The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival is quickly coming to a close. In fact the Un Certain Regard winners were just announced a short while ago (you can catch up with them right here). This year’s line-up, unlike years past, positioned a lot of heavyweights near the end of the festival, filmmakers like Roman Polanski, whose “Venus In Fur” screened today, and Jim Jarmusch, whose deadpan, odd and deeply enjoyable vampire movie “Only Lovers Left Alive” screened last night (you can read our review right here).
The film centers on a deeply depressed underground musician (Tom Hiddleston) whose romantic seclusion in Detroit and Tangiers is restored when he is reunited with his strong and enigmatic lover (Tilda Swinton.) Their love has endured several centuries but their debauched existence is soon disrupted by the arrival of the her younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) and her boyfriend (Anton Yelchin). Disenfranchised by the way humanity has evolved, can these strangers on the fringes continue to survive in the modern world that is collapsing around them? It’s a thoroughly Jarmuschian film, surprisingly funny, romantic, and singularly odd.
Early this morning, Jarmusch, Swinton, Hiddleston, co-star John Hurt and producers of the film reconvened on the Croisette for the movie’s press conference. While Jarmusch seem initially somewhat guarded, the idiosyncratic filmmaker did end up talking circuitously about the film, but still refused to speak to its themes and meanings in any direct manner. Luckily Hiddleston, John Hurt and Swinton — who kept suggesting the flag flying freaks of the world are the modern day vampires of our culture — were very happy to talk about the film at length. Here’s eight highlights.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” took 7 years to make…at least.
We all flipped in 2009 when it was announced that Jim Jarmusch was making a vampire film with Tilda Swinton (and Michael Fassbender in the lead back then), using a script that had apparently been written seven years ago. In fact, one of the film’s producers suggested the movie was in the wings circa “Broken Flowers” in 2004 or ‘05, but it just couldn’t quite come together and Jarmusch shot two pictures before it. Why a vampire film?
“We heard you could make a lot of money with these films,” Jarmusch quipped no doubt referencing the “Twilight” movies of the world. “I wanted to make a love story with vampires and it was a long process. I haven’t seen any of these current commercial vampire films, but I have a love for the history of vampire films, many beautiful films. Tilda and I were talking about this, and I had a script seven years ago.”
Evidently Swinton and John Hurt were on board since the film’s inception and stayed with it during thick or thin and when stars (Fassbender) dropped out. “Somehow they stayed with this project the whole time,” Jarmusch explained. “Tilda would never give up. She would say, ‘It’s not the right time to make the film,’ and in the end it was and she was right. John Hurt would tell me, ‘You just tell me when we’re gonna do it and I’ll be there.’ ”
Jarmusch doesn’t want to demystify his films by analyzing them.
Some of the press began asking somewhat direct questions about the film, its meaning, themes, the point of certain moments and Jarmusch politely explained that he wasn’t down with spelling things out.
“It’s difficult for me to answer these questions. I want to be gracious, but I need to prepare myself — or maybe the press — that I am not very comfortable talking about this film for reasons that are… I think the answers are in the film,” he said. “I really want this film to speak for itself. I don’t want to demystify it by analyzing or dissecting it or why we did this or what does this mean? I’m not sure I know what things mean in the film.”
Lest you think the “Dead Man” and “Ghost Dog” director was being prickish, Jarmusch went on to qualify his comments. “Also I don’t want to discourage anyone from analyzing the film, I just don’t want you to ask me to analyze it.”
Why Tangiers and Detroit as settings? Jarmusch calls them “emotionally attractive” locations.
“I’m very drawn to both of [these cities] for very different reasons,” the filmmaker said. “I don’t know how to analyze why but they both seemed interesting and appropriate to me.” But despite his reticence, Jarmusch did exactly explain the allure of both cities, though maybe not exactly how they applied to the film.
Jarmusch grew up in Akron, Ohio, and called Detroit a “mysterious, magical city… the Paris of the Midwest” and described his parents driving up to the former automotive titan of a city every few years when he was a child to get a new car. But of course most of the auto plants have folded and the city is a former shell of itself. “If you see what has happened to [Detroit] it is shocking, tragic and very moving.” The filmmaker also went on to praise the cities musical legacy from Motown and beyond. “It’s also has an incredible musical culture, so much of amazing American music comes from Detroit and continues to, so there’s a great spirit in that place, even now, but it’s kind of a decimated city.”
As for Tangiers, the setting was influenced by Jarmusch’s love for the post-beats, postmodernist artists.
