Vital Signs

The Mythological South

Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law opens with rolling shots of New Orleans townhouses) tenements, the down and out on a crummy side-street. From there we enter into two variations on the theme of domestic disharmony, Jack's and Zack's, and on to a story set in a South that never was, by a film maker who, until the film was written and financed, had never been there. 

Jarmusch, a young man with silver hair from Cleveland, first made a name for himself with his remark ably successful, shoestring budgeted Stranger Than Paradise. A black-and white feature film about two small time emigre cardsharks and a newly arrived cousin, with whole scenes filmed from a single camera angle (mostly because Jarmusch couldn't afford anything else), the movie was stranger than nearly anything. But it won Jarmusch kudos from the critics and even accolades from the great Japanese director Kurosawa. 

Like Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law is also done in black and white. One reason he decided to work in it again, says Jarmusch, is he thought it would leave the year the action takes place imprecise. In that he succeeds-this is a film without a year or even a season (for this is the South, 

remember); once upon a time, he could begin; long, or perhaps not so long, ago . . . In a modernized, odd way, the film is as perverse and peculiar as a Grimm fairy tale; it is equally dateless.


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