Jim Jarmusch on Neil Young, Tom Waits, Jack White and Joe Strummer…

The director talks glaciers, No Wave and The Sons Of Lee Marvin

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You’ve directed promo videos for musicians – Neil Young, Tom Waits, among them. Do you consider a promo video to be a film in miniature?
Chris Parker, Leeds
I used to, but I got into a big fight with Tom Waits when we were making one for his song, “I Don’t Want To Grow Up”. He wanted me to cut it differently, and I said “But it’s like a film I’m making, Tom,” and he said, “No, it’s a commercial for the song. If people are watching TV, I don’t want them changing the channel. If you can pop this crazy image in earlier, it would help this, that, blah blah blah.” We had a big fight in which I locked him in an enclosed parking lot behind a metal door in LA in the middle of the night. He was pounding on the door. I vividly remember the insult which no one has ever said to me ever again, he yelled through the door: “God damn it, Jim, I’m going to glue your hair to the wall.” At which point I let him back in. It was a fight between friends. We reconciled.

In Dead Man, you cast Robert Mitchum in what turned out to be his last film role. Was he easy to work with?
Andy Roberts, Tyne-And-Wear
He was very generous and easy to work with as long as you did not change the dialogue that you gave him in advance. His manager, or the person who came with him while we worked, took me aside at one point because I wanted to change a line, and he said, “Mr Mitchum does NOT improvise.” So I said, “I just want to go in his trailer and ask him to change one line.” He said, “Well, good luck to you.” I went in there and told him I wanted to flip around some words in one line, and I said, “I’m sorry to do this to you.” And Mitchum said, “You’re sorry? That’s what they said to Gary Gilmore isn’t it?” He was very funny and self-deprecating. We would do a take and I’d say, “That was good, let’s do one more.” He would say, “Oh, at least.” He told me a lot of amazing stories and I wish I could do an interview just to talk about those.

A couple of years ago in an interview you mentioned a series of essays you were doing on The Clash. Were these being done with a view to making them public? And knowing, and having worked with Joe Strummer, have you any interest working on a biopic?
Ray Burke, Offaly, Ireland
I was preparing a series of essays, some of which I began, which were all in the form of ‘versus’. In other words, it would would be Clash versus Pistols, Keaton versus Chaplin, Duchamp versus Warhol. They were comparisons of artists or groups that I really loved. I had Tesla versus Einstein, these kind of things. I did write a Clash versus Pistols, but I never published any of them. It was an idea to make a whole book of this nonsense. Maybe better it wasn’t. The Clash embraced everything, they were open, and the Pistols were beautifully reductive, this is all we need. I love them both, but their differences were very interesting. When did I first meet Joe? In the early Eighties. Lots of mutual friends, especially in New York. I also met Mick and Paul, who I remain friends with, and Don Letts, who I’m a godfather to his children. I love Joe so much, I’m still mad at him for being gone. Apparently with his heart condition, he could have gone at any moment in his life. When you think what that guy left and gave to us all, it’s staggering. RIP Joe. What an amazing gift he was.


Which of the five cab drivers in Night On Earth would you tip the most?
Petri, Helsinki
I try to be equitable. Was filming in five different cities difficult? I wrote it very fast in nine days, and it seemed so simple – just these little stories in the cabs. Then when we started to figure out how to produce it, it was a nightmare. Filming in cars is the most horrible thing in filmmaking, apart from shooting with animals who don’t want to behave. We’d have a new crew in each place, so we would go a week before, prepare everything, shoot, then move to the next place. I hope the film comes off feeling minimal and simple on a certain level because it was not. We had what you call speed rail round the cars for the lights to be put on, and so I remember the poor Finnish guys locked in that car for hours and hours. “But ve need to use ze rest room!” It was quite complicated.

What was the first album you bought?
Carrie, Los Angeles
I think it was Out Of Our Heads or 12 x 5. Before that, I didn’t have so much money for albums, so I bought singles. Some Beach Boys singles, some Stones singles, maybe a Them single, that kind of stuff. Oh, and Jan & Dean’s “Little Old Lady From Pasedena”. Bought in the suburbs of Akron, Ohio, where I’m from. We had a pretty good underground FM radio at that time and we lived very near Kent State University, where they had rock’n’roll bars where I saw, for example, early versions of the James Gang as well as a band called Cyrus Erie, which was Eric Carmen’s band who later became known for The Raspberries. Cyrus Erie dressed really British rock’n’roll for the period, and they even feigned very bad fake accents trying to pick up girls. We had a pretty good thing and a couple of good record stores that started playing psychedelic music. We also had good AM stations, WAKR and WHLR which played a lot of R&B stuff, so we got a lot of Detroit of Memphis soul music pumping through the tiny AM speakers as well.


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