“Brion Gysin, [he was] an amazing artist, he did a lot of collaborations with William Burroughs, cut-ups, and he invented the dream machine,” Jarmusch explained. “So it was more of a reference from Brion Gysin who was a [British] expat living in Tangiers in the 1950s when Tangiers was known as the Interzone,” he said, referencing Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” and the various others Burroughs novels set in Tangiers, where he was living at the time, although the novels were described as taking place in the Interzone.
While the film was shot on location, some scenes were shot on film stages and studios, something Jarmusch had never never done before. Producer Reinhard Brundig jokingly remarked that he finally “convinced” Jarmusch to shoot his interiors on a stage.
Why is our culture’s fascination with vampires never-ending? Tilda Swinton tries to explain.
“I suppose because they live these long, long, potentially never-ending lives, and we’re all so terrified of thinking of mortality that we’d rather think about being immortal,” she said. Swinton throughout made vague allusions to vampires being the modern day outsider.
“There’s also something about the way they live on the [fringes] of life,” she continued. “They’re in the backwaters. I love the idea in this film about invisible lives or unclaimed work, that feeling of making [art] and not wanting to put it out there in the world and just putting it out into the ether somehow. I think the idea of invisibility and yet existing visibly is really beautiful and it was always coming. I was never surprised when Jim said to me, ‘Let’s make a vampire film.’ I felt like saying ‘You’ve been making vampire films for years,’ it feels like a very natural state that invisible, immortal world.”
When asked what the visible world would be, Tilda almost seemed appalled, “I would have absolutely no clue.”
The mystique of vampires and this project? Tom Hiddleston weighed in.
Aside from the exciting prospect of Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton and a vampire movie, the themes and the characters of the movie were also alluring to the actor who said he’d spent most of his recent years playing soldiers and super heroes.
“The idea of a character who embodied a romanticism and melancholy, but still motivated by a curiosity towards the things that he loved and I feel like [my character] is fascinated by two separate things which are twined: music and science,” he said. “He’s enamored by vibrating particles, they might be stringed instruments and they might be stars and he’s so passionate about these things and he’s such a brilliant musician and engineer, but in a way he can’t see that and [Tilda’s character] is broader and she can hold his fragility. And it was just a beautiful story about two people who loved each other and accepted each other and they happened to be vampires. And the idea of exploring love in a context of immortality, if you are challenged with immortality, is it a blessing? Is it a curse? And what does that do to your commitment.”
The eloquent answer quieted the room and elicited a “wow” from the Q&A moderator.
Vampires as wild animals.
Hiddleston said that when Jarmusch first described the story to him the actor said it seemed to him that “these were two very sophisticated creatures, and that perhaps if you saw them walking on the other side of the street, they’d stand out, but in a wild and feral, but beautiful way.”
Swinton suggested they would stand out on certain streets of the world, but in others alleys and backstreets they would be “really at home.”
“They’re also not human, they’re animal,” Swinton stressed. “We talked a lot about them being wolves. There’s a heartbeat in the film that’s in fact a wolves heartbeat. There’s a beautiful luxury of approaching this sort of portrait because you can come with a Martian’s eye-view. We needed to show a long love that is so evolved when they say something to each other, it’s the tip of the iceberg from a conversation they’ve been having for 500 years.”
It’s simply Tilda’s world and we’re just living in it. The actress seems more than comfortable in the weird, it’s where she dwells. “For some people this is vampire film, for some people it’s a fairy story and for other people, it’s a documentary,” she said with a smirk that provoked laughter throughout.
Why did the movie take so long to come out? Financing.
“Well that’s really that’s a producers question because no one wanted to give us the money!” Jarmusch said with emphasis, “It was very difficult. It took a very, very long time and it’s getting more and more difficult for films that are maybe a little unusual or maybe not predictable or not satisfying people’s expectations of something — which is the beauty of cinema: discovering new things of all forms. Why did it take so long? Because there wasn’t enough people who wanted to help us make the film.”
The film evidently cost $7 million, the majority of the funds coming from Germany, but also the U.K., France and Cypress. Let’s hope Jarmusch doesn’t pull a Soderbergh and retire to make TV shows. Actually that could be pretty interesting…
Jarmusch loves YouTube.
Someone asked Jarmusch about what he felt about YouTube due to the fact that the film has a quick reference to the website. “I love YouTube,” he said emphatically. The filmmaker rattled off a type of playlist mix of things that he loves to watch, including a Merle Haggard performance from the ‘50s, a John Cage lecture on mycology and mushroom identification, a young Frank Zappa on “The Steve Allen Show,” and many outre cultural references. “I’m so bored with normal television delivering you things with commercials and things, I like to program my own input so YouTube is fantastic.”
Sony Pictures Classics picked up “Only Lovers Left Alive” yesterday for North America and we’ll be seeing the film, presumably sometime later this year.