NEW YORK – Those who have ever had the highly specific dream of being taught film by Jim Jarmusch were indulged when it was first announced that the director would be leading a masterclass on films which have inspired him through the years. In attendance at this year’s New York Film Festival for both the Adam Driver bus-driver vehicle “Paterson” and the Iggy Pop/Stooges documentary “Gimme Danger,” the director was able to broaden his own discourse in the midst of alternating press conferences for the two films, tackling the subject of cinema as a whole. With a calm, slowed, and somewhat soothing voice that could not hide an overarching passion for the movies, Jarmusch made his way through a quick crash course of what he considered vital cinema.
With festival director Kent Jones, Jarmusch’s hilarious discussion — which at many points had the audience roaring with laughter — progressed with a series of nine film clips. It was a mixture of discussion on both said clips and directors, as well as his career and experiences in the film industry as a whole, conveying insights known only to someone with as prominent and expansive a career as his.
On picking his clips:
“I’d like to start just by saying that this was really daunting for me because Kent asked me to do this and to pick clips from films. I could have picked like 200. I didn’t know where to begin. I thought maybe I could just pick Westerns, or only black and white Westerns, or only crime films from 1967, or maybe only black and white crime films from 1947… It’s such a beautiful thing — the whole span of cinema.”
He continued to acknowledge the foresight that went into the talk: “I also talk pretty slowly. If Marty Scorsese was here, he could choose 5x-as-many-films-because-he-talks-so-fast.”
On working with Nicholas Ray:
After portraying the first clip — the infamous opening scene of Samuel Fuller’s “The Naked Kiss,” and a brief discussion on Fuller and his penchant for visceral, shocking imagery and themes (and general antics — told in character), Jarmusch began to divulge his time spent working as director Nicholas Ray’s assistant and their close relationship. He spoke of Ray as a Renaissance Man inspiring him to be a proud dilettante, among other major takeaways: “He would always tell me if you wanted to make films, then don’t just watch films. Get your inspiration from everywhere because filmmaking has everything in it. It has music, style, timing, rhythm, acting, writing, photography, composition — it has everything in it.”
On becoming a cinephile:
The next few clips were presented in pairs. First, two similar scenes depicting conversations along stretches of highway, from Dino Risi’s “Il Sorpasso” and Aki Kaurismaki’s “Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana.” Soon after a brief discussion on the clips as well as a brief anecdote in which Jarmusch impressed the crowd with a Fellini accent, Jarmusch was asked about his origins as a dedicated movie-watcher. “I got to go to Paris for part of a year in 1975. I came back with incompletes because I had discovered the cinematheque, and I was there every day absorbing all of this stuff that I didn’t know. You could have all these films that didn’t have to have a giant crab monster in them — nothing against that. I saw films from Japan and films from Jean Rouch and films from India, and my mind was blown. That’s when I discovered that cinema was as varied as literature.”
On borrowing from movies:
The next clip pairing was of Jean Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” and Seijun Suzuki’s “Branded to Kill,” indicative of Jarmusch’s love of the hitman film. Such works influenced his own film “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” which blended Eastern philosophies with Forrest Whittaker and Western ideals. When asked about borrowing scenes, Jarmusch began: “I don’t very often directly quote other films, but when I do, I want to be very open and appreciative about it… I love Quentin Tarantino for taking things from other places. It’s nothing new, “Magnificent Seven” is from “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo” is the basis of “A Fistful of Dollars” and I love that because I think expression in any form is like waves in an ocean, and you can’t really delineate but they overlap. I don’t really believe in originality because there are a limited amount of stories but there are an unlimited amount of ways to tell them… My big things are being a dilettante and variations. It is only theft if you take somebody’s idea before they realize and say it was your own, in which case you’re just a full-on asshole. If you take something that moved you that exists and you imitate and you make another version, then I think that’s beautiful. That’s the nature of creating things.”