Jim Jarmusch’s Anti-MTV Music Videos for Talking Heads, Neil Young, Tom Waits & Big Audio Dynamite

Jim Jar­musch is the anti-MTV film­mak­er. Most music videos, from the dawn of MTV in 1981 on, are slick and facile, long on visu­al spec­ta­cle and short on things like depth or, you know, coher­ence. Jar­musch, who start­ed mak­ing movies in the East Vil­lage in the 1970s when the DIY-spir­it of the No Wave move­ment was at its zenith, made movies that were delib­er­ate­ly slow and spare, recall­ing Bertolt Brecht and Yasu­jiro Ozu.

“I don’t gen­er­al­ly like music videos because they pro­vide you images to go with the songs rather than you pro­vid­ing your own,” he said in an inter­view with Film Com­ment back in 1992. “You lose the beau­ty of music by not bring­ing your own men­tal images or rec­ol­lec­tions or asso­ci­a­tions. Music videos oblit­er­ate that.”

Yet he did direct a hand­ful of videos. As much as he dis­likes the medi­um, Jar­musch gets music in a way that few oth­er direc­tors do. It is an inte­gral ele­ment of all Jarmusch’s work. Check out the open­ing to his third fea­ture Down By Law:

He uses Tom Waits’s “Jock­ey Full of Bour­bon” to ani­mate those gor­geous track­ing shots of New Orleans to set up the char­ac­ters and evoke a mood of retro-cool. Jarmusch’s bril­liant edit­ing and cam­era work cre­ate new asso­ci­a­tions with the music. I can’t lis­ten to Tom Waits’ song now with­out think­ing of Down By Law.

The prob­lem that Jar­musch real­ly had with music videos, it seems, is the end pur­pose. The music in Down By Law serves the sto­ry. A music video serves com­merce. Jar­musch admit­ted as much when he butted heads with Waits over mak­ing a video for “It’s All Right By Me,” which you can see above.

“I had a big fight years ago with Tom Waits,” he recalled in an inter­view with The Guardian. “He said: ‘Look, it’s not your film. It’s a pro­mo for my song.’ It was after Down By Law, and it was about the edit­ing. But he was right….I remem­ber I locked him out­side in the park­ing lot, and he’s ham­mer­ing at the door, and he’s shout­ing through ‘Jim! I’m gonna glue your head to the wall!’ He did­n’t glue my head to the wall. But they’re not real­ly films of mine, they’re films for a song. I learned that a long time ago.”

Jarmusch’s first music video was “The Lady Don’t Mind” by the Talk­ing Heads off, of their album Lit­tle Crea­tures. It fea­tures some lone­ly shots of New York City and an emp­ty apart­ment that looks very rem­i­nis­cent of Jarmusch’s ear­ly ‘80s works.

Here’s a music video for Neil Young’s “Dead Man” which is essen­tial­ly a mon­tage of shots from Jarmusch’s same-named 1996 mas­ter­piece. One sus­pects he had less trou­ble with this video than the oth­ers.

Final­ly, over at Dan­ger­ous Minds, you can see a video that Jar­musch shot for Big Audio Dyna­mite’s song “Sight­see M.C.!.” BAD was, of course, the band formed by the gui­tarist and singer of the Clash, Mick Jones.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Hear the Ear­li­est Known Talk­ing Heads Record­ings (1975)

Tim Bur­ton Shoots Two Music Videos for The Killers

Watch the Uncen­sored Andy Warhol-Direct­ed Video for The Cars’ Hit “Hel­lo Again” (NSFW)

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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 

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