Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 film Stranger Than Paradise started a renaissance of American independent filmmaking. While indie peers David Lynch and Steven Soderbergh stopped making movies and Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers merged with Hollywood, Jarmusch is the last of his generation to stay true to his roots. His 12th feature film, the vampire themed Only Lovers Left Alive, will be released in early April. At age 61 he’s maintained his creative autonomy and outsider edge. Here are 10 reasons why Jim Jarmusch is still the coolest person on the cultural landscape.
- His cinematic influences. Jarmusch’s filmic style is influenced by European and Japanese cinema. His stories are about outsiders on the fringes of society with parallel narratives connected by theme rather than plot. In his early 20s he spent his days in Paris at the Cinematheque Francaise where he immersed himself in the films of Ozu, Bresson, Cocteau, Ungari, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean Eustache. While in NYU film school, he became an assistant to famed director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause) who was collaborating with German director Wim Wenders on a documentary. Wenders gave Jarmusch leftover black & white film stock that Jarmusch used to film Stranger Than Paradise.
- His musical taste. Music is crucial to Jarmusch’s storytelling. His films have a unique vibe, slightly out of tune with a heavy reliance on music to set tone. Whether it’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins bellowing “I Put A Spell On You” in Stranger Than Paradise, John Lurie’s discordant jazz for Down By Law or Neil Young’s sonic guitar for Dead Man, Jarmusch’s soundtracks are always memorable. Jarmusch has said, “When I get depressed, I think of all the music I haven’t heard yet. Imagine the world without music. Man, just hand me a gun, will you?”
- He’s a good businessman. Jarmusch owns the negatives to all his films except one, The Year Of the Horse, a documentary about Neil Young.
- He’s big in Japan. Jarmusch is a national celebrity in Japan. Like the Japanese, he is obsessed with American pop culture and his stories often borrow from Japanese culture. Mystery Train features a subplot about a young Japanese couple on a blues pilgrimage to Memphis. Ghost Dog tells of a hit man devoted to Hagakure, an ancient guide for Samurai warriors. Jarmusch has been offered huge sums of money to direct and appear in Japanese television commercials. To date, he has turned down all offers.
- He is a mycophile. Jarmusch nearly died after eating a poisonous mushroom. He became obsessed with the fungi and he now considers himself an amateur mycologist. One of his favorite hobbies is collecting wild mushrooms in dark forests and cooking them for friends.
- He’s still a rock star. In the late 1970s, Jarmusch sang and played keyboards in the New York post-punk band the Del-Byzanteens. He’s cast rock stars in his films including Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer and Richard Edsen, the original drummer for Sonic Youth. These days Jarmusch plays in the rock band Squrl with Dutch lute-player Jozef Van Wissem.
- He appeared in The Simpsons. Jarmusch was featured in the episode titled “Any Given Sundance.” He tells Homer he can “eat a raw onion without crying.” Homer asks him to prove it. Jarmusch bites into an onion and immediately sheds a tear. Homer says, “Hey, you’re crying.” Jarmusch responds, “Yes, but I’m crying about something else.”
- He is an avid birdwatcher. In 12 years, he’s identified more than 80 birds in the yard of his Catskills home. In Ghost Dog, Forrest Whitaker channels Jarmusch’s love for birds by breeding homing pigeons.
- His hair. Jarmusch sports a shock of thick, silvery-white hair rising from his head in a punkish spike. Tom Waits once observed, “Jim went gray when he was 15. As a result, he always felt like an immigrant, a benign, fascinated foreigner. All his films are about that.”
- He’s a founding member of The Sons of Lee Marvin. This tongue-in-cheek “semi-secret” society is composed of men who possess a passing resemblance or plausibly look like a son of actor Lee Marvin. Members include Tom Waits, Josh Brolin, Nick Cave, John Lurie and film director John Boorman. Waits designs the elaborate business cards and the group occasionally meets to watch Lee Marvin films. Christopher Marvin, the real son of Marvin, once voiced his displeasure at the existence of the group.
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