Jim Jarmusch’s Un-Hollywood Ways

Jim Jarmusch | In episode 100 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with Jim Jarmusch, critically acclaimed and globally recognized filmmaker, artist, and musician

While Hollywood pursues it’s blockbuster driven agenda, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch continues to do it his way, most recently the zombie-com “The Dead Don’t Die.” Whether casting accomplished actors Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Johnny Depp and Adam Driver or musicians Iggy Pop, Neil Young, Joe Strummer, Tom Waits and RZA,  his off-beat movies never fail to enchant and surprise. A Cannes Film Festival regular, Jarmusch’s low-budget 80s trilogy “Stranger Than Paradise,” “Down By Law” and “Mystery Train” established him as a new voice of American cinema and he’s never looked back, spinning off a growing body of idiosyncratic music and, most recently, art. We talk about his obsession with collage, Adam Driver, Neil Young, avant rock, Spike Lee and why Bill Murray gave him the keys to his car.

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Q&A

David (01:35):

Wow, it’s my pleasure. So let me just start right off. Why collage? This- is your first exhibition, I- I believe in ever, right?

Jim (01:45):

Yeah, the first time I’ve shown them. Uh, well, we made a book of them, uh, Anthology Editions, that is coming out September 28th. I’ve been making these little newsprint col- collages for many years and it’s just kind of something I do on my own.

Jim (02:14):

I’ve sent a few to friends over the years, but they’re just kind of, um, ways of initially just amusing myself. And then during the pandemic, really Arielle de Saint Phalle, who I work had shown a few in when she curated a few art shows over the past years and people seem to like them and bought them. So, she said, “Well, y- you should really put these out as a book, in a book.”

Jim (02:47):

So the book from, uh, Anthology Editions, has, maybe 150 of them in it. They’re not really my intention of entering into the art world as a major voice or anything. They’re just l- little things that I have made that I think might be amusing.

Jim (03:19):

And the book is really designed to be a fun object. I’m talking too much already, but they’re my way of making art of appropriation and just minimally altering or reorganizing visual information in a very, very minimal, uh, slightly surrealist way. I don’t like to use the word, surrealist. I think it’s used too broadly, but definitely there are, origins there in- in that way of juxtaposing things that were not originally intended to be put together.

David (04:03):

Right. And weren’t the surrealists if not the first, but among the first to- to use that form of collage?

Jim (04:10):

The cubists Braque and Picasso, I think, maybe coined the term, collage, which means to glue things together. But yeah, the surrealists certainly, uh, the Dadaists and then the surrealists. And then, you know, it’s gi- been going on forever and ever with, uh, so many artists using this form. I- it’s a form that’s very, uh, simple in a way. So even children can make collages,

David (04:42):

Yes.

Jim (04:42):

I like the primitive, sort of essence of it and yet sometimes they’re very sophisticated,

 

David (04:52):

Yeah.

Jim (04:52):

Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just a kind of beautiful form.

David (04:54):

Well, it seems easy, because all you have to do is cut out things and paste it down, but uh, I’ll tell you, it’s not that easy, because I’ve tried and I wasn’t really happy with the results. In interviews I’ve heard you refer to your films as collages. In different ways of how you work and how you think of the scenes and putting together a story as collages. Does that connect with you?

Jim (05:21):

Well, in a way. You know, since I made this book and since I decided to show these collages and then had been asked to talk about it a little bit, which I’m not, you know, I’m not really self analytical about why or how I do things, but it made me realize that my approach to almost everything I do creatively is connected to my approach as a collage artist.

Jim (05:48):

because when I make a film, I know critics have said they don’t have much story to them or plot, but my films are narrative films. They’re not experimental, structurally, particularly. But, when I’m starting out I just start gathering little pieces of ideas, thoughts, scenes, dialogue and I gather them in a notebook and they guide me toward making a story out of it when I sit down to write a script.

Jim (06:24):

But before I ever write anything, I’m gathering the elements first that I- I’m not exactly sure how they’re going to go together. So sometimes I’ll have a scene that I like that will end up being in the middle of the film. I don’t even necessarily know the order. Sometimes my initial scripts are somewhat modular, in a way.

Jim (06:48):

So, it’s all connected and now, making music, for me, has been very similar, because, you know, lately I have- I’m in my own little studio up here and what I’ll do is often I trade tracks, with Carter Logan for Sqürl. Um, or I will collage tracks together in a way, in fact, recently I’ve been laying down guitar parts and then laying a second guitar part without listening to the first one.

Jim (07:19):

So I’m not quite sure where I’m diverging and I like those results a lot. I’m working on a new record with Jozef Van Wissem, uh, the lutenist, that we’ve made several records together. And we’re also sending things back and forth remotely. So even that sort of collage form, guides me with music. I’m writing a lot of more poems lately. I’ve always written poems which I also don’t really show to people. I may gather some of those, uh, into a book at some point.

