Spring in Hollywood.
Jim Jarmusch Forever!
A brief oral history of Jim Jarmusch’s classic ‘Down by Law,’ courtesy of the ever-excellent This Must Be The Place.
Jim Jarmusch: I’m a big blues and R&B fan. I had never been to New Orleans when I wrote the script, but I had a lot of images in my head mostly just from the music of New Orleans. That just kind of drew me there. […] Shooting it was so much fun. Being in New Orleans was great and we had a really wild time. In retrospect I don’t how we got through it—it seemed as if we had a celebration after each night of shooting and I don’t know physically how we got the film made. I tend to see my films in retrospect like home movies—I don’t see the film any more, but I remember the experience of making it. […] For me, in the end of the film I definitely imagine Zack and Jack, and Roberto and Nicoletta, continuing to exist as characters and I really did not want to draw a velvet curtain across the screen and have everything all finished. I wanted these characters to continue to exist out there in the world somehow. [1994/1992/2002]
Robby Müller: In the beginning I didn’t know what form ‘Down by Law’ should have. Then I got the most important directing from [Jim] when I asked him what should I do in this story, because I have no idea what style of photography I should give, and he said, “Well, Robby, it’s just a fairy tale.” And it was really the only direction I got and I was very happy with it because it was not precise, in that sense. So I suddenly felt free and could do what I liked and I felt extremely free there—any invention I did would fit into the film… [Jim] is by far the director I most respect of all that I’ve worked for in my life. I feel that he respects everyone around him, including me. 
Claire Denis: When Jim asked me to work with him, I thought it was a joke, because at the time I was off doing location scouting in Cameroon for Chocolat. But Jim was serious. So I flew halfway across the world from Cameroon to New Orleans to work on ‘Down by Law.’ And there, when I was his AD, he gave me a rabbit’s foot that I kept. I think I did my first film with that rabbit’s foot in my pocket the whole time. And then I lost it when I was in Cannes, and thought, uh-oh, the good luck charm is gone. Maybe I didn’t need it, who knows. […] I think really I was not needed. I think he enjoyed the fact that when he was about to shoot ‘Down by Law,’ it was like a sort of poetic gesture to decide I was going to be the assistant. I was not even allowed by the union so they changed my name or whatever. But I mean I really worked. I was not just invited to watch shooting. I really enjoy working with him, yeah, very much so. And it’s still strong, because he is—I don’t know—we don’t see each other very often, as you might imagine. But it’s important for me to know that he’s working. His work is important for me. [2003/2004]
Roberto Benigni: I met Jim Jarmusch in Italy. I couldn’t talk one single word in English, and he the same in Italian. So we tried to talk with physical, with the body. We immediately love each other, and Jim decided to write this character Bob in ‘Down by Law.’ It was my first time in United States, in Louisiana, in the swamp, with the crocodiles. For me it was a dream, this is such a wonderful memory, such a wonderful souvenir. And what it is very rare, I met also Tom Waits and John Lurie, the musician and the singer, and we are still very close friends. Especially with Jim Jarmusch, every week we call each other, we talk. We are still very, very close friends. 
In case you missed it, here’s a great interview with legendary cinematographer Robby Müller (whose longtime associates include Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Lars von Trier) for the Criterion release of ‘Down by Law.’ “Müller says that Jarmusch’s only directions to him were that ‘it’s just like a fairy tale.’ He gets into a lot of meaty technical details regarding his choices in cameras, lenses, lighting, film stock, etc. A real treat for technophiles.” [CinemalsTheLife]
Jim Jarmusch: I loved Robby Müller’s work and I asked Wim Wenders in 1980 how I might meet him. I was going to the Rotterdam Film Festival to show my first film, ‘Permanent Vacation,’ and at that time in Rotterdam the people who visited the festival stayed on a boat that was harboured there, it had a bar in it, and Wim said, ‘Just go on the boat and in the bar next to the peanut machine, Robby Müller will be sitting there.’ So I went to Rotterdam, I went on the boat, I went in the bar, and next to the peanut machine Robby Müller was sitting there. (Laughter) Seriously. So I sat down next to him and started talking to him. And we hung out quite a bit at the festival and he saw my first film, and he said to me eventually, ‘If you ever want to work together man, let me know.’ That was a big thing for me. I made my next film ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ with my friend Tom DiCillo, because Tom was working then as a director of photography, but he really wasn’t interested in shooting films, so when I wrote ‘Down By Law,’ I immediately called Robby Müller.
The beautiful thing about Robby is that he starts the process by talking to you about what the film means, what the story is about, what the characters are about. He starts from the inside out, which is really, really such a great way. I’ve learned that you find the look of the film later after you’ve found the essence of the film, what its atmosphere is, what it’s about and then you look at locations together, you start talking about light and colour, about what film material to use and the general look of the film, and we’ve worked together a lot now, so we don’t have to discuss as many things as other people might because we understand each other. He considers himself to be an artisan in a way. I remember, especially in ‘Dead Man,’ the crew and I were joking a lot by saying, ‘He’s Robby Müller, but don’t tell him that!’ He considers he has a lens, he has film material and he has light. Sometimes crew members would mention some modern piece of equipment, ‘We could do that shot with a lumacrane,’ and Robbie would say, ‘What is a lumacrane?’ I think he’s like a Dutch interior painter, like Vermeer or de Hoeck, who was born in the wrong century. —Guardian interviews at the BFI
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