The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Friday, September 30, 2005

down by law

As I write, I'm boring my wife with an old favorite movie of mine, Jarmusch's DOWN BY LAW. If you aren't familiar with it, it's an extremely slow-moving black-and-white film from 1986 about three losers--a DJ (Tom Waits), a pimp (John Lurie), and an Italian (a pre-Robin Williamized Roberto Benigni)--who get put into the Orleans Parish Prison and break out. It's typical early Jarmusch: extremely dry in its humor, influenced by Godard but much less serious (except in the view of the author of the article on the Geocities link above). Benigni is hilarious without mugging for the camera, as he began egregiously to do with JOHNNY STECCHINO. I ordered the film from Netflix because I remember it as a great New Orleans movie: I was never able to visit New Orleans without thinking about the film, which was never the case with the more commercial NOLA films (ANGEL HEART, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, even UNDERCOVER BLUES). The use of music is sparing but great: I love the intro shots, drive-by views of NOLA houses to Tom Waits' masterpiece "Jockey Full Of Bourbon," more than any other part of the film. It's very cheaply made, and especially in some of the early scenes (esp. the one between Ellen Barkin and Tom Waits) the sound is tinny and terrible. I loved it back in high school for reasons I couldn't articulate then. Today, I think that love came from the discovery that professionalism didn't have to be the telos of films. It has a DIY aesthetic to it that I already really appreciated in music and literature but that I'd never experienced in films.

The Criterion Collection now issues its version of this classic.


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