Monday, July 8, 2013
Classic Scene #37
'I have my dreams while I'm awake...' Jim Jarmusch's first film was shot on 16mm straight after dropping out of film school. (I like to think he only went to film school so he could drop out). I first saw Permanent Vacation many years ago as part of a Jarmusch quadruple bill alongside Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law and Mystery Train (imagine that). Here we have the film's wandering protagonist (Chris Parker) exchanging words with Leila (Leila Gastil). The soundtrack is an atonal no-wave drone (by Jarmusch and John Lurie), the talk stilted, the silence in the sparse room punctuated by the sound of sirens outside. Then he places the needle on the portable record player and on comes Earl Bostic's Up There in Orbit. Suddenly everything stilted gives way to this hep cat eloquence. He's dreaming while awake. He's lost in the ecstatic music, falls to the ground, takes off his shoes. Afterwards he tells the mirror. 'Sometimes I think I should live fast and die young. Go out in a three-piece white suit, like Charlie Parker.' It's adolescent narcissism, of course, but it's more than that. In the mirror he's the dream of himself, just as cinema is the dream of ourselves. This is how the poor and artistic survived on New York's Lower East Side in 1980, that wasteland of cheap rent and cheap drugs. They searched out meaning in what they loved, what they discovered for themselves, in dance moves and coded gestures. You know he places the cigarette in his mouth the wrong way round so she can put it right, right? That's part of the cool. It's what she's there for.