Jim Jarmusch, that gorgeously coiffed doyen of cinematic cool, made movies slow and understated at a time when Hollywood increasingly cranked out flicks that were quick, slick and vacuous.
From his groundbreaking, hugely influential second feature Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Jarmusch made a string of movies filled with laconic down-and-out hipster, clever narrative elisions and great music. Jarmusch was a vocalist for the No Wave band The Del Byzanteens and his affinity for musicians is clear in his movies. Tom Waits played lead in Down By Law, Clash frontman Joe Strummer had a major role in Mystery Train and his omnibus movie Coffee and Cigarettes featured Iggy Pop, the White Stripes and a good chunk of the Wu Tang Clan. (See our previous post: Jim Jarmusch: The Art of the Music in His Films.)
So it surprised pretty much nobody when Jarmusch came out with the concert documentary Year of the Horse in 1997, about rock god Neil Young and his perennial band Crazy Horse. Young previously recorded the haunting soundtrack for Jarmusch’s psychedelic Western masterpiece Dead Man (1995) and apparently they hit it off. Jarmusch followed Crazy Horse on their 1996 tour and the result was a messy, rambling work that mirrored the rough, rambling music of Crazy Horse. Jarmusch shot much of it in Super 8mm film stock and then blew it up to 35mm. For much of the film, especially during the concert sequences, you get the sense of watching a Seurat painting in the middle of a jam session.
The movie didn’t do well commercially. Roger Ebert, for one, hated the movie with a white-hot passion. But there were moments in the film that are pretty great. One, which you can see above, shows Jarmusch and Young having a deadpan conversation about the Bible.
The clip opens in 1978 when Young has been buttonholed by some kook who says that he’s Jesus. Just before he ducks out of the conversation Young quips to the would-be prophet, “hope you make it this time. Last time was rough.” Cut to 1996; Jarmusch and Young are in the back of a tour bus and may or may not be high. Their conversation, however, is definitely stony. It wouldn’t be out of place in one of Jarmusch’s fiction films either. Young states, “The Bible is quite a book… What’s the old testament?” The filmmaker responds, “The Old Testament is before Christ… It’s Moses and all that. And it’s when God is really pissed all the time.” Jarmusch then reads a particularly gory passage from the Book of Ezekiel to illustrate his point.
Below you can watch a video of Young and Jarmusch talking about how they came to collaborate with each other.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.