more wise and refined, still quiet, but more confident, and if they brood it’s because they’ve experienced too much life, rather than not enough.
Despite these changes though, Jarmusch has never faltered in his devotion to one character trait, and that is creativity. Maybe it’s because he himself seems to be the consummate creative. Before he tackled film he dabbled in almost anything creative he could get his hands on. As a boy he held a deep passion for literature, and he credits this period of his life with shaping his metaphysical and theological beliefs. When he was a bit older he enrolled in the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago, before transferring to Columbia University with ideas of becoming a poet. He had held an interest in film since his childhood, but his passion for it was sparked in his final year at Columbia, when a summer in Paris turned into a full ten months. He spent most of his time there at the Cinémathèque Française, one of the largest archives of film and film related objects in the world. Here he was introduced to many of the Japanese and European directors who would influence him, and upon his return to America he noticed that his writing was becoming more and more cinematic in style. He applied, with no relevant qualifications, to the renowned Tisch School of the Arts, Part of New York University, by sending them a few still photographs and an essay on film, and was accepted.
During his time in New York Jarmusch also worked as a musician, and maintains that these were some of the happiest and most exciting times of his life. Indeed, he has said himself that he thinks he was “supposed to be a musician”, and continues this passion today, even composing and performing the soundtrack to his latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, with his band SQÜRL. Jim Jarmusch is almost certainly the most influential and interesting figure in American independent cinema, and has been for thirty years, but with such an eclectic range of talents and passions (which also happens to include bird watching), he’s much more than just a filmmaker. He is, although he hates the words, quirky and edgy, and by all accounts effortlessly cool in all his endeavours. He’s essentially the original, and ultimate, hipster.