Unseen Scenes from Jim Jarmusch’s 1986 Jailbreak Movie Down By Law

In 1980, Jim Jar­musch made his first fea­ture, Per­ma­nent Vaca­tion, an urban walk­a­bout that’s equal parts stark, alien­at­ed, and fun­ny. Four years lat­er came Stranger Than Par­adise, a film often com­pared to both Yasu­jiro Ozu and The Hon­ey­moon­ers, and the one that made his name in the cinephilic con­scious­ness. Faced with the job of fol­low­ing up this sur­pris­ing­ly (some would say shock­ing­ly) low-key hit, Jar­musch came up with 1986’s Down By Law. His pro­duc­tions have always tak­en pains to assem­ble dis­tinc­tive casts, and this one stars the trio of Tom Waits, Stranger Than Par­adise’s John Lurie, and Rober­to Benig­ni. When the three find them­selves locked up togeth­er in the same prison cell, they devise an escape plan that takes them straight out into the sur­round­ing Louisiana swamps. The film there­fore rep­re­sents Jar­musch’s entry into the genre of the jail­break movie, albeit in the same con­ven­tion-skew­ing, tra­di­tion-dis­miss­ing, tan­gen­tial way that his Dead Man was a west­ern, his Ghost Dog was a samu­rai movie, and his The Lim­its of Con­trol was a spy thriller.

Above you’ll find unseen scenes Jar­musch shot for Down by Law (here’s part two) show­ing a few char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly intrigu­ing moments of per­for­mance from Waits, Lurie, and oth­ers in jail and out on the streets of New Orleans. All of it comes shot in a rich, dream­like black-and-white by famed cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Rob­by Müller, a look Jar­musch tried out in Stranger Than Par­adise and would lat­er per­fect in Dead Man. Though these scenes did­n’t ulti­mate­ly make it into the movie, they nonethe­less come off as clear­ly Jar­muschi­an in their appear­ance and tone. Crit­ics have long con­sid­ered Jar­musch one of the least, if not the least com­pro­mis­ing inde­pen­dent film­mak­er to come out of the eight­ies. You can, of course, see that in the way an entire per­son­al­i­ty comes through in each of his films. But lis­ten close­ly to these out­takes, and you’ll find that even the way he says “action” and “cut” bears the stamp of his cin­e­mat­ic atti­tude.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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