NYFF: Jim Jarmusch & Tilda Swinton Talk The Vampire Romance Of ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

Festivals
by Edward Davis
October 14, 2013 3:03 PM
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While she arrived a little late, Tilda Swinton made a grand entrance at the New York Film Festival press conference for “Only Lovers Left Alive," Jim Jarmusch’s meditative, moody and yet hilarious look at a vampire relationship that has spanned centuries. The movie stars Tom Hiddleston and Swinton as Adam and Eve, two vampire lovers separated by continents, she in Tangiers and he in bombed out Detroit. But the duo have to reuinte when Adam, an Über-hip but anti-hipster musician, who would rather not have his music out in the world because that would taint it, goes through a kind of existential and perhaps even suicidal crisis (read our full review here).

Co-starring Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt, the film comments on culture, and the lack thereof and underappreciation of true art in the world, but also on relationships that span the tests of time. What would it like to be in a relationship that crossed several hundred years and experienced several touchstone moments in civilization? Jarmusch and Swinton discussed the film in in New York and music fans take note, that fantastic soundtrack, by Jozef van Wissem and Jarmusch's drone rock band Sqürl, should be out sometime in early January according the filmmaker. Here are the highlights from the NYFF conversation:

" These vampires are snobs in a way. But than again if you live for 1000 years and saw humanity devolving you might be a little snobbish as well."

Jarmusch had been dwelling on a vampire movie for almost a decade.
“I'd say eight or ten years, and I had an early script of something similar to this about seven years ago and was not able to get anything financed on several tries and than sort of put it aside and made another film and than came back to it, rewrote it and it finally came about.”

Jarmusch’s bombed-out Detroit is not necessarily a paean to the bombed out and gone 1970s New York.
I'm not honestly conscious of that at all. I mean, it's sort of a period where I have developed aesthetically and started making films so I'm sure there's something of it in me and in this film but I'm not...that's the first time I’ve of thought of that. It's not a conscious [thought].”

Tilda Swinton talked the critical, delicate tone of the movie, how Jarmusch communicated that and how they stayed away from camp.
“We did wonder [whether it would work] but I think we all just threw ourselves off the precipice as usual and kept Jim as our baseline. He is all the time reassuring us that this is how it has to be and if we just as reasonable and intelligent people trusted him [it would be fine]," she explained. "But we didn't necessarily know until right now that it didn't dissolve into camp. It was just a romantic risk that we were all willing to take, Jim included. We wanted to make a kind of atmosphere we hadn't seen before When you're groping around in the dark [trying to make something] with your friends it's always better than groping around in the dark by yourself.”

Tilda Swinton revealed how she worked with Tom Hiddelston to create a comfortable relationship where it seemed credible that they had lived together forever.
“It is about surviving in general. But being together in love in a long relationship. This one equals hundreds of years. Just rebooting one's connections, the reasons to not get out a gun or get really depressed and sitting around all day and doing nothing else," Swinton said. "That was something that Jim and Tom and I talked about for a long time before we started shooting and we were all clear that what we wanted was a couple who really felt familiar.”

“She says at one point, ‘You loved telling me stuff about all the fancy people you used to know.’ That's one of the things she's learned to put up with and love as well," the actress continued. "We talked about the texture and really, really long friendships and noticed that we hadn't necessarily seen that in a film. A man and a woman who obviously really fancied each other still but really, really loved talking to each other.”

The film was analog-obsessive Jarmusch’s first film shot digitally and his first time working with DP Yorick LeSaux.
“It's the first time I worked with digital photography. I don’t like digital for several reasons. I don't like the depth of field, I don't like exterior daylight on skin tones, it looks not appealing to me," he admitted. "These weren't problems because we shot in very low light. We were shooting, lighting these scenes with light bulbs and LED squares and very, very minimally so we didn't have the depth of field problems. I find it very beautiful. It was lit very delicately.”

Why were vampires such an interesting subject for Jarmusch?
“For me, it was obviously not a horror movie as most vampire films are...I think it's just the overview that it allowed, that they've been alive so long to show a love story that spans that amount of time...we're just observing these characters that happen to be very strange and interesting," he said. "So to be able to see their perception of history over a long period of time was, I think, really attractive to me, and their own love story to span that time was what drew me to it.”

“Vampires start as humans, they're not zombies that return from the dead," Jarmusch continued. "So in any case they are not just metaphorically humans. They are humans that have been transformed. They’re still humans so that was interesting.”

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