16 April 2006

The Tragic Hipness of Jim Jarmusch: Films I Hate, Part 2

I quite literally think from time to time that Jim Jarmusch is personally trying to impress me. His casts include a slew of personal favorites of mine like Tom Waits, Tilda Swinton, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer, Béatrice Dalle, Chloë Sevigny, Crispin Glover, Frances Conroy. He got Neil Young to entirely score Dead Man. He makes visual homages to Robert Frost and Seijun Suzuki. He includes the Wu Tang Clan both in his films and on their soundtracks. And he succeeds at personally impressing me most of the time. Other times, he fails... miserably. I wanted to include his brief performance in Wayne Wang's Blue in the Face on this second-installment of "Films I Hate," but as I turned it off midway through (as I discuss in both posts, clever casting does nothing for me... even though I bet, before Blue in the Face, you never thought you'd see a film with Harvey Keitel, Roseanne Barr, RuPaul, Lou Reed, Madonna, Lily Tomlin, and Jim Jarmusch in the same film), I can't comment on its truly abysmal nature. So, here they are, two more additions to the ever-increasing list of films I hate.

Coffee and Cigarettes - dir. Jim Jarmusch - 2003 - USA/Japan/Italy

More so than ever, Hollywood has ran out of ideas. Sequels, remakes, films based on video-games hit your multiplexes every week it seems. But Hollywood isn't the only one who can't seem to think up anything new. We musn't put those outside of Hollywood off the hook. The music industry does it all the time. Did we really need a Massive Attack greatest hits this past week? From what I've heard, most of the B-sides are pretty throw-away. Is it not just a way to buy more time for an actual new album to come out? Both Pearl Jam and Dead Can Dance have thrown out "limited edition" live albums of each of their concert stops... to make you forget you haven't heard a new album in a long time. This even applies to our "indie" icons, like Jim Jarmusch. In 2003, he hadn't made a film since 1999's Ghost Dog, so instead of waiting to create some new material... hell, why don't we just throw together a trio of short films I made in the '80s and get some of my famous friends (omigod, Cate Blanchett and the White Stripes! With Tom Waits and Iggy Pop!) to star in new variations on the same subject? Granted, this fiasco did allow us to set our hopes low for 2005's Broken Flowers, for who wouldn't have been pissed to discover Broken Flowers... six years in the making?

Not all of the segments are without merit. A lot of people I know really got into the Alfred Molina/Steve Coogan segment, as well as the final one with Taylor Mead. The film will probably always be remembered for the Bill Murray/RZA/GZA segment, however, which was the first indication of Jarmusch's slump. "Jim-fucking-Jarmusch is casting Bill Murray in his next film!?! Lemme guess, Bill Murray as Bill Murray, right?" I guess having Bill Murray in your film really lifts the pressure off of you to make a good film. No one will recognize Broken Flowers as a Jarmusch film, as much as they will another Bill Murray one. So, no harm done right? I really don't think I've seen a series of short-films, especially from a well-respected filmmaker like Jarmusch, feel so painfully uninspired.

Straight to Hell - dir. Alex Cox - 1987 - UK

Sometimes even I can be impressed by your hip friends. Especially if those hip friends include Grace Jones (above), Dennis Hopper, Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello, and Shane MacGowan of the Pogues. And who doesn't love seeing a fat Courtney Love getting beaten? And then sometimes you can get all your friends together for the lamest party of the year. The Internet Movie Database reports that this film was never intended to be made. The bands in question (The Pogues, The Clash, The Circle Jerks, Costello, Amazulu) were supposed to be a part of a big tour that was never funded. As they had time to kill, they decided to get with punk-rock filmmaker Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) and goof around. And goof around is what they did. Presenting itself as a modern spaghetti western, it was about as good as a Civil War musical my cousin and I made when we were thirteen (set to Devo songs, no less). And, yes, a Civil War musical with Devo songs in it does sound delectable, but I can assure you it wasn't. And more so than that, I can assure you that Straight to Hell is a fucking disaster.

Films come around from time to time that are so utterly awful that one cannot find the right words to express its wretchedness. Straight to Hell is one of them. I've always marveled at the way Hal Hartley (whom I hate) has reduced someone as vibrantly watchable as Parker Posey to a dull zombie as he did in Henry Fool. And while Cox doesn't exactly do this here, he gets together a truly memorable cast (minus Courtney Love) and ruins all the potential. I mean, c'mon, only a genius would cast Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones as a married couple. Yet somehow, the two are only in one scene, and Cox only gives our Grace a single line. Jim Jarmusch (the thread that links this terrible film to the previous terrible one) shows up near the end of the film as.... oh, I forget. But I remember his character was very important and appears just before the final showdown. Alex Cox really isn't as wretched as this film is... Repo Man and Sid & Nancy both have their charms, though I can do without his ode to Ken Russell with Revengers Tragedy. Here is just one example of a dream cast put to complete waste.


Eric Dienstfrey said...

Oddly the only two Jarmusch films I can stand are Night on Earth & Coffee & Cigs but that's only because I'm not much of a fan of Jarmusch. I found Dead Man rather painful and I haven't been able to sit through Down By Law without stopping it. At least he's better than Hartley.

reassurance said...

Yikes. Because to most Jarmusch fans Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes are the worst. I was really into Jarmusch for a while, but that time appears to have passed.