The following excerpts are from an interview with Jim Jarmusch published in Film Comment on the eve of Paterson’s wide release in theaters.
“Frank O’Hara wrote this very beautiful manifesto called “Personism” in which he says: “Don’t write poetry to the world. Write poetry to one other person. Write a love note to someone you love, or write a little poetic letter to someone you know.” So that’s been really inspiring to me and I’ve tried to make films that are not shouting out from the mountaintop to all of the world, but more like little letters out to someone I care for.”
“…the auteur thing is nonsense. Film is so collaborative, and especially in my case, because I have artistic control over the film. That means I choose the people I collaborate with—we’re making the film together. I use “a film by [Jim Jarmusch]” in the credits to protect my ability to choose my collaborators in this world of financing and using other people’s money. But we’re collaborating all the time, so the film is evolving each day we scout, and then each day we shoot, and then if we rehearse, whatever that might mean, it’s just changing, changing, changing.”
“I’m a self-proclaimed dilettante, and it’s not negative to me, because I’m interested in so many things, from 17th-century English music, to mushroom identification, to various varieties of ferns, to all kinds of stuff. How can I, in one lifetime—I could be like Adam and Eve in Only Lovers, I wouldn’t be a dilettante, because they actually know. He knows how to build a generator, and she knows the Latin identification of everything. But I’m a dilettante because I don’t have enough time. And there are too many incredible things that I get attracted to, and so my head’s always spinning around. But that’s okay. Being a dilettante is helpful if you make films, because films have all these other forms in them.”
“My thing is dilettantism, amateurism—I believe that I’m an amateur, because amateur means you do something for the love of a form, and professional means you do it for your job, you get paid, and nothing against that!—and variations. That’s my holy trinity lately of what my defining priorities are: being a dilettante, being an amateur, and appreciating variations in all expression. Because I love variations. To me, it’s the most beautiful form, to accept that all things are really variations on other things.”
Please read the entire interview here.
Jim Jarmusch, who has a unique cinematic vision, has a new film that has had its debut at Cannes this week titled ‘Paterson’. For me most of his recent films have a poetic aspect to them in that they paint a picture involving the characters that inhabit each of them as opposed to being structured in a strictly narrative form. This latest effort continues in that vein in that it is a story of a bus driver who quietly listens and observes his surroundings with the heart of a poet. Partially influenced by the work of contemporary poet Ron Padgett, the character Paterson composes poems based on the small details of life.
Here is an example of Padgett’s work
“The morning coffee.I’m not sure why I drink it. Maybe it’s the ritual of the cup, the spoon, the hot water, the milk, and the little heap of brown grit, the way they come together to form a nail I can hang the
day on. It’s something to do between being asleep and being awake. Surely there’s something better to do, though, than to drink a cup of instant coffee. Such as meditate? About what? About having a cup of
coffee. A cup of coffee whose first drink is too hot and whose last drink is too cool, but whose many in-between drinks are, like Baby Bear’s porridge, just right. Papa Bear looks disgruntled. He removes his spectacles and swivels his eyes onto the cup that sits before Baby Bear, and then,
after a discrete cough, reaches over and picks it up. Baby Bear doesn’t understand this disruption of the morning routine. Papa Bear brings
the cup close to his face and peers at it intently. The cup shatters in his paw, explodes actually, sending fragments and brown liquid all over the
room. In a way it’s good that Mama Bear isn’t there. Better that she rest in her grave beyond the garden, unaware of what has happened to the world.”
Prose Poem (‘The morning coffee.’) Ron Padgett
Jarmusch in an interview described the relationship portrayed in the film between Paterson and his wife, who spends her days in creative pursuits as
“ a portrait of a very tender love of people who accept each other for who they are. Only Lovers Left Alive was very much the same. The pure form of love is letting people be who they are. It’s a Buddhist thing to be accepting.”
In the same interview he does not ignore the larger world we inhabit but leaves this small tale of two lovers as a poignant reminder of how we can bring beauty to our world even as catastrophe is upon us.
“There are things wrong in this world. The way people treat each other. For us human beings, time is limited on this planet. There are too many people and nature is soon going to rectify this. It is going to be difficult and tragic. We are already in the 6th mass extinction of species. We have to be very grateful for very small details of life. Like this moment here. Here we are talking about a film and it is just a ridiculous thing.”
Please read the rest of the interview here.
Finally it is always a treat for me to hear Jarmusch and his ensemble discuss the films. His graciousness and thoughtfulness toward his partners and those who ask or comment ab0ut his films is very inspiring. For those who enjoy press conferences, please see the short video below.
“I think the weird is present in all great artworks, if by that we mean works that lays reality bare instead of placating us with illusions.” – J.F. Martel
(From the publisher)
“Part treatise, part critique, part call to action, RECLAIMING ART IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICE is a journey into the uncanny realities revealed to us in the great works of art of the past and present.”
