Jim Jarmusch is member of that elite (non-existent) club of multi-hyphenate, fiercely independent filmmakers that have covered almost every role in the filmmaking process. Included in this group are the likes of Robert Rodriguez, Julie Delpy and Shane Carruth. For Jarmusch, music has always been a vital part of his creative expression, whether scoring his films, performing with his band, casting musicians in his films or shooting documentaries about them. His latest film "Only Lovers Left Alive," not only takes the vampire genre back from teenagers with a smart and funny screenplay, but casts one of the lead vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddlestone) as a musician with a penchant for expensive, classic guitars and analogue recording, with Jarmusch performing the guitar parts on the soundtrack.
Interviewed at Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece, Jarmusch talks about his latest film and the importance of music in his life. "Only Lovers Alive" opens in select theaters this Friday.
Why did you decide to make a vampire movie? Was it a reaction to those recent teen movies that ignore most of the mythology?
There are so many hundreds of films with vampires in them, but our film is not a horror film. It's a different kind of vampire film. There are many different not-horror vampire films. One of the most beautiful is "Vampyr" by Carl Dreyer, but there are many others; "The Hunger" from Tony Scott, more recent ones like "Let the Right One In," which I like very much; Claire Denis made a film called "Trouble Every Day," Abel Ferrara's "Addiction," "Nadja" by Michael Almereyda. There are many vampire films that are not horror movies.
You've always been a fiercely independent filmmaker, retaining the rights to your negatives, but not for this one. Is it getting harder now to remain independent?
I love the form so much. Film is such a beautiful form, but it's getting very difficult – it's very different to what it was even five years ago – to finance films. I don't know what to say about that, except to keep going.
Over your career, you have developed the status of being one of the most respected independent filmmakers in world/art-house cinema. Towards the end of the movie, Adam and Eve are watching Yasmine Hamdan singing, and Eve says, "She's wonderful, she must be really famous." Adam replies, "I hope not, because she's too good to be famous." Is that a reflection of your status?
What I was saying was that I always found more interesting things outside of the mainstream. The things in the margins are more moving to me. Throughout history there has always been a mainstream culture, and a marginal culture, and the most innovative things are in the margins. Not always, but most often.
And where do you see yourself?
I'm most definitely in the margins somewhere. I don't see myself in the mainstream. There are other people I respect that are much more courageous, and break a lot more rules, that are more marginal than my work.
What's your view of independent cinema in the U.S. at the moment?
It depends how you define independent cinema. It's become a kind of marketing tool, especially in America, so I don't really know what it means. Things have changed, and the worldwide economic crisis, and the new ways of films being distributed, has changed the way they can be financed. I don't know what the future is, but I know that the new wave of Greek films, using small budgets, is really the future, and maybe the best way. If you look at the history of any art form, let's just say of rock 'n' roll for example, you find that it goes in cycles and there are cycles where, for example, when I was younger we were tired of this big stadium rock 'n' roll, this record company, commercial rock 'n' roll that was forced on you, in a mainstream way. So it's very important that, starting, maybe, with "The Stooges," or the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones; the idea is to reduce down to the essential thing. Don't worry that you're not a professional, and this is the future, in a way, where cinema is now. Strip away everything.
I'm much more interested in seeing a film by a Greek filmmaker that made film for $200,000 than I am in seeing "The Great Gatsby" by Baz Luhrmann. That's just my taste, but cinema needs to be reduced to its essential poetry. It's a cycle that happens, and we're in it now, maybe forcibly by worldwide economics, and maybe that's a very good thing. Already in Greece, Romania, for years now in Iran, there are these beautiful gardens of new cinema that come in places where you would think, "How can they be making films in places the crisis is so severe?" But it's happening. I'm not a predictor, but I embrace people finding their own way to express themselves. I have a lot of hope for it. You cannot kill these beautiful forms, but you just can't help them with a lot of money.
The soundtrack to this film is fantastic. Was it influenced by the current resurgence of psychedelic music?
I like lots of different forms of music, so music is really my favorite. I think the strongest thing humans give as expression is music. I don't know how to exactly define the new psychedelic movement, but there are many bands that I really love that are described this way. I also like drone music, I like trance music, I like the different categories of metal music they call stoner music or doom metal. Some of this I like very much. I also like underground hip hop, and lots of other styles as well. But I do very much like this resurgence of psychedelic music that really transports you and lets you drift, and affects you in a sensual or sensory way. I like heavy rock 'n' roll too. But I like lots of different forms of music.
You have your own band, so what do you get out of music that you don't get out of cinema?
When you make a film, it takes several years. It takes two years to make a film, from writing and financing to shooting and editing. Music is very immediate, so things come out of you very fast. The movie's composer Jozef van Wissem, he's a Dutch lutenist, and I made a few records together last year, and my band SQÜRL, which is Carter Logan, myself and Shane Stoneback, and now Jozef when we play live, we made all the other music in the film, around Jozef's lute music. All the guitar music in the film is my guitar playing, which is very droney and not really a virtuoso style of music.