"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic." - Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch, The Authentic Theft. For a director that has been at the game for over thirty-five years, Jarmusch has a short catalog of only 13 feature films, a fact that hasn't stopped him from providing his own take on almost every genre under the sun. We've seen him do the road trip film (Stranger Than Paradise), the jailbreak film (Down By Law), the hyperlink film (Mystery Train, possibly one of the first of its kind, a term for a style of storytelling later seen in films like Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros, Crash etc.), the western (Dead Man), the mob revenge film (Ghost Dog), the soul-searching love story (Broken Flowers), and most recently his wonderful take on the vampire genre (Only Lovers Left Alive). Possessing a fierce attention to detail, a tendency to never compromise until his vision is fully realized, and a history of almost always privately funding his films (at least all of them up until Broken Flowers). These being among some of the reasons for the gap of time between his projects. While every film has been vastly different, in each Jarmusch piece, there is always a strong homage paid to the inspirations he surrounds himself with, harnessing these inspirations as fuel for completing his clear, unique, and beautiful vision. Probably more prominent than any other director, the inspirations that are most evident are the musicians and music found in these films, each soundtrack acting as a sort of mixtape to accompany the film. So with that in mind, we present to you two sides of a short mixtape of music from the films of Jim Jarmusch, with a short synopsis of why we chose these songs after the jump.
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
A great example of Jarmusch characters interacting with the music around them, "Screaming Jay Hawkins, he's a wild man," says Eva (played by Hungarian actress/musician Eszter Balint) after moping around a bare New York apartment chain smoking cigarettes and listening to "I Put a Spell On You" on a portable cassette player. This beautifully mundane black and white comedy was my first introduction to Jarmusch, and Screamin' Jay for that matter, and at the time was unlike anything I had ever seen, and still remains as such. This film, the first full-length feature of Jarmusch, also demonstrates his early tendencies to use musicians as actors, featuring jazz composer and founding member of the Lounge Lizards John Lurie (who also composed the soundtrack) as Willie, the original drummer of Sonic Youth Richard Edson as Eddie, and the Hungarian violinist and actress Eszter Balint as Eva, who has also played with Swans, Angels of Light, and John Lurie, and can be seen most recently in a beautiful series of episodes on Louie acting and playing violin.
"I Put A Spell On You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Down By Law (1986)
Jarmusch's follow up to Stranger Than Paradise opens with a crisp black and white shot of a hearse outside a New Orleans cemetery, and begins to pan through the scenery of the town, quick shots of desolate dirt roads, shotgun shacks, murky swamps, and victorian balconies, all a perfect backdrop to "Jockey Full of Bourbon" by Tom Waits, who also stars in the film as one of three criminals who meet in a jail cell in New Orleans, all considering themselves innocent men. This unsuspecting trio, made up of Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni, deliver a hilarious charismatic performance of dry comedy and subtly philosophical one-liners in this unique take on the prison-break film. Two songs from Waits' 1985 album "Rain Dogs", "Jockey Full of Bourbon," and "Tango Til They're Sore," act as musical bookends to this black and white portrait of the underbelly of New Orleans. While Rain Dogs is a record inspired by the street sounds of the lower east side of Manhattan, it contains numerous mentions of New Orleans, as well as orchestration that pays tribute to the New Orleans funeral brass sound, making these song choices perfect welcome and farewell tracks for the film. As with Stranger Than Paradise, Lurie also composes the soundtrack to the film that is yet again eeire, loose, natural and jazzy.
"Jockey Full of Bourbon" and "Tango Til They're Sore" by Tom Waits
Mystery Train (1989)
Mystery Train is a sort of finale to a trilogy, at least according to Jarmusch. This trilogy, showed us three tales taking place in some of the most culturally unique cities in America: New York, New Orleans, and Memphis. Mystery Train begins with two Japanese tourists obsessed with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison in search of finding something in the birthplace of Rock n Roll. It is when these sharply dressed tourists check into a local motel that this intertwined story begins to unfold, revealing a splendid cast of musicians, including Screaming Jay Hawkins as the concierge, Joe Strummer as a troubled drunk with the unwanted nickname "Elvis," and the voice of Tom Waits as the late night disc-jockey (a reference to the character Tom Waits plays in Down by Law, who was formerly a radio jockey).
"Mystery Train" and "Blue Moon" by Elvis Presley
"Pain in My Heart" by Otis Redding
Dead Man (1995)
According to Jarmusch, the raw instrumental sections found in the songs of Neil Young and Crazy Horse were inspirations during the making of Dead Man, and through a series of interactions was able to convince Neil Young to compose the entire soundtrack for the film. The end result was raw and reactionary guitar and organ solos performed by Neil Young while watching the film over the course of few days. In an interview with Jarmusch, he described how once they were presented the soundtrack, that is how it stayed. With no changes to where the music was originally placed by Young, making this a rare example of a musician organically reacting to a film through a soundtrack, and demonstrates a beautiful collaboration between two visionary minds.
