Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Favorite Films of All Time: Dead Man

Back in the wild and wooly pre-internet days of the mid-nineties, I fell in love with Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Dead Man is a bizarre, existentialist Western (yes, you heard that right) shot in spectacular black and white. Johnny Depp stars a William Blake, an accountant from Cleveland whom is mistaken for the poet/painter William Blake. There are many, many significant cameos in the like of Robert Mitchum (in his last screen performance), William Hurt, Gabriel Byrne, Iggy Pop (so funny), Michael Wincott, Crispin Glover, Billy Bob Thornton (hysterically funny), Jared Harris, and Alfred Molina to only name some of them. The film also features a haunting score provided by Neil Young.

The pacing is slow and deliberate, but hypnotic. My friend Seth and I watched the film over and over, taking apart all of the subtle nuances. This repeated viewing actually caused my friend Noack to walk home from my house once.

From The AV Club:

What gives Dead Man special resonance—and plenty of rewatch value—is that it can be appreciated on several different levels at once: for the stark surface wonders of Robby Müller's black-and-white cinematography and Neil Young's rumbling guitar score; for its philosophically loaded journey from life to death; for its boldly de-romanticized portrait of the American West in transition, as it's reshaped by the pitiless forces of violence and industry; and, finally, for its unusually sensitive and detailed acknowledgement of Native American culture, which goes far beyond what even sympathetic Westerns in the past had been able to muster. Jarmusch has never been the sort of director with an "epic" vision, and he goes out of his way to avoid gargantuan gestures here, but Dead Man is as close to a grand statement as he's made to date, and one that offers endless food for thought on poetry, philosophy, violence, cinema, and how the West was really won.

With the recent release on Blu-Ray, now is a great time to take a chance on a brilliant film. Give it a shot - you won't be sorry.

PS - More great information about the film to be found here.