Monday, April 28, 2014

The Five Kinds of People Who Should Go See Only Lovers Left Alive, by Alexis George

Shakespearean conspiracies, century old vampires, and an immortal soundtrack

Jim Jarmusch, director of acclaimed films like Dead Man and Broken Flowers, is not everyone’s cup of tea. He’s more like the smooth whiskey you shoot down at a bar where they’re playing Iggy Pop over a spaghetti western on the tv. His movies seem more like long form music videos than anything else. The guy wears sunglasses inside, and he can get away with it, because he’s just that cool. The guy has turned Johnny Depp into a cowboy, Forest Whitaker into a samurai, and now he’s gone and made vampires out of some of the most entrancing British people on Earth.

Only Lovers Left Alive just made its festival rounds, claiming award nominations all over the globe. The film follows the drawn out existence of two immortal lovers, and their reunion following a long period of separation. Jarmusch explores a cool world torn between the streets of Detroit and the claustrophobic alleys of Tangier, filling it with some of the most aesthetically pleasing shots in modern cinematography and cool (and I mean cool) music.

Now, like I said, this won’t be a movie for everyone. The plot reads like the aftermath of a long epic story, where we only get a picture of the fallout. It’s more like a dense painting than it is a narrative, and it’s filled with the kind of literary and historical reference that would make your high school humanities teacher flip in their chair.

All that said, I can’t properly express how much I loved this movie.

Below is a list of the audiences I think would (and should) enjoy this film.
1. Recruits of Loki’s Army

*Fans self* - Ed

I’m going to be completely honest here: I’m shamelessly addicted to Tom Hiddleston movies. It’s hard not to be a little bit into suave British Shakespearean actors who film Jaguar commercials, read poetry, and gravitate towards villainous and complex roles, but still manage to support Unicef and dance like this.

Hiddleston ended up replacing actor Michael Fassbender for the role in pre-production. His approach to the centuries-old Adam is morose, callous, and relies a lot more on expression and subtlety of craft to convey his thoughts. Which, when compared to the loud, dictatorial speeches of Hiddleston’s known role as the norse god Loki, is a real testament to the actor. Maybe I’m being biased. But If I can be completely and utterly honest about it: all things considered, Tom Hiddleston was the weakest part of this movie to me. Yeah, I said it. His character is consistently severed, suicidal, and not particularly interesting. You can almost see Hiddleston attempting to hide moments of positive emotion and not taking to the limitation of the character particularly gracefully. I’m roping his fans into this film to convey that, while Hiddleston can act and does a damn fine job of it, he doesn’t always steal the show, and you might be surprised to find how much you gravitate towards the other aspects and performances of this film…. However, if this doesn’t get you, in this film he appears naked, frequently shirtless and plays violin. Then there’s the whole immortal vampire thing, if you’re into that.

2. Shakespeare Fans 


Anyone remember that god awful movie that came out a few years ago called Anonymous? The controversial one about how Shakespeare didn’t really write his own stuff, that he was a hack? Yeah, Jarmusch plays around with that in a much cooler way.

John Hurt, the brilliant actor more recently known for his role as The War Doctor on BBC’s Doctor Who, is introduced as the vampire Christopher Marlowe. Hurt’s Marlow is the very same man, half a century later, known for penning Doctor Faustus, among several other known literary masterworks. He is accounted for as one of the best tragedians of the Elizabethan era, right alongside Shakespeare. So why does Hurt’s Marlowe have a picture of William stabbed through the forehead with a knife hanging over his desk? And why does Tilda Swinton’s character lovingly proclaim “Oh Marlowe,” after reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 aloud? I would argue that Jarmusch’s approach to the Shakespeare controversy is one of the more hilarious ones around, and this is coming from someone who wholly accepts the anti-Stratford controversies as a possibility. Plus, this movie has gorgeous British people reciting Shakespearean lines, which is like chocolate for the ears.

3. Vampire The Masquerade Players

I know you’re still out there. I see a good fifty of you in Walnut Creek every month, and interact with a great deal more of you in downtime emails. I know you all have some sort of secret underground gaming base in Seattle, that By Night Studios just released a (new edition) of the roleplay game from the nineties. Which means you’re all still around and gaming.

Now, if any of you want to get together and see a very, very close adaptation of some of the in game powers on screen, here’s your chance. (I have a theory that Jarmusch has dabbled in the hobby.) I was able to pick out Spirit’s Touch (The ability to tell where an object has been), Entrancement, (“Hey tasty looking human, come over here for a minute?”) and a little bit of the Toreador clan weakness when Adam inexplicably gets drawn into a performance by Yasmin Hamdan. (“She’ll be famous”, Swinton says. “Nah, she’s too good for that,” Hiddleston responds.”)*

Make a field trip out of it for your gaming group and see if you can point out any other powers being used. It’ll be fun. Promise.

4. Film Buffs (And people who appreciate beautiful things)

More than anything else, this movie’s got gorgeous cinematography going for it. Every shot is lined up as if to balance the former. There are long, winding displays of location and setting. The theme of color and contrast is so present, Even the two primary actor’s eye colors balance each other out. This film often feels like you’ve stepped into a painting. Here are some stills from the film, to add a bit of beautiful into your day:

5. Feminists

Yeah. I’m pulling that card out.

Tilda Swinton is something else. This is a woman who posed for a photograph in Moscow with a rainbow flag following the prosecution of queer citizens. She has forged an entire career of modeling and acting, and still manages to breach the mold of conventional female beauty and remain active in world politics.

Her character, Eve, is one of the most actualized female characters I’ve seen in a film since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (and she doesn’t have to kill alien monsters to maintain the attention of the audience). Eve is essentially the hero of the movie. She pulls Adam out of his pity party and forces him to look at the world around him. She is perpetually interested, perpetually looking for ways to thrive and perpetually cleaning up the situation in the most practical way possible. She is flawed, in the way that her optimism causes problems for her and the people around her, but she may very well be Jarmusch’s idea of what an intelligent, centuries old and evolved woman could be, and when a female character like that appears in media, it’s certainly worth seeing.

P.S. If that doesn’t get you, Chekov from the new Star Trek movies plays Tom Hiddleston’s groupie in the film. So there’s that.

               *I hadn’t heard of her before either, but she’s amazing.


           A. George is a San Francisco based writer. She is one of 63 registered clones in the Bay Area. If you see any of her counterparts (they can be distinguished by their colorful livestock ear tags) please report it directly to her blog, which can be found here. She can unfortunately also be found on twitter.

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