"Guitar Solo No. 2" and "Organ Solo" by Neil Young
Ghost Dog (1999)
Using RZA to compose the soundtrack for this modern take on a Samurai film, seems like an obvious decision, especially since Wu Tang Clan has a long history of incorporating clips from old Samurai films. Along with a great original score by RZA, the film also contains a fantastic tracklist of songs from The Black Knights and Wu-Tang, two cameo performances by RZA, and the perfectly classic scene of Italian mob boss Sonny Valerio being assassinated through his bathroom sink while singing along to Public Enemy.
"Fast Shadow" by Wu-Tang Clan
"Zip Code" by Black Knights
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
The first vignette shot for Coffee and Cigarettes was originally made as an SNL film short in 1986, featuring Down By Law star Roberto Benigni and notoriously dry comedian Steven Wright. Over the next 15 years, Jarmusch continued to produce more of these black and white shorts out of amusement, often using actors and musicians that were involved with his feature films. The second short of the film for instance, was filmed on the last shooting day of Mystery Train, using actors from the film Steve Buscemi and Cinque Lee, as well as Lee's sister Joie Lee (both whom are siblings of Spike Lee). In an interview with the AV Club in 2004 Jarmusch describes the idea of putting the shorts together in one piece as "collect[ing] enough songs to make an album out of it." In the end the film is comprised of 11 vignettes featuring hilarious cameos from the likes of Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Jack and Meg White, and of course the now-epic short "Delerium" featuring RZA, GZA, and Bill Murray, all of whom find themselves in conversations around Coffee and Cigarettes.
"Down on the Street" by The Stooges
Broken Flowers (2005)
In Broken Flowers Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, an aging soul-searching sort of "Don Juan" with an Ethiopian neighbor with aspirations to be a private detective. The neighbor, Winston, makes a mix CD for Don, mostly featuring the King of Ethiopian Jazz, Mulatu Astake, which acts as the soundtrack theme as Don embarks on his journey visiting past lovers in hopes of finding the woman who sent him a mysterious letter. Broken Flowers may not be the best of Jarmusch's catalogue, but it definitely contains the most in depth track list of great songs, which is why many of the songs from the film are featured on this mix, and as per usual, the songs often have an almost comedic placement. From rednecks in the woods blasting SLEEP's "Dopesmoker" from a truck bed, to an awkward encounter with the scantily clad daughter of an ex-lover while The Brian Jonestown Massacre blares in the background.
"Yekemo Sew" and "Gubelye" by Mulatu Astatke
"Ride Your Donkey" by The Tennors
"Tell Me Now So I Know" by Holly Go Lightly
"Not If You Were the Last Dandy On Earth" by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
"Dopesmoker" by Sleep
Limits of Control (2009)
A heavy, surreal, and hyper-minimalist story of a lone assassin wandering through Europe on an unspoken mission who has brief unexplained interactions with people somehow connected to his mission. These interactions, often in a cafe, or on a train typically show the Lone Man listening in silence, as the individual enters into a sort of metaphysical dialogue that creates a reflective moment in the viewer, more so than contributing to the overall storyline. The story, is one that the viewer pieces together through the silent doings of the Lone Man (Isaach De Bankolé), and not through the dialogue. These unique characteristics are what make this film an experiment in tone, much like the songs that make up the soundtrack, which contains tracks by Boris, Sun O))), Earth, The Black Angels, and Jarmusch's band Bad Rabbit (now known as SQURL).
"You on the Run" by The Black Angels
"Oceans & Portants 1: The Driver" by EARTH
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
The opening track of Only Lovers Left Alive perfectly sets the tone with a version of Wanda Jackson's song "Funnel of Love," performed by Jarmusch's band Squrl and Madeline Folin of the band Cults. While their take on the song is hypnotic, heavy, and droney, Folin is able to maintain an amazing grit to her voice allowing the song to not stray far from the original Wanda Jackson version. This is also not the first time SQURL has provided their take on a country ballad, the first example being their excellent take on the Hank Williams classic I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Only Lovers is all in all one of the strongest soundtracks of Jarmusch's films, featuring original songs from Dutch lute player Josef van Wissem collaborating with SQURL, as well as tracks from Zola Jesus, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and a hypnotic performance from Lebanese vocalist Yasmine Hamdan at the end of the film. As Tilda Swinton's character Eve says in the film "I am sure she will be famous someday," to which Adam replies, "She is far too good for that." While the selection of songs in the film is diverse, they all stay true to the theme of "funeral music," a term coined by the character Adam (Tom Hiddleston) in the film. The tone of the soundtrack also carries many similarities to Jarmusch's previous film Limits of Control.
"Funnel of Love" by SQURL & Madeline Folin
"Can't Hardly Stand It" by Charlie Feathers
"Please Feel Free to Piss in the Garden" by SQURL
"Red Eyes and Tears" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
"Hal" by Yasmine Hamdan