Andrew Pulver and Mark Sladen spend Tuesday night in Memphis with JimJarmusch (below). while over the page Andrew Burnet checks out UCI’s new multiplex cinema in East Kilbride.
INDEX: 10 LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 21 WEEK TWO 22
Director Jim Jarmusch‘s new film Mystery Train is released in Scotland next week. Andrew Pulver and Mark Sladen asked him about it in New York.
According to Jim Jarmusch. .'llyster_\‘ Train is the final film in a trilogy formed also by Stranger than Paradise and Down By Law. xl/ft‘ItHIUdUS' of his quirky personal style will not be disappointed: but it is also his most fluid film. and should be his biggest hit to date. Meeting .lim Jarmusch it is clear where that style originates: he irresistibly suggests a Warhol l’opster from the old Factory days: gaunt face and silver hair. black clothes and Greenwich Village drawl. llis films seem of that era too: beatnik stories. blurred dialogue. rock stars and rocking action. But Jarmusch himself is far from careless or vague — since leaving NYL,‘ Film School ten years ago he has never put a foot wrong.
Mystery Train. like the earlier films. draws heavily on a beat-inspired road-movie genre. Three separate groups of oddly-assorted people drifting or careering through Memphis. Tennessee — three stories running in parallel through a single day and night. 'l'ypically. in classic beat style. the film makes use of the outsider — whether tourist. oddball or deadbeat — to look at America from an unexpected angle. Jarmusch explains its relevance to his contemporary position: ‘lt's been a feature of all my films. 1 think it‘s because. firstly. America is made up of people from other cultures. And there’s also the way it allows me as a writer to get a different perspective on America — or to get different perspectives together within a story.‘
In Mystery Train this role is filled by. amongst others. a pair of Japanese teenagers travelling to Graceland. the shrine ofElvis Presley. ‘I like the fact that they're Japanese. I like the idea of these kids coming to America to see remnants of whatever the declining American civilisation has to offer. which is basically pop culture. rock‘n‘roll. And yet I think of myself as being very American on the one hand. and being very much an outsider on another. I like some of the things about America that can he very negative — like the disposable element in American culture. I like the idea ofnot owning things. I like to travel — the hotel where nothing's mine. the rented car that's like a disposable lighter.‘
The figure of Elvis plays a central role in the film. casting its shadow over Memphis and acting as an icon for the hopes and fears of the
characters as well as for Jarmusch‘s own sense of the ambiguity of America: "l'here is this naive adulation — they idolise Elvis. at first. But by the end you have Johnny (Joe Strummer) saying. “Oh man. there he is again — that fucking guy. I can’t get rid of him". The sense of Elvis changes in the film — though I didn’t want to attack him personally. because I feel that he’s a kind oftragic figure. When Elvis died I rememberJohn Lennon saying. ‘Ycah. but Elvis died the day he went into the army.‘
.llystery Train strives. and usually manages. to appear completely casual. But Jartnusch himself is clearly wary of misrepresentation. quick to dismiss the suggestion that he should compromise his personal style of film-making: ‘I don‘t think about the audience. I want my films to reach as many people as they can. but I cannot design them for a specific audience — l consciously don't think about it. I try to make a film that I think [would like. and that all the people working with me would like. it‘s a collaboration with all of them to produce something that expresses itself to a wider audience .‘
At the same time. statement is far from the surface ofJarmusch‘s film work: naivete is a key note. The style ofshooting. editing. and using sound is designed to play down the director’s presence. to depersonalise the camera‘s viewpoint: ‘I never move the camera for effect. If the character‘s static. I don‘t track on them with a
swelling piece of music for an emotional effect. I like the camera to he observational. and not to be a character. I like to move the camera when the characters move — we move with them. I like the almost voyeuristic sense ofwatching them.‘
‘lt‘s like the scene in Mystery 'I'rat'n when the guy gets shot in the liquor store. Most people would have had close-ups. slow-motion and exploding bottles — they would have played that up. I wanted it to seem like a surveillance camera — I wanted you to see it that way. not in a romanticist way ( I find that annoying — it‘s like Miami Vtt'e).' When the usual signposts are removed. an audience has to watch a film more closely. ‘I don’t go from one dramatic moment to another — I'm interested in what happens in between. Sometimes the moments in between dialogue tell you a lot more about a character than the dialogue itself. There are so many ways to communicate with someone (that's really the main theme of Down By Law. If it‘s not in the language it maybe in the look.‘
Jarmusch seems confident that an audience will come to him. without him having to compromise. ()n the evidence of .tlysterv 'l'rut'n there seems no reason to doubt him. As he says. there is a way into all ofhis films: "l’hey‘re not really experimental films. they’re just simple comedies. but still comic.' (Andrew Pulver and Mark Sladen)
Mystery Tram. Edinburgh I't/Ht/HHLH’. 9—18 Dee.
The List 8 — 21 December 1989 9