Art and Music      
Chianciano Biennale


Those Who Contemplate and Those Who Accumulate: The Limits of Control

PETER WIX: A film for artists to celebrate, scientists too, or just for those who prize the use of imagination over the dull, prosaic, number-crunching, suited fundamentalism of the business, financial, and industrial set who run this place.

Jim Jarmusch has filled some great movies with his photography of fascinating urban textures and his understanding of the depth and colour of the intelligent sides of popular cultures, rock music for example. He lingers on details and delves into the meaning of the everyday in a way that is not habitual in mainstream US directors, and all this makes him not only a cult film maker, but a man of his time. His movies are documents, valuable keys to analysing and enjoying what is around us.

What further sets him apart - and occasionally throws one off the scent - is his tone, which some would say was insouciant, and others dead cool. The fact is he is not a lofty director; he is earthy but with a very finely tuned aesthetic sensitivity. In gems like "Stranger Than Paradise" (1984) and "Permanent Vacation" (1980) he is right down there on the ground in short sleeves and dusty sneakers. And if you want to catch the rich humour of these films, you have to get down there with him and muck in.

Which several critics clearly were not able to do with "The Limits of Control", perhaps because Jarmusch, now 57 and something more than a cult director, sat back from this in a more formal fashion, like a Confucius figure, and pulled the strings of what is a more stagey and tidy bit of storytelling. What starts out suggesting he may have sold out to the Hollywood crime genre will, to be fair, result in disappointment if that is what up you're up for. Stick with it, however, and you are in for a rare treat.

The story, strung on a sequence of ritualistic episodes set in Spanish locations of moody architectural delights, turns into a fun book of meanings to decipher and a stimulating and sexy moving painting. Enjoy the throwaway symbolism and meaningful minutiae but don't let it slow you down - it is more the stuff of art than mysticism. Don't anticipate stereotypical Mafia figures when you can chuckle along with people who look like artists - including John Hurt and Tilda Swinton obviously having fun in their roles - who deliver provocative soliloquies as they exchange mysterious matchboxes with Isaach de Bankolé, who plays a hoot of a blended hit-man ("Shaft" Blaxploitation and Carradine Kung-fu - in fact, he chills in various hotel rooms doing tai-chi and can resist all kinds of worldly charms in order to keep his mind on the job). Your sense of humour should be on full alert.

I don't want to spoil it by giving too much away, but the sum of these parts isn't evident until Bill Murray's cameo at the end of the mission. This is a magnanimous defence of both imagination and discipline in human activity. It is also a statement about the classifying characteristics of those who contemplate and those who accumulate.

You may not greatly appreciate the distinction, though if you live in London close to those suits in the city it is difficult to avoid thinking about it. And if you do think about it, this film is for you.

And if you follow the advice of Herbert Read to artists, and boldly go where no one ever goes, isolating yourself from society and its rewards, this film is also for you. Most definitely, a movie ripe for debate for people who read a magazine called Art & Music.


2010-08-16 02:43:47
A gem!

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