Both devotees and the merely curious gathered last Thursday, April 30 for the Young Friends of Film special event “An Evening with Jim Jarmusch.” The event boasted a chat & reception with Jarmusch following the screening of his new film The Limits of Control. Film Comment editor Gavin Smith issued an ominous yet invigorating disclaimer that the film was zealously dividing the critical legions, but proudly forecasted it to be a personal Top Ten of 2009 entry.
Jarmusch is an indie icon due to his highly-regarded oeuvre, as well as his distinctive white-maned guise and a uniquely droll, delicately precise mode of articulation that has made him a go-to talking head for profiles and documentaries. Suffice to say, he’s a prized raconteur with much to share. Things got to a befitting start as Jarmusch declared, “This is the first real audience for the film,” before quipping, “that is, if you are real.”
Jarmusch unconventionally opened with a confessional of the semi-cosmic deliberations haunting him as of late. Like the film itself—laden with endless variations of cryptic passages, exchanges, and codes—he returned time and again to the power of the “imagination” and its transcendent ability to decontextualize information, all the while mischievously noting, “this doesn’t necessarily relate to the film.” The discussion conformed with his continual quest to find new ways of conveying meaning outside of conventional narrative tropes. The film, ultimately, “was an exercise in celebrating a love of cinema and what it is capable of.”
When Smith insistently questioned the political critique inherent in his recent films, highlighted by Murray’s Dick Cheney evocations in Control, Jarmusch semi-jokingly replied “I’d rather talk about Pythagoras.” While he conceded, “It was a real drag in the last ten years telling foreign cab drivers I was Canadian,” and reinforced the Dead Man-reminiscent stance that “America was founded on genocide,” Jarmusch remained weary of didactic messages, insisting his films are grounded in metaphor.
The audience was refreshingly uninclined to ask for cut-and-dry explanations, instead throwing out suggestions for extrapolation. Jarmusch expressed extreme admiration for his DP Christopher Doyle (“For every two ideas, he has a hundred.”), regular performers Bill Murray (“He’s just so human. I am moved by how observant and empathetic he is.”) & Tilda Swinton (“I just want to layer more and more preposterous wigs and disguises on her… One day I asked her to marry me.”), and film scorers Boris (“Their music is very cinematic, atmospheric. Music nurtures my creativity process.”). He discussed the intuitive rhythm he and longtime collaborator/editor Jay Rabinowitz worked to create, and displayed a surprisingly optimistic attitude towards the You Tube age, celebrating the beauty of “free information.”
Jarmusch’s frantic request for three more questions after Smith announced “We’ve got time for one more,” revealed a charmingly superstitious nature, a formalist sensibility much like his filmmaking, and an eagerness to engage his audience. He proved receptive to the inevitable non-questions, welcoming interpretations of the film, insisting, like the mantras of its characters, that subjectivity is the name of the game. His only expressed hostilities were towards the descriptor feared by all serious-minded independent directors: “quirky.”
Attendees were invited to a reception in the Walter Reade lobby; the clamoring throngs accumulated not around the free alcohol but the special guest, who went beyond gentlemanly courtesy, genuinely engaging each inquiring mind. “Elvis has left the building, time to go home,” chaperone Smith chuckled, but a lobby exit revealed that Jarmusch had merely retreated outside for his trademark nicotine indulgence, continuing to hold court with enthusiasts waiting in the wings. Walter Reade’s newly designated smoking area rules were left graciously unenforced.