Jim (07:56):

But recently I’ve been gathering titles for the poems before I actually write the poem. so I look through a notebook of let’s see, let’s see what title might I write a poem from.

 

David (08:11):

So whatever it takes, right? To get you started, I feel like that’s the bottom line, right? Whatever it’s going to take to get you going.

Jim (08:19):

Yeah, and I, you know, I- I studied, I came up, uh, learning from the New York School of Poets, specifically Kenneth Koch and David Shapiro, w- were my teachers, but my inspirations have been, Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery and Ron Patchett and James Schuyler. And a lot of these poets often use little game structures or oblique strategies, if you will, to the poem, the Brian Eno’s approach sometimes as kind of guides them, yeah, or a place to start from.

Jim (08:53):

There was, a group of French poets, called Oulipo, that did a lot of these things, Raymond Queneau and these guys, they used structures, but then they plug the poems into the structure rather than the structure emanating from the poem. I- I don’t know if that’s… But anyway, yeah, I find I use this a lot, a lot, this kind of form.

Jim (09:19):

I’m working on another project now, uh, for some years with Philip Klein, the composer, it’s about Nikola Tesla. And it started as a kind of abstract theater piece and we were working with Robert Wilson for a while, but that didn’t really work out, because he’s so busy and has so many things going on. But w- we love Robert Wilson.

Jim (09:44):

But we’re still proceeding with this and even my input in that project, although it’s shifted, I’m making small films from existing footage from the time Tesla was alive that then will be used as kind of entra-acts or little connective things within the overall structure. Phil and I worked on overall structures for this piece for years, but now he’s pretty much focusing on that and the music and I’m making these little films. But the procedure is sort of collage-like, is my point, you know? So, uh, I don’t know, it’s something that runs through everything I make somehow.

David (10:30):

Well, yeah, I feel like that’s what makes it interesting in a way as well, because it pulls into things from all these different places and, you know, you manage to assemble it into somewhat of a coherent whole. So, uh-

Jim (10:44):

Well, that remains to be seen.

David (10:44):

(laughing)

Jim (10:44):

But even if- even if it’s incoherent-

David (10:47):

Okay, an incoherent whole, all right?

Jim (10:52):

Yeah.

David (10:52):

I know you were friendly with Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work to me also resembles a collage in the sense that, when I look at his big pieces, it just seems like there’s a lot of, almost like a gr- wall of graffiti of many dis- different pieces that somehow all come together as one. Does that resonate with you as far as looking at his work or does that make any sense?

Jim (11:17):

Yes, because I know that Jean used to collect things that inspired him like, books about, not autopsy, but, um, like musculature or, you know, books about the human body. Or he would gather things that inspired him from science, of certainly from the history of art, from American and world history and the history of racism and the history of agriculture.

Jim (11:45):

And, you know, he was always collecting a lot of things that were interesting to him and then he would, yeah, arrange them. I guess they would just sort of come out of him, um, when he was creating a painting. He’d have certain subjects, uh, you know, the history of jazz and all these things, I watched him work a little.

Jim (12:09):

I wasn’t so close, like, uh, our friend, John Lurie, was very close with Jean when he was younger and- and I think inspired him a lot and encouraged his music and got to watch him more. And also, I don’t know if, uh, i- if you know Stephen Torton who worked closely, even mixing Jean’s paints it’s really interesting to talk to him about Jean’s process, because he really saw it totally from the inside, you know.

Jim (12:39):

Jean would have, tell him he needed something to paint a piece of- type of wood to paint on or and Stephen would get that and watch him, but I’m sort of digressing, but I did get to see him create things, on a few occasions and hang around with him and, uh, he’s a very inspiring, amazing, you know, artist.

David (13:00):

An- and your work, let’s say, specifically with music, uh, would you consider yourself an avant-gardist in that way?

Jim (13:09):

Musically?

David (13:10):

Yes.

Jim (13:11):

I don’t know. I hate to put a label on me. I think the music that I make is sort of in a kind of avant rock kind of, uh, area. Um, I’d use it occasionally, recreate things that have structures like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, like song structures. But more often they don’t. The structures kind of come to me as I’m creating the music or yeah, it’s hard to explain.

Jim (13:42):

It’s sort of mysterious t- to me and I- I love that it’s kind of mysterious. But if you give me, like if Carter Logan gives me, say, a drum track that is like a, you know, what’s so-called Krautrock, you know, this type of drum rhythm.

Jim (14:00):

Oh man, just give me that rhythm and I’ll create something out of it. I like to have a starting point. Sometimes I don’t. Cartner and I just created a music- a piece of music with birds. A field recording I made of birds for something that is being created for the Audubon Society and asked a lot of musicians to make pieces that have bird recordings in them. I think Animal Collective and Nick Cave and Philip Glass, and a wide variety of people were contributing, and then they’ll put them on their website and, the proceeds from streaming, I think, is going to protect songbirds.

