Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part VII of VII

“There’s one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy… He’s sending us out in the old way.”

If Martin Scorsese won’t incorporate hip-hop into his mafia pictures, then by God let there be Jarmusch. 

What’s taken me the most aback after following all of Jim Jarmusch’s feature-length work from the 20th century — especially as we approach the 90s — has effortlessly been from his drive to always experiment with genres. Somehow his last feature Dead Man (1995) and this are both about men with hits on them who must confront their makers, and yet, they feel almost as if they operate on polar wavelengths thematically in their respected western and underground worlds. I think out of all the movies of his so far, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai gives into formula the most with its simple plot that takes from anti-hero classics such as Le Samouraï (1967), Taxi Driver (1976), Leon: The Professional (1994), etc. but it does so in such an aesthetically unique way that you can’t help but not be too bothered.

In terms of style, this may be the most charmed I’ve been by Jarmusch since Down by Law (1986). The meticulous birds-eye view location scouting, the psychedelic editing, the old cartoon correlations, and call me a millennial, but I much prefer RZA’s score over Neil Young’s in Dead Man. The movie is additionally quite textbook dorky even for Jarmusch’s standards, expressing code after code of the old yet lost Samurai ways, setting the stage for a story about dying cultures eating each other alive behind the unstoppable modern ones; it makes the film unusually transparent as compared to his previous features, which could plausibly be a byproduct of Dead Man’s initially mixed reception stemming from its idiosyncratic (yet totally wicked and superior in my opinion) indulgences. It makes Ghost Dog conventionally undemanding to consume given its familiar plot brimmed with badass action sequences that meet grounds with these crystal clear — literally often accompanied by written quotations — moral links to the narrative arcs, but admittedly, it left me pondering and remembering far less about its content compared to Jarmusch’s other films.

Still, it only convinced me further for why I admire Jarmusch so much after this marathon: he isn’t afraid to tackle any sector of cinematic (and even musical!) approach without completely sacrificing his golden trademark for crafting authentic character relationships — the linguistically incompatible-compatible friendship of Ghost Dog and Raymond was particularly beautiful!

Verdict: B-

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“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part VI of VII

“F**k me? F**k you.”

Easily the most ambitious and segregated of Jarmusch’s films up to now, if for some reason you didn’t think he pushed his surrealist elements hard enough, well, here’s your chance: this is a fever dream western to death, a vocally evident purgatory for accountant (or artist, immigrant, perhaps even a heartbroken murderer?) William Blake in which almost every distinct character presumably plays a past identity of him to tussle a decision for his afterlife. Dead Man is all about a denialist discovering who he was before death, and the journey to make peace with it before he is no longer wanted by the living world, to look it dead in the eyes while accepting this closure as a final offering as to who he should’ve been otherwise amongst the living. The reticent Johnny Depp facade is not just who this man appears to be; there is diabolical sin behind flesh that must be taken down with him in good old gun-slingin’ fashion meets Charles Dickens’ redemption classic A Christmas Carol (1843). 

The narrative becomes even more poignant though when you begin paralleling it to the atrocities in American history, discerning the main character as the subject representative for its committers. Jarmusch utilizes a rare formula that tells all you need to know while not indicating howbeit which information is exactly most important, leading to the self-reliant puzzle piecing for what exactly’s going on that it trusts upon the viewer. A recent example of a movie that also did something similar is David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021), and the method of its plot using carefully hidden tests to make its lead character prepared for taking on an undisclosed main goal, as well as its audience prepared for their own subjective understanding of the story, although that 2021 feature executed this maneuver with greater mastery due to its stirring, emotionally intense emphases. The jokiest way of describing Dead Man, nonetheless, is that it’s another one of those types of tales centered on how somebody gets “woke” and finds out that they are a piece of s**t in need of change. Finally accept those you wronged and recognize who you were no matter how f**ked up that person may have been… *nudge nudge* white colonizers from our past.

Verdict: B

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“Dead Man” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth (1991)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part V of VII

“Some people have got real troubles.”

