Last weekend saw the wonderful twice-in-a-decade occasion that is the release of a new Jim Jarmusch movie. I’ve been a fan of the understated indie filmmaker for as long as I can remember, even if his work doesn’t quite fit my brand. Famous for his subtle films about hipster slackers, complete with punk rock scores the director doesn’t seem like the kind of artist I should like. But I’ve loved almost every film, from Stranger Than Paradise to Paterson and everything in between. And the reason is simple: his intellectual curiosity is infectious.
Jarmusch movies are known for being lethargic, often with no discernible plot. But they work in part because the director is famously obsessed with gathering knowledge. Whether he’s listening to obscure records or reading out-of-print books or screening celluloid film prints, the man is a cultural sponge. He consumes art with a vigor most of us can only dream of, then he simply throws everything he likes into his films. Plots can be centered around obsolete poets and discussions of punk bands I’ve never heard of, but his passion shows through everything.
I don’t mean to sell him short, as there are many other things the man does well. He has a wicked sense of humor and an eye for assembling fantastic casts, and his cinematography is often beautiful. His movies are certainly more than a collage of culture. But I take a lot of inspiration from the way he works. Anyone who reads Daily Fuel probably knows that I spend more time appreciating art than I do making it. I have a lot of interests, some more popular than others. And my passion for the music and movies that I really love sometimes feels insurmountable. It’s so hard to imagine making anything as great as my favorite films, so it’s tempting not to try. But Jarmusch found another way. He weaves his obsessions into the fabric of his art. He lets his curiosity drive him, and fills these movies with the stuff that you’d think nobody else cared about. And the results are often irresistible.
Obviously I don’t want to copy him. Jarmusch is such a singular filmmaker, the best lesson to learn from him is the importance of developing your own voice. But his ability to create movies from the intersections of his passions fascinates me. He’s not filling his movies with references, or having characters quote movies back and forth. He finds a way to take the essence of art that he likes, and turn it into a story that’s entirely new. That’s a skill.
Given that my interests are entirely different from his (and my skills likely much lower), my risk of being compared to him is pretty low. But his curiosity, his constant search for new information and how it informs his art, is something I’m striving to achieve.