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November 28, 2000

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Choking The Alligator:
The Films of Jim Jarmusch

Native of the industrial wastelands of Akron, Ohio, Jim Jarmusch studied film at NYU's film school, as well as the prestigious Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. Hes made nearly two dozen films, all of great interest. For the purposes of summary and space, I've selected three films that I believe accurately represent what you can expect from all of his movies; past, present and future.

His first feature was the subdued, yet intriguing, avant-garde film STRANGER THAN PARADISE, a film structured around Screamin' Jay Hawkins' song, "I Put A Spell On You," which later won him the Camera D'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. This film is about a New York slacker who is unexpectedly visited by his Hungarian cousin. Their initial hostility mellows into an affectionate, though severely dysfunctional, friendship. After a year separation, they rejoin to vacation in Florida, where they lose and gain a fortune, only to end up separated again. This may seem a little slow-going to your average mainstream moviegoer, but it is not the stereotypical "boring art film." Give it a chance and you'll find yourself entertained.

DEAD MAN was Jarmusch's first brush with the mainstream, mainly due to the inclusion of leading man, Johnny Depp. In comparison to STRANGER THAN PARADISE, this almost feels like a full-blown Hollywood blockbuster, but that is speaking very relatively. In this film, mild-mannered accountant, William Blake, is befriended by an outcast Indian named Nobody, and finds himself anointed "the Killer of White Men". This unforgettable "acid cowboy art movie" is unlike anything I've ever seen and it immediately found it's way onto my good side. The spectral music score by Neil Young helps set the tone for this dark, yet hopeful, adventure that leads to the other side. If you like cowboy movies but thought you'd seen it all, prepare to be surprised. Highly Recommended.

GHOST DOG : WAY OF THE SAMURAI is a film that, instead of defying classification, almost dares you to try. This 1999 film stars Forrest Whittaker as Ghost Dog, an African-American Samurai, working for Gangsters in modern-day New York. Seems like it would be a comedy, right? No Way. This is actually one of those rare serious movies that knows when to not play it too straight. A good example of this is the serious gangster who loves Public Enemy and often breaks into fits of impersonating rapper Flavor Flav. And he means it too. I thought DEAD MAN would be my all-time favorite Jarmusch film and was pleasantly proven wrong when this one tied for first place. Not only is this a great art film, this is just an all-around great film. Do Not Miss This Movie!

You know, of course, that Video Empire, on Azalea Rd. in Mobile is the ONLY place you'll find all of these (and more) Jim Jarmusch films. The best selection of cult films, classics, DVD, and kids' films anywhere around. Video Empire rocks my world.

--Trey Lane


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