Monday, August 1, 2011


A few months ago i had the pleasure of seeing all the films in the Tom Jarmusch program at Anthology Film Archives. Whether you're familiar with him or not, many of you reading this have seen Tom Jarmusch's work behind the camera (and sometimes in front of) on other recognizable independent films like; 'Stranger Than Paradise', 'Down By Law', 'Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses', 'Living In Oblivion' & 'Johnny Suede'. Although they both work under a minimalist style and have similar themes and actors (Bill Rice, Chris Parker, A.R.E. Weapons/TV Baby), Tom's films are a bit more raw and experimental than his brother Jim's. The program consisted of his short films from the 80's & 90's, leading up to his most recent film; 'Sometimes City' (2010), a documentary about his hometown of Cleveland Ohio. The documentary, which was shot with what seemed like an old 16mm camera, is very good but doesn't give much hope about the future of Cleveland (or the many other places in America just like it). There isn't much structure to the film (which i personally didn't have a problem with), but at the same time you don't feel lost or disoriented. The documentary explores the history of the city (without coming off like a PBS special), its economic state, segregation within the city and the poverty stricken neighborhoods. I've never been to Cleveland, but for some reason i honestly believe that Tom represented the city well with his wide range of interviewee's from all different walks of life (teenage gang members, soccer moms, shemale prostitutes, old school bohemians and comic book legend Harvey Pekar). As i was watching this documentary, i couldn't help but think about a funny encounter that happened to me last year. When i was in Chicago visiting some friends, we were out eating at a restaurant late night and somehow this random couple ended up sitting with us (i still don't remember how that happened). But the boyfriend, who was from Akron, couldn't stop talking about Lebron James and how he's the heart of the city and the biggest thing to come out of Cleveland. Naturally the movie nerd in me was quite insulted that he didn't acknowledging Jim Jarmusch (only someone like me would put Jim Jarmusch & Lebron James on the same level). So for the next 10 minutes i went on a rant/history lesson about Jim Jarmusch and his importance in the world of American Independent film. I said; "Since you're in to sports so much, I'll say this...Jim Jarmusch, who's from Akron, is the Isaiah Thomas of Independent film". From that analogy the boyfriend promised to look into this "Jim Jarmosh guy" when he got home (although he probably didn't).

Anyway, seeing how bad some parts of Cleveland were in Tom's documentary made me think; "if Cleveland is this bad, then Detroit must really be as bad as people say it is". No matter how racially divided Cleveland may be (and it is), everyone seems to be struggling regardless of race, which is kinda sad that even when you're poor you still manage to find the energy to be racist and/or segregated. But there's still a little glimmer of hope. One of the main subjects/interviewee's is an Andrei Tarkovsky-look a like Russian immigrant who owns a few small businesses. And what's so amazing about the Cleveland residents is that almost everyone Jarmusch interviews has an amazing amount of Cleveland pride no matter how bad their surroundings are. I swear, some areas that we see in the film look they hadn't changed since the 1970's. Other areas in the documentary looked like the factory warehouse landscapes at the beginning of 'Eraserhead' (which, according to David Lynch, was supposed to represent Philadelphia. Another city with its share of rough parts).
Clearly Jarmusch cares about his hometown or he wouldn't have made this film. Unfortunately, and even Tom said this himself at the Q&A after the screening, this film wont get the kind of release that a Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore documentary would get (according Tom, the film had only played at one other festival and at a few small art shows here & there). Thank god 'Sometimes City' got some exposure playing in a theater like Anthology Film Archives. I look forward to seeing it again.


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