“Received opinion holds that art is culturally-determined and relative. We are told that whether a picture, a movement, a text, or sound qualifies as a “work of art” largely depends on social attitudes and convention. Drawing on examples ranging from Paleolithic cave paintings to modern pop music and building on the ideas of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Gilles Deleuze, Carl Jung, and others, J.F. Martel argues that art is an inborn human phenomenon that precedes the formation of culture and even society. Art is free of politics and ideology. Paradoxically, that is what makes it a force of liberation wherever it breaks through the trance of humdrum existence. Like the act of dreaming, artistic creation is fundamentally mysterious. It is a gift from beyond the field of the human, and it connects us with realities that, though normally unseen, are crucial components of a living world.”
“While holding this to be true of authentic art, the author acknowledges the presence—overwhelming in our media-saturated age—of a false art that seeks not to liberate but to manipulate and control. Against this anti-artistic aesthetic force, which finds some of its most virulent manifestations in modern advertising, propaganda, and pornography, true art represents an effective line of defense. Martel argues that preserving artistic expression in the face of our contemporary hyper-aestheticism is essential to our own survival.”
“Art is more than mere ornament or entertainment; it is a way, one leading to what is most profound in us. RECLAIMING ART IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICE places art alongside languages and the biosphere as a thing endangered by the onslaught of predatory capitalism, spectacle culture, and myopic technological progress. The book is essential reading for visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, and poets. It will also interest anyone who has ever been deeply moved by a work of art, and for all who seek a way out of the web of deception and vampiric diversion that the current world order has woven around us.”
I have just ordered this book, ‘Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice -A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action‘ after reading the interview (which I highly recommend) with the author J.F. Martell on The Teeming Brain website with Matt Cardin. Martel describes the book as
“an attempt to defend art against the onslaught of the cultural industries, which today seek to reduce art to a mindless form of entertainment or, at best, a communication tool. In Reclaiming Art I argue that great works of art constitute an expressive response to the radical mystery of existence. They are therefore inherently strange, troubling, and impossible to reduce to a single meaning or message. Much of contemporary culture is organized in such a way as to push this kind of art to the margins while celebrating works that reaffirm prevailing ideologies. In contrast, real works of art are machines for destroying ideologies, first and foremost the ideologies in which they were created.“
Martel, in an article exploring some of these themes before the publication of his book, explains how mass media seeks to control and limit how we perceive what our horizons actually look like.
“In so-called open societies, ideology is propagated using the techniques of art. That is to say that the aesthetic realm—the domain of feeling—is the locus where the potentialities of the social system are actualized or condemned. Freedom of thought finds its counterweight today in the systematic control of feeling. One of the primary functions of the mediasphere is to concoct moods, which then become determining factors as to what is deemed possible or impossible for society as a whole.”
“…in a very real sense, mass media is a spiritual machine for colonizing the psyche. It establishes an emotional climate favoring the replacement of living thought by the memes of the market. Achieving this has less to do with outright censorship than with aesthetic framing. It isn’t the content of what is presented that matters, but how that content is portrayed. The secret lies in the theatre that encodes an event, the smoke and mirrors that are used in framing it, the implicit judgments it can be made to serve and the poetics that narrate it. In the course of the last several decades, modern media has woven around us a tangled web of clamorous illusions and dancing lights whose function is to divert, confound, and bewitch an increasingly anxious populace while inuring it to the realities of life outside the “green zones” of Western privilege.”
“Authoritarian societies recognize the power of art, which is why they so brutally censor their best artists. Free market societies, on the other hand, adopt a strategy of suppression by appropriation. We tolerate artists so far as they make themselves useful as purveyors of distraction or producers of luxury commodities to be hawked in staid galleries and concert halls. Artworks that criticize the tenets of the system are accepted precisely because by their very powerlessness, they implicitly condone the practices they outwardly condemn. The fight is fixed: you can say anything because whatever you say won’t make a difference.”
“Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language. It captures a slice of the Real and preserves it in an artifact. The work of art is fractal and open—an inexhaustible well of meaning and image overflowing the limits of the communicable. It is a way to the wilderness of the unconscious, the land of spirits and the dead. If great works of art are prophetic, it is because they disclose the forces that seethe behind the easy façade of ordinary time. I am not just thinking of the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles here, but also of the poems of Emily Dickinson, the songs of Bob Dylan, the choreographies of Pina Bausch, the films of David Lynch. All of them are oracles.”
