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Friday, August 05, 2005

Smile, Almost There

Whoo Broken Flowers is being released in the States. The EU has to wait a little longer but september will be soon there, so let's all wait by the campfire.

A few interesting articles have recently appeared on Jarmusch in the US media, let me bring you up to date:

- The New York Times has a very nice, lengthy piece on Broken Flowers and Jarmusch's career. This is the longest but most essential read. It's available online for registered users but you can also get the txt file here.

Most interesting quotes include:
''I know,'' Jarmusch moaned during a recent meeting with me in Manhattan. ''It's all so . . . independent. I'm so sick of that word. I reach for my revolver when I hear the word 'quirky.' Or 'edgy.' Those words are now becoming labels that are slapped on products to sell them. Anyone who makes a film that is the film they want to make, and it is not defined by marketing analysis or a commercial enterprise, is independent. My movies are kind of made by hand. They're not polished -- they're sort of built in the garage. It's more like being an artisan in some way.''

More than anything, Jarmusch is a sort of focused amateur enthusiast. ''I consider myself a dilettante in a positive way, and I always have,'' he said. ''That affects my sense of filmmaking.'' His passions, which reflect his resolute disinterest in the conventional, include the study of mushrooms (''I almost died after eating wild mushrooms''); bird-watching (''In 12 years, I've identified about 80 birds in my yard in my home in the Catskills''); the authorship of Shakespeare's plays (''I think it was Christopher Marlowe''); the history of cinema (''Some mornings I'll wake up and say, 'There's an Ophuls film I haven't seen, and I need to see it today'''); and, most of all, music. He wrote ''Broken Flowers'' while listening to recordings from the early 70's by Mulatu Astatke, an Ethiopian jazz-funk artist (whose music ended up in the film), and is currently enthralled by a duo called Coco Rosie, who, as he described them, ''sound like two little Billie Holidays an octave higher if you were on acid in Tokyo in 1926.'' ''I think I was supposed to be a musician,'' he said. To him, movies should aspire to the immediate sway of music. ''I want to capture the temperature, the texture, the atmosphere you can inhale just by listening to a three-and-a-half-minute song.''

''This is extremely time-consuming,'' Jarmusch said. ''We're getting close to giving the baby away, and I'm exhausted. I'm happiest when I'm shooting the movie. Filming is like sex. Writing the script is like seduction, then shooting is like sex because you're doing the movie with other people. Editing is like being pregnant, and then you give birth and they take your baby away.'' He took a swig of cranberry juice. ''After this process is done, I will watch the movie one more time with a paying audience that doesn't know I'm there, and then I will never see it again. I'm so sick of it.''

"I hear William Burroughs a lot, too, but I don't really want to listen to his advice.''

"Nearly all of Jarmusch's films had been warmly received in competition at Cannes, and ''Dead Man'' had momentum; there had been talk that it was going to be the best movie at the festival. But after the film was shown on the huge screen at the Palais, only a few people applauded. And then, in the vast, mostly quiet auditorium, a voice boomed down from the balcony. ''Jeem,'' a man yelled in a heavy French accent, ''it's [expletive].''

- Howard Feinstein from indieWIRE reports:
Movie-savvy readers, who have followed articles about Jim Jarmusch's picaresque "Broken Flowers" ever since it took the Grand Prix at Cannes in May, are familiar with its spare plot. Film icon Bill Murray plays ennui-ridden Don Johnston, a wealthy retiree and lifelong Lothario described by the director as "a man with a hole in his life" -- the latest in Jarmusch's gallery of isolated protagonists. Don receives an anonymous unsigned letter on pink stationery informing him that he has a 19-year-old son. Partly out of curiosity but mostly out of endless prodding by his friend and neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a working-class Ethiopian immigrant and amateur sleuth, Don embarks on a trip around the States to check out the motherhood status of four ex-girlfriends from two decades before. The women are played by Tilda Swinton, Frances Conroy, Sharon Stone, and Jessica Lange injecting indie, television, and even more Hollywood star power into the film.

What most readers don't know is that "Broken Flowers" -- a kissin' cousin to Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1949 "A Letter to Three Wives" -- is the offshoot of an earlier script, "Three Moons in the Sky," also penned for Murray. "It's about a polygamist who deeply loves each of his three wives and families but keeps them secret from one another," Jarmusch explains. He chats affably in the garden of an upscale Cannes hotel, his silver mane attracting the attention of passersby. "The man works his ass off to maintain the secret, but it wears him down." Murray agreed to do the picture. Jarmusch recalls that he then obtained most of the financing during the 2002 Cannes festival, where his Chloe Sevigny-starrer "Int. Trailer Night" was playing. (It is a segment in the omnibus film "Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet.") Now the screenplay is, he says, "in a drawer." He had second thoughts after he returned home.

"I reread the script and thought, this is a great story -- this isn't a great script. It's overwritten, it needs work. I don't rewrite scripts. I didn't want to spend two years of my life fixing it. So I went to Bill with the idea that became 'Broken Flowers' and told him, 'I got the money but I don't want to make the film.' He looked at me, as if to ask, 'What are you SAYING?' I told him I had another idea and what it was. He just said, 'Let's do that one.' I didn't want to do a bait-and-switch thing on him, but I had to be honest. I wrote the new script in two-and-a-half weeks and gave it to him."

He does not regret the time most of us would consider wasted. "I've been making films for 25 years. I don't like looking back into my own past, but I've learned that progress comes from the mistakes. Mistakes are gifts. The stuff that didn't work remains mysterious. You can't analyze why something worked, but you can analyze why it DIDN'T work."