Night on Earth is another anthology attempt by Jim Jarmusch — this time an even busier one — and adverse to his previous feature-length that demonstrated the interconnectivity of a shared celebrity influence, it rather demonstrates the interconnectivity of cultural collisions. All of it seems to result in the idea that the end shock of these phenomena usually occur from our incremental realizations that not everybody wants to be or wants to want the same things as what our preconceived perceptions of human desires are based on our singular experience. Solipsist conformity has shortened our understanding of what the people of our planet are really like, and the array of specialized stereotypes that are assigned to each individual certainly don’t help with abstracting us from that habit. We do often believe others lead different lives than ours, yet ironically also believe that these different lives must want what we want. Either that, in which some people simply don’t seek what our definition of an ideal life would be, or the latter: we go in thinking that they aren’t seeking that ideal life in the first place because of their differences when they always were. We constantly forget how similar and different people are, despite how insanely easy of a concept that literally sounds in words; Jarmusch does a solid job at authenticating this reality through five “awe”-evoking taxi cab stories: the hotspot for brief stranger to stranger confrontations. 

It’s all sprinkled with a little plot-karma too not to mention — it’s not quite a Jarmusch if there aren’t some fable elements in it as well, but in the case of this and Mystery Train (1989), they’ve been my least favorite parts about them. Abruptly on-the-nose stuff works on-and-off for this caviller depending on how much the narrative connects with me in the first place; the stronger the more forgivable, I suppose; my love for Stranger Than Paradise (1984)’s ending hardcore proves this. 

Verdict: B

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“Night on Earth” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train (1989)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part IV of VII

“So now do you feel a little happier?”

“I feel the same. I was already happy.”

A whole city revolving specific mechanics because of one dead man. Depending on how each and every one chooses to use him, in just a day he could either enthrall us, enrage us, discomfort us, worry us, haunt us, curious us, eternally inspiring our chosen appearances, gestures, insecurities, expectations, ambitions, misinterpretations, etc. A celebrity, especially a “king”, could live on to be a widespread facade of many people’s, especially locals’, behavior. Don’t know if this is really saying much though, or if this network had that much of an intense impact on me, but it was nice to see that chaos theory truth play out in real time, as per the usual Jarmusch feature. So endearing, so wholesome, so exceptionally performed, and quite quotable too. Hate to admit it, but it made me chuckle throughout…

Also, this is the oldest movie that I’ve seen with Steve Buscemi’s “man who takes the most Ls” typecast at play. Did Jarmusch start it???

Verdict: B

Jim Jarmusch Ranked

“Mystery Train” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law (1986)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part III of VII

“We are a good egg, my friends.”

Buddy movies where the relationships are fleeting just hit differently, and Jarmusch’s technique to make those bonds that happen within them last more extensively than the usual movie would continue to only make this even more of a fact given how it crushes you to know that they ended so quickly despite their worthwhile content. You could depict a decade-long timeframe of connection by stating it as so, and yet it could come off as inconceivable so long as there isn’t proof that that time was felt by the characters as they establish exclusive patterns and develop their value between one another. A dozen genuine moments could be enough for us to buy an on-screen friendship considering those moments only then multiply in our mind when we think retrospectively; give them a girthy near two-hours to play out with a lack of typical focus on the plot and you have yourselves something that convinces us further to believe. 

The diversity of style is evidently denser here than it was in his previous feature-length, which felt more akin to a constraint Cassavetes authenticity in its presentation. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, because the new technical choices in Down by Law are usually always immersive ones: trucking the neighborhood to Tom Waits, the classy noir vibes of the first act, deep contrasted black-and-white cinematography, etc. Sooner than later though, it does begin to settle down into Jarmusch’s trademark dialogue-and-feasible-silence-spaced schtick, but with a wider plate of personality humor to it where the deviating American identities are played more for laughs than critique. Hence, the film doesn’t appear as intentionally meaningful and constantly tragic as say Stranger Than Paradise (1984), but it does leave a deserved gut-punch at the end just like it, with a more open-ended sense of wonder as to what we just witnessed and what it could personally entail to us. In other words, it’s a smart way of shaking up Jarmusch’s hallmarks.

Verdict: A-

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“Down by Law” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part II of VII

“You know, it’s funny. You come to someplace new and everything looks just the same.”

“No kidding, Eddie.”

