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A Video Essay On Jim Jarmusch: Dead Men & Ghosts, Limited

Video
by Matthew Cheney
April 17, 2014 1:52 PM
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The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and the vacuity of the world.
—Basho
trans. by Robert Hass


Of the various Jim Jarmusch films I've seen, three have nagged at me, haunted me, teased me until I came back to them again and again. I was a student in New York City when Dead Man was released, and I saw it in the theatre, having read a review, having heard Jarmusch's name whispered or echoed somewhere, and I wanted to see what the fuss was. I didn't know what to make of it then, but if I knew anything at all about the film, I knew it was beautiful. Ghost Dog was easier to apprehend on a first viewing (in Boston, if I remember correctly), a film that is, for Jarmusch at least, relatively conventional in its narrative progress, its episodes clearly linked together through cause, effect, motivation. The Limits of Control is the most abstract of the three, a film to dream to. Indeed, when I first watched it (late one night at home in New Hampshire), I drifted in and out of sleep. This seems appropriate, perhaps the perfect first encounter with such an enigmatic, oneiric movie.

I began to think of the three films together. They appealed to me significantly more than Jarmusch's other works, significantly more than most movies. The reasons could, of course, be personal and idiosyncratic, but perhaps there was something there, some line of thought, some mix of imagery and style. Certainly, they share concerns and motifs: questions of wisdom and wandering, art and death, repetition and revision. They let genres become ghosts. They propose that white men are the scourge of reality. I knew the only way to begin an exploration would be with a movie of my own, made from pilfered pieces, because while I could analyze with text, it held no appeal: too dry, too awkward, too much like a manual on taxidermy. I knew I couldn't script it, either; I just needed to dig into the sounds and images, to see what stuck, to trust a certain intuition in juxtaposition.

"Dead Men & Ghosts, Limited" is the result. Its great flaw is that I was awake when I made it.

Matthew Cheney's work has been published by English Journal, One Story, Web Conjunctions, Strange Horizons, Failbetter.com, Ideomancer, Pindeldyboz, Rain Taxi, Locus, The Internet Review of Science Fiction and SF Site, among other places, and he is the former series editor for Best American Fantasy. He is currently a student in the Ph.D. in Literature program at the University of New Hampshire.

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