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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