Down By Law (1986)

Down_by_LaySunday March 27th, Movie night: Down By Law by Jim Jarmusch, USA, 1986, 107 minutes. Door opens at 8pm, film begins at 9pm. Free admission.

Tom Waits ends up in jail for a crime he didn’t commit in this re-released comedy of 1986. Cue hypnotic score, superb cinematography and stupendous performances. With its hypnotic score, stupendous performances and its superb monochrome cinematography by Robby Müller, it is something to set aside early work by David Lynch and Spike Lee. But it also gains from comparison with Jarmusch’s own later work, particularly his vampire fantasy Only Lovers Left Alive.

The eerie, ghost-town New Orleans that he conjured in Down By Law is like the post-economic-apocalypse of Detroit. Jarmusch has in each a miraculous gift for finding a dreamlike emptiness in cities, in which his characters and we, the audience, wander, as if in a lucid dream.

Down By Law is effortlessly laidback, superbly elegant. Jarmusch made it look easy. It stars Tom Waits as Zack, the unemployed DJ fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit and finding himself in a grim Louisiana prison with a sleazy pimp called Jack (excellently played by musician and actor John Lurie). They have to share their cell with an eccentric Italian, Roberto, and this was the film that launched Roberto Benigni on an unsuspecting world. It made a star of him – about which I still have mixed feelings. He is tremendous here; his simple presence lends surreality to the situation, but he is under close directorial control, which Benigni’s own later, sugary and over-indulged movies lacked.

Film night at Joe’s Garage, cozy cinema! Doors open at 8pm, film begins at 9pm, free entrance. You want to play a movie, let us know: joe [at] squat [dot] net