Monday, March 28, 2011

Down by Law - Jim Jarmusch (1986)

I've been meaning to watch this for ages, even have my own copy of the DVD but have no idea where it might be so when I saw it in the library, I grabbed it. It is entirely black and white, which was gorgeous to watch. It opens with panning shots around the streets of New Orelans and introduces us to two of the central characters before the credits roll: Jack (John Lurie) a small time pimp and Zack, a drifting DJ. He has a row with his girlfriend (Ellen Barkin) and hits the road).
He makes a very convincing drunk

Both are arrested for no good reason, maybe because the cops need to make a bust and non-one's going to make a fuss about either of these two. Of course, they end up in the same cell in jail. Zack is first in, by 17 days. When Jack turns up, he's none too welcoming - its three days before Zack says anything to him. This says a lot about the movie, actually - its very laconic, lots of long still shots with very little spoken and when the camera does move, its generally very slow.

Of course, they do start talking after a while
and Jack convinces Zack to do some DJ spiels (once he gives up thinking Jack is a garbage man). They even have a fight
It is just after this that they are joined by the third man, Roberto or Bob (Roberto Benigni): he has a tough time finding an audience
He's a great lover of Walt Whitman, although he can only recite him in Italian. There is a vaguely comic tone to the movie, Bob in particular introduces a gentle humour to proceedings, but the one time I laughed out loud is when he starts them off on a ridiculous chant "I scream, you scream, they scream, we all scream for ice cream". The fun comes when he gets the whole prison chanting it but when the guards come along, our three friends are the first to quieten down and play innocent.

Bob seems to be the only one with any real aspirations of freedom - he draws this window
and organises what seems to be a most random escape. This leads to about 40 minutes of running time with them lost in the swamps and woods of Louisiana. Once again, Bob is the hero: they're all starving and he manages to kill a rabbit, start a fire and cook it (although he does apologise for a lack of rosemary, thyme and olive oil).
Eventually they find civilisation, in the form of Luigi's Tintop:
Jack and Zack send Bob in then criticise him for walking "in there like an idiot". He's no fool, quite the fast mover - by the time they go in, he's already fallen in love and engaged to be married!

Although there isn't really much of a story and several points at which you just have to accept what you're given (the escape, the fact they're not caught, Bob's engagement), this was an incredibly charming wee movie, wonderful to watch with a very understated soundtrack. I particularly liked the slow waltz of the characters around each other as they gradually formed a friendship and really don't begrudge Bob his freedom (he's the only genuine criminal among them, if you accept that throwing a billiard ball in self defence, albeit with fatal consequences, is a criminal act).

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