A remarkable retrospective of the works of director Jim Jarmusch begins at TIFF Bell Lightbox July 24 to August 16; remarkable because rather than just being a curated cross-section of Jarmusch’s best Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch is a complete collection of all 12 of his feature releases: the great, the good and the strange.
The series opens with Permanent Vacation, a first feature financed on the most authentic of independent budgets, the funds from an educational grant. What’s more, Permanent Vacation (1980) is made after Jarmusch drops out of film school establishing film schools as essential institutes to attend and even more essential to defy.
Permanent Vacation is a day in the life of a NYC slacker; a Llewyn Davis without the cat. It marks the first collaboration with other film notables like Lounge Lizard frontman, John Lurie, and directors Tom Dicillo and Sara Driver.*
Brad Deane, Manager, Film Programmes, TIFF schedules a chronological progress of Jarmusch’s work up to Mystery Train (1989) before succumbing to a more random scheduling of the films. “Depending on the filmmaker, I like the idea of showing films chronologically so that you can see how a filmmaker’s style evolves and the context of the times may or may not influence their work, “says Deane
Arguably the basis of what makes a Jarmusch film uniquely Jarmusch is established in the early films of the 80s. When we reach films like Dead Man (1995), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Ghost Dog; the Way of the Samurai (1999) and the most recent, Only Lovers Left Alive (2003), the mould has been set and the work takes on recognizable themes, and sometimes, particularly in the case of the under-appreciated The Limits of Control (2009), experimental attempts at shaking an established foundation.
Jarmusch remains a self-proclaimed outsider. He embraces a counter-culture society of fringe-dwellers, immigrants, musicians, transients and vampires, and presents them to a mainstream audience. As Jarmusch’s career progresses he holds fast to those characters and to the independent style that still defines his filmmaking.
A bit about the programing: No doubt programming a successful retrospective is somewhat like successfully scoring music on a film: the effect is felt but not immediately recognized, and perhaps never acknowledged.
A well curated programme enhances the movie experience beyond providing a venue for the director’s work. It begins with an understanding of the filmmaker that surpasses both public persona and academic analysis and yet includes both.
The best retrospectives enlist the interest of the cinephile and excite the curiosity of the movie-goer (everyone else). Strange Paradise is one such retrospective. It’s celebratory and it’s inclusive. It highlights the many genres Jarmusch has worked in, including the western, vampire film, music documentary, film noir and even Samurai movie. It includes actors Johnny Depp, Tilda Swinton, Winona Ryder, Roberto Benigni, Robert Mitchum, Gena Rowlands, Cate Blanchet and Bill Murray.
And yet Deane takes one step further. In addition to programming Strange Paradise: The films of Jim Jarmusch, Deane programmed Magic, Realism: The Films of Sara Driver.
Driver and Jarmusch has worked and lived together since the early 80s.
“Jim and Sara started out at school together, at NYU,” says Deane, “When I watch their films I feel like there is a shared sensibility but I think that goes back to their roots in the No Wave scene more than anything.”
The No Wave scene sprang from the lower east side of NYC as a response to the very prominent New Wave scene that was happening through the 70s and 80s.
“I think both filmmakers echo the influence of the No Wave scene, they are both uncompromising artists who work in a very DIY (do it yourself) spirit.”
Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox from July 24 to August 16.
*Magic, Realism: The Films of Sara Driver runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox from July 25 to August 6.