“The shaman enters the priestly society of the ancient world and is called a prophet. She enters modern industrial society and is called an artist. From the shape-shifting sorcerer painted on the cavern wall to Mr. Tambourine Man jangling in the junk-sick morning, a single tradition flows—backwards, like an undertow beneath the tidal thrust of history. This tradition tears us out of the system of codified language and returns us to the dreaming depths where language first rose as the idiot stammerings of poetry. The shaman, the prophet, the artist: each knows the way lies not in the dry processes of logic but in the snaking courses of the heart. If art makes use of ideas, concepts, and opinions, it is only to subsume them in the realm of the senses, to push them to the knife-edge of lunacy where the primal chaos shows through the skin of objects, where all judgments are silenced and beauty, naked and terrible, is revealed.”
“Art doesn’t begin when you realize that you have something to say. It begins at the hour when there is nothing left to say, when everything has been said, when what must be said is unspeakable. Deleuze described the artist as a shapeshifter and a seer. He or she “has seen something in life that is too great, too unbearable also, and the mutual embrace of life with what threatens it.”* Art, in other words, is a way to the sacred. It places the aesthetic in the service of something that transcends instrumental reason.”
At the end of the end of the interview with Cardin, the author is asked what advice he has for those who are moved and inspired by his writing. He responds,
“…all I can manage is an appeal to the individual reader to look at art again. We need to let go of our cynicism and disenchantment and recover our capacity to believe, our power to affect and be affected. Beyond this, there is one quite concrete action I think every new monk should take, and that’s to keep a dream journal. Recording our dreams awaken us to the imaginal, even as it awakens the imaginal to us. The result is always an abundance of vision.”
“For some people this is a vampire film, for some people it is a fairy story, and for other people, its a documentary.” (Tilda Swinton)
“Vampires, you know why are we so fascinated by them? I suppose because they live these long long potentially never ending lives. And we’re all so terrified of thinking about mortality that we’d rather think about being immortal. And something about the way they live in the kind of wainscoting of life, you know they’re in the back waters. And one of the things that I love in this film is the idea of invisible lives, invisible work, you know unclaimed work, that feeling of making work and not wanting it to go out into the world but just putting it out into the ether somehow. I think that whole idea of invisibility and yet existing is really beautiful…it feels like a very natural state, this invisible immortal world.” – Tilda Swinton
A great Q & A with Jim Jarmusch worth watching in its entirety.
“While editing a film I don’t try to bludgeon the film into what I wanted it to be or thought it would be. I try to be somewhat Buddhist about it and think, well the film, let it tell me what it wants. Because I’ve been editing numerous times and there will be, say a scene in the film that took 2 days to shoot and it was very difficult and someone on the crew got sick and the camera broke and I WANT that scene in the film. Then I take the scene out and the film is so much happier. It’s like [the film says] I didn’t want that scene. And it’s like DAMN you I worked so hard for that!. And the film says I don’t care what you did. So I let the film speak to me as much as it can, rather than kind of force it. And that can be very helpful”
Tilda Swinton’s character in The Limits of Control has a line, “Movies are like dreams you’re never really sure you’ve had; sometimes my favorite films are the ones where people sit there and don’t say anything.”
Some movies tell stories. At one point in my life I fell in love with the idea of how movies tell stories or at least different types of stories. When I discovered European cinema and movies from Japan, they opened up whole new worlds for me. Because I loved them so, I thought it might be a way for me to express myself creatively. I discovered that I am not a good story teller. There is some disconnect between the story in my head and how the idea gets translated onto film or onto paper. I can’t tell jokes for the same reason. I see the joke in my head but the punch line either comes out of sequence or I forget it all together. It has made for awkward moments at parties, until I realized it was better for me to laugh at someone else’s joke than try to tell one. I appreciate good stories and I love movies that tell a good yarn. I also love movies that have great ideas that inform them and will overlook some narrative shortcomings because the concept behind them appeals to me.
Having said that, when I was exposed to the world of what is referred to as experimental cinema (non-narrative, underground, avant-garde are other labels) the experience of watching them was more akin to reading poetry or being in a dream. Many of them opened up an inner world, sometimes wondrous, other times frightening, using different means to also tell a story, sometimes an ‘alternate’ narrative or sometimes to tell no story at all. There is a diverse universe with many voices in the film world, narrative and non-narrative alike – as there are in all the arts. I must admit that I find myself at home with many of these non-traditional artists – Jonas Mekas with his film diaries, Stan Brakhage with his multiple experiments with form and intent, Ken Jacobs’ work to change how we experience cinema, and countless others. I enjoy the work of Jim Jarmusch and Terrence Malick as well, two American film-makers who work in the traditional narrative mode but who stretch the boundaries of what it means to be a story teller in this contemporary age. There are countless others to mention but this is not a film blog and there are plenty of writers out there who devote a lot of time and thought into the film-making world. The point of this entry is to try to explain some of my influences and inspirations, biases and inclinations – all of this really for my own benefit to try to see why I create what I do. It is the daimonic impulse I am trying to explore.