August 21, 2013

Secret music

The more I think about Jim Jarmusch’s new Only Lovers Left Alive, which came to the New Zealand film festivals almost in a straight line from Cannes, I think of Coffee and Cigarettes, his group of 11 themed/linked shorts from nine years ago. It’s partly the buddy aspect or the duo aspect, but not only that. In my 2004 Listener review of Coffee and Cigarettes I described Jarmusch as “a museum curator of good old-fashioned bohemian values”, and that side of Jarmusch is very apparent in Only Lovers Left Alive. One setting is Detroit, the other is Tangier. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) keeps the curtains pulled, lives at night and is surrounded by rare and expensive musical instruments – it’s how you might imagine Jimmy Page living. On his wall, there is something like a gallery of bohemian heroes, some of whom have connections to Jarmusch films past (Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, William Burroughs), and some of whom are more like presiding figures (Kafka, Oscar Wilde). From 2004:
So, in that vein, the moment when two old guys make a toast in Coffee and Cigarettes is key. “Here’s to Paris in the 20s,” says one. “New York in the 70s,” adds the other. That’s where Jarmusch came in.
This bit from 2004 seems prescient, too, if you think of the planet made of diamond that generates a gong-like sound, which is a kind of sublime or ideal image in Only Lovers Left Alive:
Iggy’s music is in the background of a short that features Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes. Jack is telling Meg about the sound experiments of Nikolai Tesla. “He conceived the earth as a conductor for acoustical resonance,” Jack says. Pay attention, because this idea – the planet’s secret music – will come up again later.