Coffee and cigarettes
Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai is a kung fu, gangster, hip hop thriller. The List shared coffee and cigarettes with JIM JARMUSCH to find out why. Words: Miles Fielder
We're smoking cigarettes in Soho, London and Jim Jarmusch asks me if I’d like to join ’The Friends of Lee Marvin’, a secret society among whose members number Jarmusch, Tom Waits and John Lune. Life can’t get much better for an avid Jarmusch fan. But then Jim discovers he’s run out of
'Matters of great concern should be treated lightly; matters of small concern shOuld be treated
seriously.’ Jim Jarmusch
membership cards. Doh! Still, I'm sharing coffee and cigarettes With the man whose film output in the 80s — Permanent Vacation, Stranger Than Paradise, Down By law, Mystery Train — are what made American independent cinema world class, cult and cool.
Jarmusch’s new film, Ghost Dog: The
Way Of The Samurai, displays the same kind of offbeat observational humour as his previous work. Unlike those films, Ghost Dog mixes genres and with the title character — a black street kid from New York who adopts an eastern code of honour and becomes an assassin for the Mafia '— cultures: east/west, black/white, old school/nu school. - '
’I like synthesis,’ says Jarmusch. ’In the past, thinking about a story or designing a film, if something came from another source I would push it away because it wasn’t original. In this case, I welcomed those things.’ I think
that came from, music, from be-bop .
and hip-hop. With be-bOp, within a solo, you quote a standard. You’re not playing the standard, but you're referring to it and it's resonating in there.’
Jarmusch’s influences are numerous: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, 605 Japanese gangster films, John Boorman’s Point Blank (which stars Lee Marvin), the novels of Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake), Don Quixote, cartoons, and the music of Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, who composed Ghost Dog’s soundtrack.
’I didn’t start with a Samurai film; I started with a character and then he became a Samurai,’ continues Jarmusch ’I guess what I’m most interested in IS that in Western culture warriors are for a specific purpose, which is to go into battle, and in
Eastern culture warriors are also prepared on a very deep spiritual level.’
Jarmusch’s own method of preparation is at odds with the Western way of making films. 'I think I do it backwards. Most people have a story idea and in the end they cast it. I start with actors I want to make a character for. I call up a whole lot of details and then I sit down and make a connect-the-dot drawing out of them and see what it’s a picture of. I don’t know what the story IS, I just sort of Jump in.’
That’s about as self-analytical as Jarmusch gets, because, as he says, ’I’m not analytical about my own stuff; I’m so intuitive it’s hard for me to say.’ When pressed to provide explanation he talks vaguely about how ’peOple don’t seem to follow codes anymore’, and then quotes a pearl of wisdom from Hagakure, the book Ghost Dog
'I didn't start with a Samurai film; I started with a character and then he became a Samurai'
lives by: ’Matters of great concern should be treated lightly; matters of small concern should be treated seriously.’ That’s pretty mUch an artistic paradigm for Jarmusch. ‘
As I turn off my tape recorder Jarmusch lights up a Lucky. It occurs to me: didn’t he quit smoking with Harvey Keitel in Blue In The Face, the follow-up to Smoke? He grins, then intones in his deep voice: ’Miles, that was just acting.’
Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai opens Fri 5 May. See review. FilmFour screen a Jim Jarmusch season which includes all the films mentioned in this preview plus Night On Earth. Dead Man and the rare documentary starring Jarmusch and Sam Fuller, Tigrero - A Film That Was Never Made. Mon 1—Fri 5 May.
27 Apr—l I May 2000 THE UST 23