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.
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