And yet, there are a lot of “I’m not”s in Stranger Than Paradise. I’m not a Hungarian, I speak English only now, yada yada things are different these days you see? Maybe the priorities aren’t set straight here; maybe the priorities to embody culture shouldn’t be sought in embodying what the genuine persona in your new world should be, or what the genuine American dream — aka the American greed — in your new world should be, but what the genuine bond with its inhabitants should be. We are far too distracted with covering land, and not covering what it is made of, who it’s being built from in the first place; perhaps that’s why it all seems the same to us so frequently. For a movie as prompted to reveal the “true” American experience in an outsider’s bubble space, it ironically makes sense that it’s executed like anti-American sensationalist art.

The acting here is just phenomenal too; feels wholly authentic to reality given how appropriately reserved it and the dialogue always come off as. The beguiling physical comedy is also very much a bonus. 

“Why should I want the peanuts? There’s nothing in it.” How about why is our perception so often closed off? Sheesh, this movie was painfully relatable in the best possible way.

Verdict: A

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“Stranger Than Paradise” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation (1980)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part I of VII

“You know, sometimes I think I should just live fast and die young. And you go in a three-piece white suit, like Charlie Parker.”

An icon complex helps, or more appropriately I should say, distracts slackers from their conditions in the lower class of New York City. Living in a stagnated romance, in a lingering war, in lingering secrets, in a despondent family, in forgotten suicide attempts, by reading the grim; nobody is alone in this but we always feel alone in it despite. Walk it off, dance it off, “drift” it off, slick your hair back, wear a suit, whatever you have to do to keep your composure, boy…

Umm… gotta love DIY vibe movies?

Verdict: B-

Jim Jarmusch Ranked

“Permanent Vacation” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Leos Carax’s Boy Meets Girl (1984)

This is like if Charlie Brown’s “sad walk” was adapted into an entire feature-length.

I can tell Leos Carax has one serious hard-on (but hey, who doesn’t?) for French New Wave cinema in this pitfall of heartbreak he has subjected to quite excessively in the vein of that style, but not to an utterly tarnishing point where I couldn’t be guzzled into what’s essentially occurring here. 

There’s nothing more to say in terms of plot when I mention that this is just a break-up aftermath colliding with a meet-up inception. After his departure from a partner, our main youthful griever Alex is forced to dial-in and endure steadily both the classic wails of aggression and passionate flauntings of affection from the random lovers that surround the streets in irritating or insensible manners, often gazing mindlessly or ignoring stubbornly at these no-name strangers depending on their situation, all in the name of maintaining his glorification of love as some invincible euphoria. I noticed touches of surrealism in its life-sedated, dreamy atmosphere of stringy dialogue and noises that make the film really easy to sink deep into. Boy Meets Girl may not seem like its to completion with its ideas on the complications of young romance and perhaps a bit too tribute-y to its inspirers, but holy f**k is it a mood that I have no regrets testing out and admittedly relating to.

Lighting and sound direction had me floatin’ too.

Verdict: B

Leos Carax Ranked

“Boy Meets Girl” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

Quick-Thoughts: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends (1975)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Marathon Part V of V

Starring Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s penis. Yep, he knew EXACTLY what he was doing there, lol. 

Fox and His Friends has the assimilation commentary of Martha but it’s endorsed by the examinations in prejudice of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Rather than seeing the elitism through sexism, however, Fassbinder expresses it through aporophobia, and rather than seeing the bigotry through racism, Fassbinder expresses it through class. The upper world seems to be as motivated to conform the “uncivilized” into “civilized” as they are to just allowing them to dip back down further into poverty or rather back into poverty, so long as it fits with their agenda — the more power, the greater leniency for self, yadee yada, duh. But, these “uncivilized” roots aren’t necessarily uncivilized as the movie suggests; they really only boil down to cultural norms that are quite fixed based on the economical position or environment you find yourself brought up in, so then why do the norms of the wealthy seem to be pressured with a more authoritarian grip than the lower class? Again, it all comes down to blind trust and glorification for those in positions of victorious finances; it’s the classic tale of money always being our first choice for escapism.

