Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dead Man

It's Jim Jarmusch's western, starring Johnny Depp as an easterner who is shot, chased by a posse and travels with an indian named Nobody. Cinematography by Bobby Müller, music by Neil Young, also starring Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Iggy Pop, Gabriel Byrne and hey, whaddayaknow, Billy Bob Thornton!

The first twelve minutes of this film are brilliant, pure visual storytelling. The first five minutes don't have any dialogue, it's just Depp on the train, and the others passengers slowly changing from cityfolks to cowboys and trappers. He then arrives in the city of Machine, walking down the main street, an image of hell on earth. When he has to run away from the city the film gets more episodic and uneven, it loses some of its focus. It becomes sort of a spiritual journey for Depp, but I'm not sure if the film is as deep or meaningful as it wants to be.


  1. Hi Jason, regarding Dead Man I agree with your impressions, the film is beautiful and one of the best looking black and white films of the past 30 years or so. Its perfectly cast, made when Depp was a very exciting actor (come to think of it he was also in one of the other best black and white films in recent memory, Ed Wood). This is also the film that, for me, pushed Jarmusch over the edge into Brilliantville. While its ultimately not as profound as it seems to give the impression that it thinks it is (but neither is Wes Anderson as moving as he thinks he is and I don't hold it against him) its still one of the better westerns and probably my favorite western until There Will be Blood came out.

  2. I have mixed feelings about the later Jarmusch films. I disliked Ghost Dog and thought Broken Flowers was only ok. I haven't seen Limits of Control yet. But I can understand that he didn't want to make films like Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law for the rest of his life.
    I'm not a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, but I liked There Will Be Blood. And then he sort of ruined it in the last scene. So close! He apparently MUST have a scene in each film where the characters go hysterical.
    There hasn't been that many good westerns the last 30 years. The Long Riders and Unforgiven. It goes a bit soft, but I thought Open Range was pretty good, at least it's much better than Dances With Wolves.

  3. One thing I forgot to write about is, how do you show something boring, like a long trainride on film? There's the way Jarmusch did it in Dead Man, the best way to do it, in my mind, where as a viewer you share some of that experience. Of course, for a restless, modern audience that's a big No No. So in a Hollywood film you'd rather get a 10 second scene of someone looking bored on a train, then next see him arrive at the destination, be met by someone who asks, How was the trip?, and to be answered with, I was bored out of my skull.

  4. Yes, the train ride was great because he communicated the boredom without letting the audience get bored. Also, theres a sense of tension when he boards the train and looks around at all the hunters that are eyeing him.

    Later Jarmusch doesn't hit me as hard at the earlier stuff either. Down By Law I loved but I wonder I would have liked it near as much if just one of the 3 principle cast members was different. I guess what I mean is: Do I like the movie that much or do I love watching Waits, Lurie and Benigni be awesome for 90 minutes? What did you think of Coffee and Cigarettes? I found it a bit dull in places but then the last segment, Champagne, made the whole movie worth it.

    Regarding There Will be Blood, I liked the end, but I think your observation regarding hysterical characters is pretty funny. Never thought of that. I need to see The Proposition, I've alsonot seen the new True Grit yet. Also, I missed 3:10 to Yuma and Assisination of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So, I guess I've missed to many lately, I need to get caught up on my westerns

  5. It's been a long time since I saw Coffee and Cigarettes. I need to re-watch it.
    True Grit was very good, but maybe not brilliant. No Country For Old Men is sort of a western, I guess, so yes: Brilliant! I had forgotten about The Assassination of Jesse James. It's slow, but I liked it quite a lot.

  6. I liked The Proposition. Ray Winstone is great as usual, and Danny Huston was scary as the baddie.

    I found the train ride more mesmerizing and frightening than boring.

    Actually those first ten minutes with the crisp black and white and the soot stained faces made me feel I had travelled in time to the 19th century like NO western ever did.

  7. I will have to check out The Proposition.
    I didn't mean to say that the trainride sequence is boring, it's rather the opposite. I agree that there is something almost hypnotic about the slowness of that sequence. But for a ride that in real time would take days I assume it would be boring for the main character.

  8. Nadie, I agree that Dead Man seems, more then a lot of other westerns, to create and bring the viewer into this bizarre 19th century world, and tension and the danger is palpable. I think that part of it might be that Johnny Depp's character is as shocked and bewildered as we are when he enters the dirty and dangerous town of Machine.

    Jason, I agree that the scene on the train isn't boring, instead we get a sense of Jonny Depp's boredom on the long ride but also the tension as all those hunters are staring at him. Then, when they start shooting out the window it feels like he is in real danger and certainly out of his element.

    Also, I love the Native American village they go near the end, its an amazing set. Overall, Dead Man is probably my favorite Jarmusch film.