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NYFF '13: Jim Jarmusch and Tilda Swinton on 'Only Lovers Left Alive,' Creating Their Own Vampire Mythology and Why Hollywood Film Music Is Boring

By Clint Holloway | Indiewire October 11, 2013 at 10:33AM

At first glance, it might seem unusual for Jim Jarmusch to be taking on the vampire genre; after all, his films have usually been concerned with the likes of cab drivers, middle-aged New Jersey lotharios and other arrays of offbeat yet down-to-earth characters. And yet his propensity for deadpan absurdity and keen observation lends itself uncannily well to a story about people who drink blood and have been living for hundreds of years. If Jarmusch's last film "The Limits of Control" saw the auteur dramatically tackle more abstract narrative terrain, "Only Lovers Left Alive" still finds him on a metaphorical tangent that is tethered to the ground with a love story, although in this case it is a very long-lasting one.
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Only Lovers Left Alive

Swinton and Jarmusch on the challenges of making the film:

Swinton: "Simply that it was challenging for us to want to make this film for quite a while and have to be really patient, that was the biggest challenge. Once we started shooting, as ever, when you've been developing something for a while it's like cream, 'Oh wow there's a camera, there are colleagues, there's a schedule with a call sheet, there's catering. It's just like Christmas every day. But having patience, pacing our energies for the years Jim was talking to me about making this film, that was a challenge. And personally, it's a challenge for me to know that Jim Jarmusch isn't making a film every year, because that's what I want. So that is literally the only challenge I can think of."

Jarmusch: "I have to add to that, It was seven years or more, eight years, that I wanted to make this film, or a variation of it, and it was written with Tilda in mind from the very beginning. Whenever this production would fall apart or we'd lose financing or another element and I would just be ready to give up, like, 'Okay, I'm going onto something else, this is a bad sign.' And Tilda would invariably say, 'No, this is a good sign. This means we're not ready, all the pieces aren't in place.' And she was so optimistic and reflective in the way of Eve, in the spirit of Eve, that I could not give up this project."

Jarmusch on the vampires' hair in the film:

"I wanted them to have wild hair, I wanted them to look partly animalistic and even behave like half animals and half very sophisticated humans. So we were trying to make wigs for them, we were trying on different things, we were in Cologne, Germany working with Gerd, our makeup/hair designer, who's great. And we just weren't getting an interesting texture from looking at different textures of hair online. And Tilda said, 'You keep saying 'animal,' so why are we just looking at humans? Let's look at animal fur.' So we started looking at animals and monkeys and llamas and different textures of fur and hair. And then Gerd said that he had, in the past, mixed some goat and yak fur with human hair. And Tilda was like, 'Let's try that.' So we tried that, and in the end the wigs for John Hurt, for Tom, for Tilda, and for Mia were made of a certain percentage of human hair mixed with goat and yak. Again, why? I just wanted them to look kind of wild."

Only Lovers Left Alive

Swinton on the film's period-less costumes:

"It was a real leap of the imagination to free ourselves from anything that felt tied to any one time. We were making a bouquet, so we wanted to make it look like they had lived through all of these times, so if you put too much one one flower in a bouquet it tends to overwhelm, you just need to smorgasbord all these references, but for them to never look fashionable. I mean, they are too snobbish to be fashionable, let's face it, too snobbish to be snobs. Jim was really clear with us, with Bina, the great costume designer, trying to kind of strip all the elements, every glove, every jacket, from any contemporary or any remotely fashion reference. Although it had to feel like it could have been at any time."

Jarmusch on intellect versus instincts:

"Intellect is very valuable and interesting, and intellect is something I pay more attention to, because I think you can overanalyze things.I read a lot about filmmakers and directors and writer-directors that I really love, and this is a weak generalization, but sometimes I think, 'Well, they're not the most highly intellectual people.' I really think instinct and using your intuition is extremely important. While filming you are, in my case, gathering material that you will then make into a film in the editing room. It's not a formulaic procedure, like a Hitchcock film, which are fantastic for what they are, but everything's decided in advance for this little machine to function in a Hitchcock-type film. What we're making, the machine may not be visible until the end, until it's cut."

Jarmusch on the film's eclectic soundtrack:

"Well, it partly reflects the fact that there's such a wide range of incredible forms of music that's certainly of interest to me, so yeah, it's reflective of that range, only a part of that range, the film could only use so much music. And the music created for the film is kind of liquid and molten, in a way. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it seemed appropriate for the feelings of the film, and Adam himself is a musician, so we see him making music as well. But I'm always shocked by the limited range of musical style used in cinema, especially American films, especially commercial Hollywood films. It seems like they just buy the music by the yard and use the same five scores over and over and over again. And when you see, wow, what kind of music is available and made all around this planet, it's very strange to me that what's in movies is often very limited. This isn't always true, there's some great non-American and American films that use great music. But still, it feels like not as wide a range being used."

This article is related to: Only Lovers Left Alive , Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton, NYFF, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Amy Taubin, Interviews







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