For more than three decades, Jim Jarmusch has been creating on-screen worlds that blur the line between reality and his eccentric imagination. Whether taking place on the moonlike terrain of the Floridian coast in winter or the neon-lit streets of Memphis, Jarmusch’s portraits of outcasts find both strange poetry and dry humor in everyday encounters. With our release of Dead Man coming out this April, and in celebration of his birthday today, we’re honoring this great American filmmaker with a look back at the writing we’ve published on his films.
- “With its dislocated travelogue, Stranger Than Paradise suggests Wenders’s Kings of the Road; the transcendently shabby moonscapes evoke Chantal Akerman’s News from Home, and the absence of reverse angles her Jeanne Dielman; while the shaggy-dog narrative and vignette structure are anticipated by Jim Benning’s 8 1/2 x 11 and 11 x 14,” wrote J. Hoberman in his 1984 review of the film for the Village Voice, which we republished in our release. Though the film evokes a wide range of artistic references, it is “too strongly imagined and assembled to ever seem derivative. It’s never less than wholly and confidently itself.”
- Luc Sante describes Jarmusch’s 1986 jailbird comedy Down by Law as “an open-ended fable that both invites interpretations and gleefully defeats them. In this and other ways, the movie justifies the clichéd label of ‘poetic cinema.’ Jarmusch has something of the amateur chemist about him—he enjoys assembling diverse ingredients in a flask and seeing how they will interact . . . The result is irreducible, a movie as self-contained as an egg.”
- Dennis Lim calls Mystery Train, Jarmusch’s 1989 ode to Memphis and the ghosts of Americana, “a puzzle movie as humanist manifesto. Not just attuned to the formal pleasures of synchronicity and repetition, it’s founded on the most basic facts of human commonality and difference: our lives are filled with shared experiences that we nonetheless feel and understand in disparate ways.”
- “Although his style has continued to evolve over the years, one thing has been constant throughout: his films resemble no one else’s,” writes Paul Auster in one of the five liner essays written for our edition of Night on Earth. “Unlike most American directors, he has little interest in narrative per se (hence the so-called European flavor of his work), choosing instead to recount shaggy-dog stories filled with loopy asides, unpredictable digressions, and an intense focus on what is happening at a particular moment.”