Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Jim Jarmusch: 'Mystery Train' (1989)

We'll let The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, rest a bit, and turn to Jim Jarmusch's indie style film, Mystery Train (1989). Set in Memphis, Tennessee, Mystery Train is composed of three connected "fish out of water" stories. 

The pacing is deliberative, letting us hang out with the characters long enough to understand them, at least to a point of empathy -- how and why they arrived and where they may be going. Cleverly, Jarmusch helps us "defamiliarize" ourselves with the USA, looking at aspects of American culture with fresh perspectives.*

Two Japanese music fans arrive in Memphis via Amtrak, needling each other about their preferences and wandering around.

An Italian widow has a layover at the airport, so decides to explore the city. She has adventures along the way and even a little supernatural visitation.

A laid-off and jilted Englishman is drunk, angry, and carrying a loaded pistol in a bar. Buddies and a brother-in-law (who turns out to be only his would-be brother-in-law) try to calm him down and keep him out of trouble. Once outside of the bar, he asks to stop somewhere to get more bounce. What could go wrong? 
Strategic points in the urban landscape (like the patchy hotel and a particular view of the city skyline) combine with time and energy to lightly brush the stories together. 

Joe Strummer (1952-2002) of The Clash plays the surly Englishman with charisma. His sidekicks include characters played by Steve Buscemi (The Sopranos, &c.), comedian Rick Aviles (1952-1995), and Detroit's own Vondie Curtis-Hall. 

Nicoletta Braschi (who is also featured in an earlier Jarmusch film, Down by Law) plays the Italian widow and Elizabeth Bracco (The Sopranos), her temporary roommate. 

Youki Kudoh (Snow Falling on Cedars) and Masatoshi Nagase (Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!) play the needling Japanese visitants.

The hotel guys are played by Screamin' Jay Hawkins (1929-2000) -- "I Put a Spell on You" (1956) and Cinqué Lee (Spike Lee's younger brother).

Good stuff! More recently, Jarmusch directed Gimme Danger (2016), on Iggy & The Stooges. I posted on it here.

*See Russian Formalism for more on this groovy scrim.

Today's Rune: Joy. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely an interesting cast. I've always liked Buscemi