Jarmusch's Rock and Roll Vampire Oddity is Anchored By Performances Both Witty and Wise | 2 or 3 Things I Know About Film >> Film Film reviews, essays, analysis and more Film | 2 or 3 Things I Know About Film >> Film Film reviews, essays, analysis and more
Jarmusch’s Rock and Roll Vampire Oddity is Anchored By Performances Both Witty and Wise

CREDIT: SOURCE

In Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, there’s a segment in which a Hollywood casting agent partakes in a ride from a taxi driver musician of whom has dreams of being a mechanic. It’s some of the finest twenty minutes in the director’s filmography for more ways than the obvious, the first being both characters’ awareness (or coming to be so) of what a minimal thing ‘fame’ and ‘fortune’ actually is. The second aspect is that it's also an explanation for the director's perspective on music (something ever apparent in just about everything Jarmusch has done to date) as a cliff note within the story. This taxi driver declines a deal to star in a Hollywood production without any hesitation, simply because she has dreams of her own. Fame isn't a priority or something she actively seeks, and that ideal even acts outside of her own actions in making music - an artform, just like the movies, known for attracting a celebrity status. In Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, one-half of the main characters is a musician putting together heavy-bass guitar riffs that would make Jack White (referenced within) cream his midnight-black jeans, yet he claims that he’s not a bit interested in garnering fame. But the questions linger whether it’s really something personally unwanted, or if this has more to do with the simple fact that having such attention would underline to the world one crucial fact: he’s a vampire, and he has spent years bringing this fact to secrecy. It's a conflict, and one that in today's age could be described one-dimensionally as almost "hipster".

Only Lovers Left AliveCREDIT: SOURCE

Jarmusch isn’t the first artist to actually connect the vampire mythology to the realm of rock and roll (the most iconic being Anne Rice’s creation of the vampire Lestat), but there’s a lot of what is done in Only Lovers Left Alive that ties into Jarmusch’s auteurist ideals – the least being an opening sequence that crosscuts the overhead shots of a vinyl player with the rotating environments of the vampire characters (brought, I must add, with layers of intellect and wisdom by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton). There are a variety of subplots (mostly conversations) about various mediums present – from the reading and creation of literature (Shakespeare is brought up comically in one large reveal) to the ‘idiocy’ and confusion of religion (it’s ironic how society’s denial of science frustrates the vampires the way it does – considering their existence itself is one without any real explanation). It’s only natural that Jarmusch bluntly parallels – not unlike Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction back in the 90s – the drinking of blood with that of drug addiction; a smaller element to a bigger picture: music (and art as a whole) being envisioned as a timeless creature of its own – made by those searching for some greater meaning.

Only Lovers Left AliveCREDIT: SOURCE

 

 

In Night on Earth, there’s a later segment in that film concerning a blind woman listening with a gleeful smile as a nearby car collision takes place between a stranger and the taxi driver she had just engaged in an erotic, yet muddled, conversation with about what it means to actually “see”. Something cringingly philosophical turns hilariously satirical when the fellow victim in the car accident screams “Are you blind?” at the fellow cabman. Only Lovers Left Alive has a tongue planted so far in cheek, it has an entire climax dedicated to the hiding of a body and is directed like the physical behaviors of Crispin Glover’s character in Jarmusch’s Dead Man have taken over everything in frame. There’s a tension in every silent, slower-paced moment – where one is questioning if somebody or something is going to snap and do something terrifying, or if one of the vampires are just going to look at the camera with a Haneke-style wink at the audience.

Only Lovers Left AliveCREDIT: SOURCE

When Swinton’s character questions another vampire following a brutal attack (of which, rightfully, takes place off-screen), she matter-of-factly asks: “Do you know what century this is?” – the vampires having confiscated their iconography over the many decades to the mere food supply from a blood bank. It’s here where one has to question Jarmusch’s commentary, when he finishes the film on a human couple making love under a neon blue, -electronic crescent moon; the main vampire couple staring from the shadows and lurking in the most ironic ways possible for the previously not-so cliché vampire. They approach their prey in a time of need: “excuse-moi”; sarcastic, melancholic, tragic and an almost redefinition of what one would consider genre horror. It also paints to life the darker corners of the very people Jarmusch has been fascinated with since he first came onto the cinema scene; music and sound being one of his interlocked traits. Two mythological creatures still with human emotion spending years on earth adapting to cultural shifts and gathering intelligence, but still just as baffled by what they’re living for as the rest of us are.