Jarmusch had another purpose in mind with the new script. "I wanted to do something with this incredible wealth of female actors 40-55 who seem discarded. I wanted female characters who were varied and interesting as part of the story." He had Stone and Lange in mind, but didn't initially think of either "Six Feet Under"'s Conroy ("I don't watch TV") nor Swinton ("I met her in LA backstage at a rock 'n roll concert by The Darkness"). And varied and interesting their characters are. "I don't like back-story," he asserts, adding that the viewer can chart the women's 20-year path "by the way they live, by objects in their homes, by how they dress and talk." Stone's earthy, working-class Laura has a yard sale going on in front of her home, a "suped-up" car in the driveway, and a naked teen daughter in the living room. Conroy's passive Dora lives with her husband in a sterile pink home in a faux-quality real estate development. Lange's low-key Carmen, who has opted for an alternative lifestyle, practices her profession of "animal communicator" in an expensive structure of barn wood and glass on a large wooded site. Swinton's Penny is a tough biker gal whose unmanicured yard contains motorcycles, car seats, and wrecked autos.

Just as we begin to think that Don's voyage across the country by plane and car (accompanied by a fabulous bluesy piece written and performed by Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke) is, on one level, an anthropological study of class and values in contemporary America, we realize that something is missing. We don't have a clue where any of them lives. License plates are blurred; no telling road or airport signs are visible. "On set I always referred to it as 'Generica,'" says Jarmusch. "Normally I like the contrast between city and country. I live in the city and in the Catskills, and I love them both. This film is in between. It's all in the suburbs, like where I came from, from where I escaped." He neglects to mention another, less abstract reason for the non-differentiation of locations. Murray agreed to the project on condition that all of it -- and he is in just about every frame -- be shot within 100 miles of his New York home. The film was made entirely in New York and New Jersey.

"Broken Flowers" is poignant, sadness overriding comedy. Winston IS comic relief, and we can't help but laugh at seeing four well-respected actresses playing parts that sabotage our expectations. The movie begins with Don's live-in girlfriend walking out and ends on a revelatory note with an existential 360 degree pan around him. "I always have a natural mix of melancholy and humor coming from inside," says Jarmusch. "In this film, I tried to pull the humor back a bit for two reasons: I wanted sadness to have its proper place; and I wanted to pull from that side of Bill, a very precise actor who can be so hilarious. Usually when I start a movie, it gets funnier as I go along; it just sneaks in. In this one, I tried to keep the humor between the takes." It's more "Ghost Dog" than "Down by Law," less "Stranger in Paradise" than "Dead Man." "We laughed a lot when the camera wasn't rolling, but we were careful not to let (the film itself) go in the direction of the goofball stuff. I hope it's funny, although I'm afraid the American people will just sit there and..." He offers a shrug signifying incomprehension.

He is wary of how "Broken Flowers" will be seen compared to his earlier works. Someone at the press conference earlier that day had brought up its relative accessibility. "What's more accessible about it?" he barks, referring to the comment. "Maybe my paranoid brain hears 'commercial' when I hear accessible -- and that's a bad thing to me. That makes me draw a gun. My intention is not to make my films commercial. I'm not willing to make a product for commerce. I'm not stupid, though. Some distributors so have to work their asses off to get people to see it-- but that's not my job or concern. If it were, I'd be betraying myself."

"I worry that, because Bill was in Sofia Coppola's film" -- he notes that his script came first -- "they'll try to sell 'Broken Flowers' as (deep voice) 'Lost in Translation' meets 'Sideways.'"

- The Washington Postalso also has quite a long article but mostly repeats what's been said in the NYT. Except for this nice little anecdote:
Both Murray and Jarmusch share a knack for improvisation: They both, as Jarmusch says laughingly, "are a little contrary, and don't like to plan ahead.

"Bill doesn't like to rehearse," Jarmusch adds. "While we were shooting I told him, 'The script is a sketch to me, and you add or change any dialogue you want.' He did add some things, but he also gave me a number of very subtle variations on each take. The fact that he could do that amazed me."

Murray's funny, wistful performance has been compared with his Oscar-nominated turn in "Lost in Translation." But the actor underscores the difference: "For me, Jim's film was a completely new experience," Murray says by telephone. "I never had a job like this one before. Usually, if you get the lead in a show, you're sort of driving the boat. But here, I never knew ahead of time how any of the actresses were going to play their scenes. So I had to be completely open and just react to them."

He pauses. "You know how people say, 'I'm really proud of this movie'? Well, it's sort of beyond that for me. I feel that I got to something here that I wouldn't have gotten to otherwise. I don't want to walk in and give a performance that I've thought about all week and know exactly what notes I want to hit. I just feel like I know enough about life that I've got the big moves down, sort of. The fine moves are moments you discover as you live life attentively."

Jarmusch shot "Broken Flowers" on locations around New York's Rockland and Westchester counties, and in New Jersey, in the fall of 2004. Frances Conroy recalls the set as homespun, "sort of like a block party." So homespun, in fact, that one morning Jarmusch watched Murray suddenly leave the set, walk to the house across the street (which was not involved in the film shoot), open the door without knocking, and disappear inside. "Ten minutes later, Bill emerges again with a plate of cookies, and starts offering them to the crew," Jarmusch says, shaking his head. "What I would have liked to see was the people inside eating breakfast, when Bill Murray walks in."

So any US reader already seen it?

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