Jim (14:47):

But that was really interesting to have, “Okay, the starting point is to have something with birds in it.” You know? When I work with Yosef he will send me, uh, Luke’s tracks, and then I will usually add electric guitar or electronic tracks to them. I’m right in the process of remixing a really great Patti Smith song that she did for Soundwalk Collective. They made three records with Patti, based on three different French poets, Rimbaud, Artaud, and Daumal, and I’m doing their track from a Rimbaud poem called Eternity that

Jim (15:35):

It has some Sufi singers and Sufi drum tracks, but my remix has a lot of psychedelic kind of backwards (laughs) guitar tracks, and, uh, it’s very trance-like. I had basic tracks to make something from. I didn’t start from nowhere, but sometimes, I just go in my studio and I just turn on my recording, equipment and I don’t even know what I’m going to do, you know? And if I get-

Jim (16:04):

… This in a track, I- Oh, maybe I could add this to that, or you know, I’ll do an acoustic piece, or I also love, in music, since I love electric guitars, and synthesizers. I- I love electronic music, but I love electric guitars so much as, like, sound generators, and I- I play guitar, but I’m not technical shredder of any kind. That’s not my interest. So, lately I acquired a cigar box guitar. A three string guitar that it’s electrified and I don’t really know how to play it. So, I’m trying it really well. I got a passerelle bridge that I installed in an acoustic guitar that’s a- a brass bridge that raises the strings very high on, like, the 18th fret of the guitar.

Jim (16:58):

It’s designed by, Kathy King and Rachel Rosenkrantz, Anyway, you can bend notes and make it sound- you can bend strings and make it sound like a- an Arabic instrument, or an Eastern instrument, it’s really fun, because I try out tunings, and I don’t know how you’re supposed to approach the instrument, and that’s, like, a freedom.

Jim (17:28):

So, I’ve been getting some really nice results with these things that I don’t know how to play. (laughs)

David (17:34):

That’s good. It’s great that you could find something like that, right? At this point, and still get all excited about something new. I’ve heard you say, or read somewhere, but correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m sure you will, that you feel like you can’t listen to blues based guitar music in the same way which is the music that you basically grew up on and loved, and many of the musicians who you put in your films also come from that.

Jim (18:09):

Yeah, it’s a recent kind of, negative Pavlovian reaction. I’ve only discovered in the last maybe six months, where I cannot stand hearing someone playing sort of blues brick based shredding electric guitar parts. I don’t know why. I had to turn it off, and I’m not quite sure, you know? I’m really deeply in love, and I have been for years, but with, like, the kind of Saharian, rock, uh, desert music from Tinariwen, or the new Moctar

David (18:51):

Oh, yeah.

Jim (18:53):

This kind of stuff is a different approach to guitar playing. So, the- that stuff I can still listen to endlessly, but really I- Stevie Ray Vaughn I gotta turn it off. I don’t know why, it’s not that I don’t like the music, but it’s… Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t-

David (19:11):

What about, uh, Neil Young? (laughs)

David (19:14):

He’s someone you did-

David (19:16):

You made a documentary about him. He scored one of your films, and yes. So, how do you feel about that today? Don’t want to put you on the spot, but-

Jim (19:30):

Well, I don’t put Neil in that category. Although he does play blues space rock and roll often, Neil’s always been coloring outside the lines as a guitarist. So, he can play, and has played, like, one or two note guitar solos, you know? That goes on and on, and there’s only two notes, (laughs) or whatever. So, for him, it’s- it’s not abrasive to me in the same way as…

Jim (19:56):

I guess it’s this technical proficiency that is blues based, and played by, uh, you know, very accomplished- I don’t know. I’m not sure what is that- and it’ll probably pass. I’ll probably love it again-

David (20:10):

Yeah.

Jim (20:11):

… But right now, yeah. It’s true. I- I just gotta turn that shit off. I don’t know why.

David (20:16):

(laughs) So, why do you use musicians in your films? I’ve listed a few of them earlier. Iggy, Joe Strummer, Tom Waits, Rza, Neil Young, who- I don’t think he was in a film, but he scored one of your films, but what is it about them that first made you think that they could actually be in a film and act? What is there about them that not only attracts you, but makes you feel like you want them in your movie?

Jim (20:51):

Well, it’s hard to answer, because really I’m attracted to creating, or collaborating, making characters with particular people while I’m writing the script, and I’m sort of imagining who would embody the character, or who am I imagining embodying it while it’s still imaginary to me. So, you know, there are a lot of incredible actors that I know and have worked with that I love, but I think because I started out really in the music world, and kind of grew up in CBGBs and Max’s, and you know?

Jim (21:33):

A lot of my friends in the early days, when I was forming as a kind of creative person myself, the majority of them were musicians. So, even in my early films, in Stranger, you know, John Lurie was a musician and Richard Edson was a musician. He was a drummer of Sonic Youth originally. Eszter Balint is an actor, of course, but also a musician, and I just kind of knew a lot of musicians.

