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