Saturday, September 25, 2004

Dead Man

Jim Jarmusch doesn't want to just tell you a story. He wants to take you there.

Stranger than Paradise.
Down by Law.
Mystery Train.
Night on Earth.

Travelogues full of road/world-weary travelers en route to destination:
Nowhere.
Anywhere.
Everywhere.
The destination is always implied, but is rarely what is truly sought. Every journey unique, each story its own (though some of the players reappear from time to time), and even when the journey is over it never really ends.

That is, until Dead Man.

William Blake has lost it all, his parents, his fiancee, and very soon his life. Blake heads out west from Cleveland for the town of Machine, and begins a slow descent. He arrives in Machine with expectations of starting a new job, and a new life. He ends up destitute, lost, wounded, and wanted for murder and theft.

Needless to say Dead Man is not your typical western. It riffs on the Western by turning its eye towards the issues that the Traditional Western is typically blind to. Isolationism, colonialism, racism, and some of the most unglamorous depictions of violence you're apt to see. Jarmusch's west isn't as "busy" as others; for the most part, people keep to themselves, so the dialogue is spare, but not simple or stilted, just to the point. Cinematographer Robby Müller strips the landscape bare with his black and white palette, and we are left with no point of reference, just the steady constant pace of the story marching on. Though the look and feel of the film is rather stark, there are scenes that ease the journey a bit by lightening the mood, and providing a good laugh here and there. Dead Man is a journey into the unsettled west, and a statement on what it really means to die.

Tidbits:

  • The parts of William Blake and Nobody were written specifically for Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer.
  • This was Robert Mitchum's final film.
  • The films themes are based on Jarmusch's readings of William Blake and Native American writings.
  • The character Benmont Tench gets his name from Hearbreaker musician Benmont Tench.
  • The characters Cole Wilson and Johnny Pickett get their names from Wilson Pickett.
  • The Marshall's Lee and Marvin got their names from Lee Marvin.
  • Nobody gets his name from the James Brown song "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing".
  • The character Big George gets his name from record producer George Drakoulias.
  • The soundtrack was performed by Neil Young playing directly to the picture over a period of 2 days.
  • The soundtrack features Johnny Depp reading the poetry of Blake.

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