Jim (22:04):

So, then working with people, like, writing something for Tom Waits’, who’s an actor, or Joe Strummer, who has been an actor, it just seemed sort of logical that I would- I imagined some of them, but it’s more about the person themselves than, you know, I don’t just sit down, think, “What musicians could I go out and get to be in a movie?” You know?

David (22:29):

(laughs)

Jim (22:29):

It doesn’t work like that. It’s, like, just who do I know, or I could imagine being that character? And a lot of musicians are innately good at acting, because they are performers, and they can leave certain parts of themselves behind, and accentuate other parts of themselves, which is what actors do when they become a character. So, some of them are really good at doing that, you know?

Jim (22:56):

Some of them play characters- A lot of Tom Waits’ songs, you know, he assumes the character and song that he makes, and Iggy Pop- Iggy Pop is not Jim Osterberg, you know? They’re different people (laughs) in a way.

David (23:13):

I know.

David (23:14):

I love that interview you did with him at the New York Times where, he talks about his process of how- (laughs) how he takes his shirt off (laughs) before he writes, because then he has to become Iggy Pop. So, I get your point. (laughs)

Jim (23:32):

And I’ve seen him turn it on and off on command. Not always intentionally, but being accosted by people. I’ve seen him become- he was Jim Osterberg, and suddenly he’s Iggy Pop, and then he comes back aga- you know, it’s a complicated (laughs) thing I think, and Strummer said something interesting when we were shooting Mystery Train.

Jim (23:53):

Um, he always wanted to be alone a little bit before we did a take. He wanted to go off and just be left alone, even just for some seconds, you know? And I always facilitated that for any actor. I tried to find what helps them, being able to be a character, reacting in front of a camera. So, once, I said to Joe, “what does it sort of feel like to you, those moments when you’re alone before you come in front of the camera?”

Jim (24:25):

And he said, “I feel like I’m just loading up a basket with very fragile eggs, and I have to deliver them. So, I just want to load the basket very carefully before I bring it over to you.” (laughs) You know? So, I found that a-

David (24:41):

Love that.

Jim (24:41):

… Very interesting metaphor, but you know, all actors are different. They all have a different approach. I’ve learned that through these years. There’s no one way for anyone to direct all actors. So, if I’m working with Bill Murray, that’s very different than working with John Hurt, you know? They just have a different way of how they become a character. I try to work with them all separately, and find the way to get the best collaboration, but you know, I’ve been lucky to get a lot of great musicians and get nice performances from them.

David (25:19):

Definitely. I’ve heard you say just now, and also elsewhere, about how you write for a particular person, in terms of developing a character, and you have somebody in mind when you’re writing. Besides the fact that I’m sure sometimes it doesn’t quite work out the way you imagine it, but when it does, for example, with Johnny Depp in Dead Man playing an accountant. So, (laughs) what made you think that Johnny Depp would be the right person to play an accountant, which is not how most people would imagine.

Jim (25:52):

Well, in the film, in that story, it was a character who was entering a very foreign world. The world of the developing western North America in, the second half of the 19th Century, and he was coming from the East, from Cleveland, right? So, what I loved about Johnny was starting off with a guy that’s sort of like a blank piece of paper. A white piece of paper, and throughout the film, other characters write on that paper. They say who he is. He becomes an outlaw, you know?

Jim (26:33):

He becomes William Blake to this Native American character. Nobody who is a little off, you know? He’s a very complex character himself. So, he’s imagining that Johnny’s character is Vince, or now he’s an outlaw. So, he’s assumed to be something else, and in fact, he’s really none of those things. So, he has to sort of assume them in an odd way, and Johnny just is a person who, as an actor, is always assuming- and in his real life. It’s very (laughs) complicated for him, like, what people put on him.

Jim (27:14):

Anyway, I just thought… I don’t know. I just wrote it for him. He seemed like the best person I could imagine.

David (27:22):

You have a troop of actors. I kind of refer to it as a troop. I don’t know if you think of them in those terms, but a lot of them reappear in your films, like Tilda Swinton or Bill Murray. Some more recently, like Adam Driver, who you first cast in Patterson I think before he became this megastar that he is today. What was it about him that made you feel that he would be the right person to portray this poet? Did you see him before with Lena Dunham?

David (28:00):

… or how did you know his work?

Jim (28:02):

Yeah, I saw an episode or two of Girls. And then, I saw him, what else? I saw him in something else, where it was completely different. And I just like his, uh, it’s hard for me to describe exactly ’cause I’m not really good at analyzing things. I’m very intuitive. But there’s something that Adam has that’s very, very human; he doesn’t have to push anything, you just observe him.

Jim (28:32):

But now, I’ve seen him do so many diverse things. I sent him a text the other day ’cause I just saw Annette, uh, Leos Carax film.

David (28:42):

Oh.

