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The effect of music on Jim Jarmusch’s 'The Limits of Control'

The effect of music on Jim Jarmusch’s 'The Limits of Control'

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Andrea Bonino. Originally submitted for Film Music Seminar at University College Cork, with lecturer Danijela Kulezic-Wilson in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Andrea Bonino. Originally submitted for Film Music Seminar at University College Cork, with lecturer Danijela Kulezic-Wilson in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
The effect of music on Jim Jarmusch’s
The Limits of Control 
 
American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has acknowledged music as a primary source of inspiration for his work on several occasions. Himself a musician,
1
Jarmusch began making filmswithin the underground scene of New York City in the late 1970s, an environment in which musicwas central to the artistic and social life, as well as a powerful example of the possibilities of self-expression. Downtown New York at that time was fertile ground for the development andintermingling of arts, since many artists in that community were interested in different art forms; inthe aesthetics of the scene, which rejected virtuosity in favor of expressiveness, Jarmusch found theencouragement for making his own films.
2
Some of the musicians in his circle of friends becameinvolved in the creative process, contributing writing to the scripts, as well as composing thesoundtrack or acting.As Jarmusch is a rare case of independent director who has managed to keep at distance fromHollywood studios, in order to retain complete artistic control over his films, he has been able tomaintain this collaborative approach throughout his career, sustaining working relationships withmusicians, actors and friends that developed over time. Love for music has often played a strong part in the choice of the locations for the setting of the stories, as is the case of earlier films like
 Down by law
(1986) and
 Mystery Train
(1989), but has also had a more profound effect on thestructure and thematics of his works, and on the way in which they are developed. DanijelaKulezic-Wilson has offered
 Dead Man
(1996) as an example of film musicality, showing how itsinner structures can be seen as organized along musical forms, revealed through the combined effortof editing and music.
3
In this essay I will discuss how music has influenced the making of Jarmusch’s latest film
The Limits Of Contro
l (2009), in regard to the film’s structure, and itsnarrative and semantic layers.
2
1
 
Jarmusch contributed original music with his band Bad Rabbit to the soundtrack of 
The Limits Of Control,
herediscussed, as he had done in his first feature
 Permanent Vacation
(1980)
2
I
nterview with Tod Lippy, in Suárez, Juan A.
 Jim Jarmusch
. p. 154
3
Kulezic-Wilson, Danijela. “The musicality of film and Jim Jarmusch’s
 Dead Man
”, in
 Film and Film Culture,
vol. 4(2007). Special Issue: Transformation and Transference. pp. 12-17
 
An enthusiastic music lover, Jarmusch habitually listens to carefully selected music whenimagining a film, and writing the story; ‘Most of my inspiration comes from music’, he said, for it‘is almost like a pure form, like another language’.
4
Neil Young’s records with the band CrazyHorse infused the development of 
 Dead Man
, which eventually ended up being scored by theCanadian player.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
(1999), was inspired particularly by hip-hopmusic, and the tendency for quotation and appropriationspecific to that genre is reflected in thestructure of the film, in which an abundance of cinematic, literary and musical references are usedand assembled. Juan A. Suárez called this process ‘tracking’, as it resembles the combining of different tracks to create music in a recording studio;
 Dead Man
and
Ghost Dog 
, writes Suárez, ‘usefilm as a synthetic medium capable of mixing a number of streams of signification into a whole.’
5
This same approach can be seen at work in
The Limits of Control 
. As he was imagining thestory, sifting through a set of ideas and influences he had collected over time, Jarmusch waslistening to the music of bands like Boris, Sunn O))), Earth and Sleep, who play ‘a certain genre of noise-oriented rock with some allusions to metal’, as he defined it in an interview
6
. This musicfeatures heavily distorted and processed guitars, but at same time has a gentle side, with dreamy and psychedelic textures unfolding through a slow tempo, which matches Jarmusch’s penchant for  prolonged takes and downtempo rhythm in his films; Boris’ music helped him to focus on thedetails that were relevant to the story as it was unfolding in his imagination, and in finding thethreads to weave fragments and ideas.
7
He intended to write a lead character for Isaach De Bankolé,something like a ‘controlled, quiet, centered, criminal’,
8
and had some ideas about shooting incertain locations in Spain; Joe Strummer’s widow had given him a photograph of a house in the
3
4
Jim Jarmusch meeting an audience in New York:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECDpE4DLzGI
5
Suarez, op. cit. p. 99
6
interview with Gavin Smith,
 Film Comment 
May/June 2009.http://www.filmlinc.com/fcm/mj09/jarmusch.htm
7
interview with Andrew O‘ Hehir:http://media.salon.com/media/mp3/2009/04/btm_jj.mp3
8
ibid.

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