Reissued in a new digital print, Jim Jarmusch’s deliciously deadpan third feature (first released in 1986) looks more than ever like a milestone in American independent cinema. Though not bound to the intellectual angst of Cassavetes, the anti-authoritarian anger of ‘Easy Rider’ or the aloofness of European art cinema (yet clearly influenced by all three), Jarmusch proved DIY film could be heartfelt, charming, wise and silly all at the same time. On a sweaty night in New Orleans, three mismatched oddballs – DJ Zack (Tom Waits), hipster pimp Jack (John Lurie) and stray Italian tourist Roberto (Roberto Benigni) – are banged up for a variety of perceived misdemeanours. Trapped together in a tiny cell, the men must learn to deal with each other’s shortcomings. The claustrophobic setting and semi-improvised tone might suggest something closer to sitcom than cinema (had Jarmusch seen ‘Porridge’?), but Robby Müller’s stately monochrome photography single-handedly lifts it into the realm of Proper Art. It’s a sad and beautiful world indeed.
Cast and crew