Jim (28:43):

That, um, Adam Driver’s performance, no matter what you think of the film, it is mind blowing. It is what the hell? How does he do these things? I saw him on Broadway, uh, uh, you know, on a stage. So anyway, I wrote him a text saying, “Damn it. Is there anything you can’t do? It’s almost getting annoying.” (laughing) Because that guys is just amazing but he’s very down to earth and he’s very focused.

Jim (29:13):

So when you work with him and he wants me be the thing you’re collaborating on and it can be a really serious person or a total goof ball, you know. He just wants to find what the thing is and I don’t know. He’s a very, very interesting person and an actor. I, I just love, I like the humanness of, of him, you know. He doesn’t, he doesn’t seem fake unless he’s supposed to be playing a character that’s fake. I don’t know how to explain it but I’m very, you know, he’s very alluring, that guy. I, I love working with Adam.

Jim (29:49):

He takes it so seriously that when we work together on the set, I always find myself taking him aside and just trying to tell him some silly jokes, to make him laugh, you know. (laughing) ‘Cause he’s very intense when he’s working. And I sort of, distract him a little bit. It’s maybe, not a good thing on my part but I can’t help it. It’s sort of like, when you have a child that’s very sullen and you wanna tickle him, you know, (laughs) kind of. It’s sort of like that. I’m not gonna tickle him but I try to tell him (laughing) some joke occasionally. But yeah, he’s a r- he’s an amazing guy, you know.

Jim (30:27):

And I get to work with maybe, the greatest actor who, who we’ve lost now, John Hurt, really. In my opinion, one of the greatest actors ever, who ever lived, you know. This guy was amazing. I, I can’t believe he would even be in my films. I don’t know why. But really, to get the chance to work with some of these people is really mind blowing for me. And I worked with Tilda-

David (30:51):

Yeah.

Jim (30:51):

… and a number of names. And I, so many great people. Kate Blanchett, I got to work with. God, I wanna do something with her, again, you know. Like, I’ve been very lucky to get to work with these people.

Jim (31:04):

And Bill Murray, he’s just, uh, he’s a weird kind of, gift in my life. I don’t know why. Even in my personal life, if I ever, if something really bothered me I can call him, you know. Bill is just really very helpful to me, as a human being. I mean, I don’t get to see him or even talk to him very often but he’s always there for me, you know. I have the keys to his house in the glove compartment of my car, (laughing) which he insists that I have.

Jim (31:31):

And, “Bill, I’m not gonna go into your, your house when you’re not there.” (laughing) He said, “Well, you’ll never know. You might have an emergency. I don’t know. Well, you have these keys, I’m putting them in your car.” You know, he’s just like that, I don’t know. (laughing) He’s a really, uh, wonderful, a wonderful person that’s a kind of, very strange guide to being in the present moment and being kind to other people somehow, you know.

David (31:55):

Well, it seems like, you do make friends with these people, who you work with that there’s, more than just like, a working relationship. For example, Hitchcock, we know Alfred Hitchcock famously hated actors. He really didn’t like them. I don’t feel like that’s how you feel about actors.

Jim (32:16):

No, not at all. And the weird thing is, you know, I don’t look at my films again once they’ve been finished and they’ve been released. Because I can’t change them. And I don’t wanna worry about what I did wrong. I just don’t wanna see them ever again, you know. So when I think back about the making of any film that I’ve been involved in, it’s not about the film anymore. It’s about the experience and those people and, and my connection with them becomes more important to me somehow. And of course, we all were together to make the film, that’s the point of it all. But somehow, all of these, uh, relationships in a way, become, and even the people you don’t see again, somehow, they become more important or more resonant than the film itself, for me. I, I don’t know how to explain but.

David (33:08):

Yeah, I get that. I believe you also, feel that a film, making a film is a collaborative project. Whereas, the aforementioned Hitchcock was not of that mind at all. And even, you know, the so called, auteur theory that, gives all the credit to the director for what happens on the screen, the fact that you approach it as a collaborator, maybe that’s what makes all these people wanna work with you, feel good about the experience, wanna come back and do it over again.

Jim (33:39):

Well, it is totally, collaborative. When I was, um, young, I got to be an assistant to, or kind of, gopher for Nicholas Ray, his last two years before he died. And I got to talk to him endlessly about so many things. But you know, he would do like, head trips on the actors. He would play psychological games and be sort of cruel. He would do a lot of things if he wanted them to be very upset in a scene, he would try to get sometimes, the actor very upset, you know.

Jim (34:17):

And I, I just could never do that. That’s not my nature, you know. That’s not the way I, and I, I, I love, I love Nick Ray. I love his films. He’s like, a great romantic, an incredible director or u- use of the camera. What, what he did was amazing, you know. It means so much to me. But Hitchcock a little less so. I appreciate the formulaic nature of his films. They’re like little machines that he builds in, in a very particular way. Totally opposite to how I would approach a film, making a film.