So, it’s fair to say that these financial positions we’re born into sometimes builds and defines our personality that’s set onward, and it’s hard to have it accepted when you’re pressured to assimilate with the culture of the upper class, something looked at as more valuable and ethical. This is what makes patronizing those lower than us such an easy snag to get away with, indulging our superiority complexes to sweeping degrees. Becoming wealthy isn’t the savior of our demise, as well; if anything it puts us through a process of cultural immersion that is shockingly unfulfilling due to the “euphoria of the rich” being a complete hoax, especially in an endless hand of controllers — nobody can ever be on top, even in luxury. In Fox and His Friends, love at first seems to revolve around belief-centeredness in a desire to help those you love, sure, but shouldn’t love also inspire a lack of cultural strictness, and insinuate growth and collaboration with others? Fassbinder doesn’t see that as a reality though, more so as a fallacious dream you should rarely expect out of people born and raised into their own strict, impenetrable realities and ambitions. 

Being born into wealth proves to us that it’s really not a safe-spot of unlimited happiness, and we therefore begin seeking to expand it even more despite our privilege, justifying this ambition with, again, superiority complexes that convince us to destroy those poorer than oneself; it encourages egomania. Being born into the lower classes burdens us with the idea that we need wealth to be happy, and once the few that do finally achieve such a glorified predicament by rising up the pyramid happens, they begin recognizing just like the wealthy that this never-ending ladder is the only thing keeping us hopeful yet counteractively lethal towards others. We naively give our all to new financial lifestyles without actually deciphering the complex realities of what it can deceivingly do to us, and for those who oppositely stick with an inflexible lifestyle forever, they’ll likely develop an unconscious pseudo-intellectual complex powerful enough to turn them into socially protected con-artists against those below or above (Parasite moment) them. 

Although, I guess you can’t knock it till ya try it? Umm… maybe it just is what it is?

Obviously, the title Fox and His Friends is an irony in that Fox never had true friends to begin with. Can you really blame him for it though, living in a world that revolves more around money than it does around love? No wonder friend groups usually function in those born into the same class, to avoid temptation like this when people move up or down, and by people, I mean freshly baked — haha, get it? — victims to be manipulated by the immorally consistent.

Verdict: A-

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Ranked

“Fox and His Friends” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Martha (1974)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Marathon Part IV of V

Fassbinder’s strong point really is “horror”. I can’t believe this just ended up being a TV movie, smh. 

Martha (aka try not to let the Electra complex control you into tolerating a psychopathic husband) thinks love and marriage simply cannot compensate with reason sometimes. Imagine being so corrupted and beaten down by the power of jurisdiction that you can come to talking yourself out of recognizing your own power and importance. When you’re manipulated from the very start by gender authorities you begin to feel a withdrawal when it’s suddenly taken away from you, not knowing the happiness that free-will can bring you and conditioned to only finding that nonsensical dependence once more. If we treat each other like children all our lives, we should only expect childish, inequitable, and toxic relationships to be the definitive outcome of it.

Fassbinder smartly takes on a graphic approach here, continuously pounding violent visuals at us in a world that seems to be completely oblivious to them; there’s an absurdity to them yet a clear emphasis of realism towards what they represent. It reminds me of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire just a tiny tiny bit with its constant heaving of abuse upon our lead protagonist, rippled off in the first place from their desperation for “objective” satisfaction through approval, as how society or rebellion demands it to be. This movie is incredibly shelled with a haunted house feeling of female oppression, showing how plenty of men incline themselves into basically locking women of the family up in cages and training them like pets through psychologically degrading methodologies; the abhorrence of female to male relational dynamics are so apparent in Fassbinder’s savage depiction of a woman unsure of her way in life that you embody this force inside of her to continue undergoing the abuse of men because they’ve tormented her to be so all her life by distancing her independence, swiping egoism (the basic human necessity) needed to truly experience freedom from their reach.

Of course, Martha‘s composition is dilated with more of Fassbinder’s signature blocking, yet with maybe my favorite color choices by him thus far with the set/light design — the library, the wedding, the garden… ugh! If that red and blue mirror/hallway contrast shot at minute 25 ain’t the sole definition of “visually appeasing” than I don’t know what is. Ohhh, and that relatable spin of anxiety that the camera does when Martha and Helmut (the two “lovers”) first see one another had me dizzy.

All in all, Martha is a pretty sturdy allegory for being an eternal victim, but one who occasionally walks right out in the open for nobody watching to understand. Precisely, though, it’s one dedicated to a bourgeoisie subject living in a 1970s Germany, a country currently recovering from their own past blind loyalties for leaders due to systematic manipulation (i.e. Hitler). Hint: these habits haven’t quite left them yet. 

Verdict: B+

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Ranked

“Martha” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.