I love films.
Like most people, I’ve no idea how many I’ve seen, but films influence my life, they enrich my cultural references. I’m getting older and I’ve noticed my hit-rate- the ratio of films watched to films enjoyed- is diminishing. It may well be that I’m slipping predictably into the role of a grumpy old man, but it could also be that the quality of films (or at least, the films I watch) is in decline.
Take Only lovers left alive as an example. My girlfriend and I attempted to watch this a few weeks back. The reviews had suggested that this latest offering from Jim Jarmusch was worth seeing…
(Peter Bradshaw- The Guardian, 20th February, 2014)
–Just when it’s time to call a moratorium on vampire movies, Jim Jarmusch has to go and make a good one.As unlikely as it sounds in the era of “Twilight” and its defanged imitators, Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” proves there are still new sights and sounds and meanings to be derived from the conceit of characters who rarely sleep, never die and feast on the blood of others
(Ann Hornaday – Washington Post, 17th April, 2014)
You can see how we might have got the impression that this was a decent film.
It begins with a record spinning on a record player. That is, a piece of retro vinyl revolving on a retro turntable and then… … hey, why not guess what camera shot Jim Jarmusch uses to introduce the two protagonists from this point?
Remember, the first shot is of a record going around… and around… what cRaZy thing might you do??
You got it! Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are segued into the shot… r o t a t i n g. I know, A-mazing, never saw that coming:
I think it’s reminiscent of a Kula Shaker video from the 90’s. Or something by The Beatles, The Stones, The Charlatans, or any vaguely rock/psychedelia band from the last half a century. Except done badly. And interminably.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is dressed like Jim Morrison (before he got tubby). He’s topless, wearing rock-y, possibly leather trousers, lying on a giant chaise longue with a lute on his chest. A lute. There’s lots of old amps and bits of chintz about the place.
Tick- visual shorthand done.
Eve (Tilda Swinton) is wearing a kaftan/dressing gown and is passed out at the foot of a bed with a psychedelic throw on it. Got it? She’s a bit of a hippy.
So, characters established. That’s all we need to know. And actually, come to think of it, in terms of narrative, characterisation, character development, crisis, resolution. Plot. Any of that stuff, you might as well stop here because this film doesn’t trouble itself with any of it. It is entirely superficial. Any meaning you might hope to extract from the film can only be derived from the look of the piece, which is a haphazard construction of cliches. Some of the reviewers are well aware of this, and have seen to find it laudable. Stylish. Clearly, I’m not a fan. But I have gone through the painful process of watching some of the film again so as to make a more reasoned case.
First of all, characterisation. Take, for example, the character of Adam. Essentially, Adam is presented to us as a tortured musician. He expresses his immortal existentialism through his art. We see him appraise a rare electric guitar in an early scene by looking horizontally up the fretboard. Tom Hiddleston then further reveals his hilarious lack of axemanship when he takes about thirty seconds in which to construct a chord (D minor) and strum. Later, he mooches about his bijou studio demonstrating a further range of skills he fails to convince us of by:
- robotically tapping cymbals
- experimenting with sound by hitting guitar strings with a drumstick. This farcical scene was one of my favourites and brought back fond memories of The Fast Show’s Jazz Club
Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, is largely conveyed through her face. Her already enigmatic and expressive features have been over-intensified through matt-white make-up and massive black contact lenses, so that she seems like inanimate clay. Like Morph.
Then the script.
When John Hurt scuffles into a Moroccan cafe to meet Eve, she says,
So, how is the fabulous Christopher Marlowe tonight?
Clunk. Character name explained.
Jim Jarmusch wrote the screenplay. I’d like to say it’s shit, because it is. But mostly, it’s just incredibly mundane. Good actors (Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are good actors) are made to look clumsy and laboured because the words they have to deliver are hackneyed and were construed in a stagnant mind bent on stealing ideas.
I’m not going to go into more detail because, frankly, it’s not worth it. I’m writing this because I felt that I should redress the imbalance of criticism. Having started it, and having forced myself to re-watch sections of the film, I have to admit defeat. It’s too painful.
If you’d like to watch the film, I recommend watching it in digital format and skipping through at least x5 speed. You’ll pretty much get the gist of it and, this way, you get to save that extra hour and forty five minutes for other things, like living, being creative, or even just sleeping. Almost anything you could find to do with your time, including staring blankly into nothingness, would be way more meaningful.
Oh God, how can this film be so shit?