Jim (34:54):

But I would never be cruel like, Nick to an actor like, I don’t know. I just couldn’t do that.

David (35:00):

Or like, Hitchcock, he’s famous for that, as well.

Jim (35:03):

Well, and yeah, mistreating women in particularly, he had some problems, you know.

David (35:08):

Yeah.

Jim (35:09):

But, you know, and Nick Ray was probably not great, I know he was a bad father and you know, a fucked up person in a lot of ways. I’m not talking about him personally. I’m talking about, uh, you know, filmmaking and yet, using sort of, manipulation of pe- of actors emotions, seems really like, not the right way for me.

David (35:35):

So what is your way? How do you bring out a performance,

Jim (35:39):

Well, well, my ways are this. I, I try not to rehearse the scenes we’re going to shoot. But I try to rehearse scenes in which the actor is in character. Because for me, acting is about reacting. It’s not about acting out the intention of the script. It’s about reacting to the little scene that we’ve made up, that’s imaginary and we have a camera rolling. But we’re in a house that, that’s maybe not even a real house. It might just be on a stage or you know, people are saying words that have been written for them. It’s all fabricated.

Jim (36:19):

So I try to get them, keep them in a place where that still feels like they’re reacting. And I try to keep the dialogue open for them to change it or improvise a bit. I don’t want to have them too tightly reigned in. And also, I try to shoot out of order often so that they’re not worrying about, well, how does this scene connect to the scene we did, that comes right before? Yeah, you know, don’t worry about that. Let’s just worry about this scene, right now, we are.

Jim (36:52):

And then, another thing I do is, I never talk about the scene while we’re working in front of all the actors involved together. If there are three actors in a scene, I don’t sit down with the three of them and say, “Here’s what the scene needs.” Because it means something very different to each one of them. And that’s in fact, something I learned from Nick Ray. He told me, “Always talk to each actor alone, about what you’re doing with them.” Because it’s not their business what it means to be of their character. You don’t even want them to think about that. If you do, they’re not reacting at all, anymore. You’re just acting out something, you know.

Jim (37:34):

So that was very helpful. So I try to, I try to do those things. I try to be kind to them. And I also, I try to look that, and this will sound a little weird. But and, and this is not derogatory.

David (37:48):

Yeah (laughs).

Jim (37:48):

It is intended to be respectful. I try to think of them in a way, as children. Because being an actor on a film set is being asked to be an imaginary person on command, you know. It’s like, okay, you’re over there talking. You’re eating a sandwich. Okay, time to go. We’re gonna roll. Get over here, get on the set and hit your mark. Are you ready? And we’re rolling. And now, you’re another human, you’re another person, right? So I have to think if actors act out or they get emotional or they get upset, that’s normal, man. How could they not? You know what I mean? How could you not, when you’re using your own emotions as your tools, how can they not get kinda outta whack, now and then, you know. I expect them to.

Jim (38:38):

So I’m very accepting of them, they’re doing a very hard thing emotionally. And I think they feel that from me. That, look, he knows this is emotional. He’s not like a dictator. He’s trying to make something together. And I think they feel that. So in a way, looking at the as children, is very helpful, for me. Because it makes me more accepting of their emotional state, (laughs) you know. I don’t know how to say it. But it doesn’t mean you can just be an asshole and act out and mistreat other people, you know. But if you get upset about something emotionally as an actor, gee, how could you not, given the procedure of the thing, you know.

Jim (39:24):

So I think they, they feel that about me too. I hope they do.

David (39:28):

Well, I assume you, you’ve learned these tricks or strategies (laughs) or ways over the years, now. Uh, I don’t know how many films you have, you made all the, over all? ‘Cause I…

Jim (39:39):

I don’t know but I’m very slow. (laughing) And I only make one every three years.

David (39:42):

You’ve made a lot. You’ve made a lot of great films.

Jim (39:45):

I’m learning, you know. I’m a student. I’m learning, I’m still learning, each time I’m…

David (39:49):

Okay. Well, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about your learning. Because, uh, and France, the country of France where you spent some time as a student, in Paris, going to the Cinematheque, where it, you, I believe you received, uh, your film education or more-

Jim (40:08):

A lot.

David (40:08):

… more extensive film education. And you were also, acclaimed at Cannes very early with your first film or second film. And you know, how was that? I mean, I can’t imagine coming in, I’m sure you were nervous that you were just like, “Wow, what am I doing here?” Just in the first case. But then to also, win an award, launching your career. You’ve been a regular at Cannes ever since. You’ve been on the jury, what does that say about America, first of all? And Hollywood and the system what’s happening there with regard to appreciation of film, as an art form or even, as an entertainment that’s not only blockbuster made for amusement park rides and things like that?

David (40:58):

I don’t know, I’m pushing a lot of things together into one question but I think you know what I’m getting at.

