Saturday, 2 December 2017

Non-Abstract Review: Permanent Vacation (1980)

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Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Chris Parker as Allie; Leila Gastil as Leila

Synopsis: Allie (Chris Parker) is a youth who is frustrated, bored and effected by insomnia to the point he dreams awake. Desiring to see his mother in a mental institution, he goes on a trip where he encounters a mentally scared war veteran, bored cinema employees and John Lurie is a cameo amongst others.

Jim Jarmusch's debut, before he'd immediately catch peoples' attention with Strangers in Paradise (1984), feels like a first attempt. A sketch of where he'd go with a proper film, rough and imperfect in its construction. Even under eighty minutes it ebbs and flows between interest and disinterest considerably, but the result is still of immense reward if you are patient with it. One of the more interesting things to consider with this film, as it shows Jarmusch's style already in primitive form, is what would've happened if he instead of Quentin Tarantino became the poster boy for American cinema with an idiosyncratic interest in the past in culture. As much as I appreciate Tarantino, he's only started to mature as a director in terms of his later films. If that's a strange thing to say in terms of these films which usually have a lot of violence in them, then its only with the likes of The Hateful Eight (2015) that he's played with his unconventional plot structures beyond the surface, and only really with a film like Jackie Brown (1997) where there's also an emotional current. Jarmusch, even when he made more overt genre based films like Dead Man (1995), was always concerned for his characters since his debut. He would take a few films to be as idiosyncratic as he is known for too, as Permanent Vacation comes off as primordial and unfocused, but the traits of his style are here nonetheless.

Even if it's unfocused, the context that Jarmusch was very young when he shot this does sooth some of the teething issues here Permanent Vacation, coming from a huge creative bubble of the era within New York State, in the midst of the No Wave and Cinema of Transgression movements, is still a damn good snapshot of local New York City of the period regardless of the more sluggish moments of the tentative plot. With Chris Parker as our lead, when he walks through the empty back streets there's still a reward in seeing what the environment was like as Jarmusch was shooting what was around him with little change to it. The film can survive its problems entirely because, thankfully, for his first attempt at a feature the director-writer made the film a series of encounters with random characters. This means that, as his protagonist is our stand-in in meeting the people he crosses, there's never a chance that one segment can be too long is underdeveloped. Also far from tedious, I've found myself growing tired of the commonality and over repeated plots of most fiction cinema. Suddenly two characters, one cinema refreshment stand employee and a customer, the former preferring to read her book rather than hear Parker try to ask her about the Nicolas Ray film playing is more interesting for me with its improvised dialogue and pauses from non actors. As much as I appreciate well written dialogue in films you can see in most cinemas, I now have a soft spot for this as well, even when far from perfect, as well. This era of extremely low budget cinema is becoming far more rewarding for me even outside of their plots, that their textures and incidental detail are as rich for me.

Even when Jarmusch coxes his work with references to high brow art, film and cinema, its always been painted with this interest in ordinary life intersecting within it. If anything it's a film worth seeing for this reason. For the lengthy final shot looking at the Statue of Liberty as it passes further and further away from the camera. If anything it's worth it for the darkly humorous anecdote, told entirely by monologue, of a jazz musician who considers committing suicide, never becoming cruel even with a punch line involving Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Moments like this make up for any issues with the structure of the film, it least feeling like the beginning of where Jarmusch would find his virtues. Where his characters would be the ordinary person off the street or outsiders. Some of it is exaggerated to a deficiency, the Vietnam vet merely an actor in the weed covered ruins of an old building rambling incoherently, but when Jarmusch does succeed the genes that would lead soon after to his films is found. At its best is when Permanent Vacation is more closer to this than the more arch, absurd material its struggling with, the style of the film and its era both a blessing and more appropriate for this as the lingering memory for me is more about those streets of New York City. 

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