Tom Waits Names 14 of His Favorite Art Films

Tom Waits is that rare breed of artist who has equal amounts of cred­i­bil­i­ty in the art house the­aters and on the punk rock street. His depres­sion-era every­man blues and drunk­en skid row laments ring just as true as his high-con­cept vaude­ville the­ater act and cock­tail lounge per­for­mance art. Hav­ing the abil­i­ty to con­vinc­ing­ly set his brow high or low makes Waits an excel­lent ambas­sador for film, a medi­um sad­ly riv­en by brow height. While cable TV and Net­flix may be the art hous­es of the 21st cen­tu­ry, let’s not give up on the cul­tur­al reach of lega­cy archives like the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion just yet. Not before we hear Waits weigh in on his favorite art films.

Waits’ fil­mog­ra­phy as an actor is itself a tes­ta­ment to his brow-span­ning abilities—from such wide-release fare as Drac­u­la and Sev­en Psy­chopaths to the scrap­py, inti­mate films of Jim Jar­musch, and more or less every­thing in-between. The threads that run through all of his film choic­es as an actor are a cer­tain sur­re­al sense of humor and the off-kil­ter human­i­ty and for­mal anar­chy we know so well from his musi­cal choic­es.

We see sim­i­lar pro­cliv­i­ties in Waits’ film favorites, as com­piled by Chris Ambro­sio at Cri­te­ri­on. Most of the choic­es are of the, “Ah, of course” vari­ety in that these films so per­fect­ly explain, or illus­trate, the Tom Waits uni­verse. We might imag­ine many of them with alter­nate sound­tracks of songs from Real Gone, Sword­fishtrom­bones, Bone Machine, etc.

First, up, of course, Fellini’s neo­re­al­ist La Stra­da, a film about the sad­dest, sweet­est, gruffest trav­el­ing cir­cus act ever. Waits also con­fess­es a pas­sion for all of the beau­ti­ful­ly over­wrought films of Carl Theodor Drey­er, includ­ing the pro­found and dis­turb­ing 1928 The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc and 1932 hor­ror clas­sic Vampyr (both above). You can see the full list of Waits’ favs below. Let your pas­sion for art film be rekin­dled, and when watch­ing the silent films, con­sid­er putting on some Mule Vari­a­tions or Blood Mon­ey. You’ll prob­a­bly find it fits per­fect­ly.

  1. La Stra­da, Fed­eri­co Felli­ni (U.S. read­ers: watch Fellini’s films free on Hulu)
  2. Zato­ichi: The Blind Swords­man
  3. Put­ney Swope, Robert Downey, Sr.
  4. Every­thing by Carl Theodor Drey­er
  5. Amar­cord, Fed­eri­co Felli­ni
  6. 8 1/2, Fed­eri­co Felli­ni
  7. The Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton
  8. Wise Blood, John Hus­ton
  9. Two-Lane Black­top, Monte Hell­man
  10. Eraser­head, David Lynch
  11. Pick­up on South Street, Samuel Fuller
  12. Ikiru, Aki­ra Kuro­sawa
  13. Ver­non, Flori­da, Errol Mor­ris
  14. In a Lone­ly Place, Nicholas Ray

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free on Hulu: Stream Fellini’s 8 1/2, La Stra­da & Oth­er Clas­sic & Con­tem­po­rary Films

Tom Waits, Play­ing the Down-and-Out Barfly, Appears in Clas­sic 1978 TV Per­for­mance

The Tom Waits Map: A Map­ping of Every Place Waits Has Sung About, From L.A. to Africa’s Jun­gles

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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