Jim (41:04):

Well, yeah. First of all, I’ve never been on the jury in Cannes. I’ve been…

David (41:08):

Oh, you haven’t? Oh, sorry.

Jim (41:10):

No, I have a problem with being on a jury because I don’t quite understand the idea of group consensus about art, you know. But anyway, I respect those juries for sure.

David (41:23):

You’ve been asked, I bet.

Jim (41:25):

Yeah, I’ve been asked but I find it a little, uh, I don’t know. I feel funny about it. But about what you’re saying, yes, I, I couldn’t believe that anyone would even be interested in our early films like, well, the first to get some attention, Stranger Than Paradise. I didn’t think anyone would really probably, see the film once we made it, you know. And then to have it shown in Cannes and even, um, distribute it around the world, was like, uh, I could, I just really couldn’t quite believe it, you know.

Jim (41:58):

So that was really

Jim (42:00):

… be exciting and kind of, uh, daunting. When we first went to Cannes with Stranger, a group of us stayed in the same rented house and sleeping on the floor. And I remember (laughs) one day, we had no water at all. So I had to shave to be on TV. I was using (laughing) cold tea from the day before.

David (42:25):

Oh, shit (Laughs).

Jim (42:28):

It was like, you know? And we were putting up our own fliers out on the Croisette with staple guns and tape and stuff. So we didn’t even know what the hell would happen.

Jim (42:37):

But what it did was it got me to the next film, which for me was Down by Law. And so it was really exciting. Why? I don’t know. I don’t understand. You know, it’s sort of like a lot of avant garde, or outside jazz musicians in the ’50s and ’60s. Here, nobody would even book them but if they went to Paris they, or even in the, even in the ’20s with, uh, Josephine Baker or, or hot jazz from the ’20s, you know, it was suddenly appreciated over there, where here it was still not. You know, that’s Black music for little clubs and that’s kind of dirty music or, you know, however it was, uh, looked at.

Jim (43:24):

So France has always been very open to experimental artwork and appreciation of artists and poets. That’s not really the case in the United States. Not the same kind of thing, Europe’s imperfect and they’re Eurocentric and it’s also, inherently racist in many ways and colonial. There’s a lot of negative things about it but they always have appreciated, experimental thinking, much more.

Jim (44:03):

And so for Stranger Than Paradise to be treated like it’s a real film, uh, we were kind of, shocked by that. You mean it’s a real movie? It’s a real film? I’m a re- Even now, in America, I’m like an indie director. I’m a marginal, you know, I’m not a real film director. There’s always something else put on it like, indie guy or whatever. (laughing) Wow, in Europe, I’m an actual film director, you know. And in Japan, I’m actually a film director. I’m not just an indie amateur, you know. So that’s always nice to hear.

David (44:43):

Should Hollywood reach out to you now, and wanna give you some kind of special award, what would you say (laughs)?

Jim (44:54):

No, they, they were, they would be very, uh, I, that would be very insincere, I think.

David (45:01):

(laughing) Well, your, you know, your fellow graduate from NYU Film School, Spike Lee, who is also, was considered, you know, outsider but he has made it his mission really, to become recognized by the Academy. And, and makes a real effort all the time. You don’t really even go out there. You have very little contact with that world. Is that true?

Jim (45:26):

No, I, I’m shy of that world. I kind of, stay away from it. But it’s different for Spike because Spike’s a fighter and Spike’s been fighting for, Black American cinema and these voices. I mean, he is so important historically in American cinema for pushing those boundaries and fighting for those things. And Spike can straddle experimentation with mainstream things. And he continues to do so. Look at Chi-Raq, you know, a very odd…

David (45:58):

It’s very odd.

Jim (45:58):

He takes a lot of chances. But there are others too, you know. The Coen brothers are experts at straddling mainstream things with innovation, you know. They’re really important too, to me, in that way. And there are other people that, you know, Wes Anderson is very viable commercially. But those films are very, very stylistically particular, you know. He’s not following a mainstream template. He’s just following his own vision. What, that’s just what he does.

Jim (46:32):

I love all kinds of filmmakers and all kinds of films. And I even like mainstream films. But I like, you know, I like to see films by Bela Tarr. And then, I like to see Terminator. I’m not a hierarchist, or whatever. I just like voices that are original and voices that, and cinema is such, you know, I say this all the time. But I’m in love with cinema as a fan of movies, as a fan of the form because it has every other form in it. It has music and composition and writing and movement and style and it’s got all the other forms in it.

Jim (47:20):

It’s just such a beautiful way of expression. So I’m always embracing just the diversity of, of different types of filmmakers. I’ll go see a film, you know, uh, a commercial film. But then I have to see a Kelly Reichardt film to balance it out, you know. (laughing) Or you know, I like to see big, big action movies. But then, I gotta go see a film by Jacques Rivette or something, you know, that…

David (47:49):

(laughs) cleanse your palette.

Jim (47:51):

In a way, yes. And then, keep a balance, you know. But I’m like that with music. I listen to, you know, classical music by Anton Webern. And then, I gotta listen to like, really you know, uh, Chopped N Screwed hiphop stuff. Or, or very primitive rock and roll or, or music from other cultures, you know. I don’t like the, the hierarchical aspect of any of, these th- things. I just love when humans express things that move me then, uh, th- they’re part of me. I, I’ll take them. I take them in.

David (48:26):

Earlier you made a reference to making another movie at some point about, I don’t remember exactly the context. Is it safe to say that we will be seeing another Jim Jarmusch movie at some point?

Jim (48:40):

You know, I’m not so sure. I, uh, I’m working on, uh, a script now, that’s sort of, a doable film. I have up my sleeve, a possible collaboration on something that’s partly maybe, animated. I’m writing a film for actors some of which I’ve worked with before. But it’s a very small controlled kind of thing. But you know, I’m really irritated by the whole state of the industry. And now, filmmakers like, for me, calling me a creative that should make content-

David (49:24):

Hmm (laughs).

Jim (49:24):

… that should be monetized on a corporate platform, you know.

David (49:28):

Yeah.

Jim (49:28):

That’s what I feel like, I’m looked at. Like, well, he’s a creative. Maybe, he’ll make content we can monetize (laughing) on our platform. What, you know what? Why?

David (49:36):

I love that combination of words, man. Yeah, it’s perfect.

Jim (49:39):

Yeah, this C words, I don’t like these new C words. C-

David (49:42):

We’re not gonna see a TikTok video about you maybe, dancing?

Jim (49:47):

Maybe. (laughing) I’ll tell you, I did, something that was very, uh, satisfying last December. I’ve never ever made a film for anyone else or a commercial or anything like that. But I got approached by Saint Laurent, to make a film for them. And, their director, the head designer, Anthony Vaccarello he’s a great artist. I love his, you know, I’m not a fashion historian but I see a connection where he comes from. Azzedine Alaia or certain, certain ins- Well, he has his own thing that I think is really fucking great, you know.

Jim (50:28):

So I got to make a film for them that was a very different way for me, of making a film. I didn’t even know for sure who my cast was, two days before shooting, you know. But it kinda didn’t matter. I would just text ideas with Anthony and see what he liked. And then, I’d sort of proceed, working on them. But man, they treated me with such respect like an artist. And they were like, that’s great. Just make the dream-like thing and just make it look interesting. And, the clothes were inspiring to me. They gave me something to start with. And then, I had Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Mo- um-

David (51:12):

Right (laughs).

Jim (51:14):

… Julianne Moore and I had, um, Chloe Sevigny.

David (51:16):

Chloe, right.

Jim (51:16):

And Indya Moore, you know. And, uh…

David (51:18):

Yeah. It’s probably, a bigger budget than Strangers and all the…

Jim (51:22):

Well, they didn’t, they didn’t fuck with me about the budget. They weren’t just, here is, you know, here is the budget I need.

David (51:28):

Do it.

Jim (51:29):

And I got to bring Carter Logan as my production entity. And then, a wonderful producer too, from France. It was really kind of, a pleasure, you know.

David (51:41):

Nice. France comes through, again.

Jim (51:44):

I, and I [inaudible 00:51:44] through them. They’re so open.

David (51:46):

It’s the French, man. Yeah.

Jim (51:46):

Again, yeah. And, and Anthony Va- Vaccarello, who’s the fashion designer, he’s texting me about, uh, the clothes in Belle de Jour, a Bunuel’s film, you know, from the ’60s.

David (51:57):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jim (51:57):

Like, he was referencing things that, uh, okay. And he’s speaking to me, I, that, I get that shit, you know. That’s my BMA, right there, you know. Bunuel films, et cetera.

David (52:07):

Okay.

Jim (52:08):

So that was very rewarding. I, I had, I was, a real pleasure in a funny way, you know. I mean, you can…

David (52:15):

That sounds great.

Jim (52:16):

I know I’m making a film that’s designed to target rich people for luxurious things, you know, in the world. And yet, the artistic side of it, it’s very important to Anthony and therefore, to me. So that was where the connection came, was, was an artistic realm that was kind of, great, you know. So that was a good experience for me.

David (52:41):

Oh, that’s great, Jim. Thank you so much for being on my show, today. I love talking with you. So I’m happy I had to chance to, to sit you down for this amount of time, push those buttons.

Jim (52:52):

Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m just blabbering on and on. But I, it’s great to see you. I’ve missed just hanging out.

David (52:59):

I know.

Jim (53:00):

As we have done throughout our lives but soon.

David (53:03):

Soon. Soon, come. And, uh, good luck on the Collage.

Jim (53:07):

Thank you, yes. My book, Some Collages and my, uh, show with Fuentes, Newsprint Collages. Thank you.

David (53:14):

Thank you so much.

Jim (53:16):

Thanks for having me.

 

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