Monday, September 17, 2007

Hat's Off to Jim Jarmusch: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

I like JIm Jarmusch. I think his Stranger Than Paradise is brilliant; it's in my top 15 desert island films. Alongside STP, I have to throw in Ghost Dog.

The reason I'm writing about GD now is because one of the movie channels was showing it while we were eating dinner. My daughter was quite young when it came out, and she showed quite a bit of memory about it, probably because I bought the DVD and played it a lot back then.

It is one of the singularly holistic films I know of, overflowing with the stuff that makes this world so terrifyingly beautiful. Jarmusch accomplishes this in a number of ways, and he doesn't need a ham-handed big concept, over-the-top special effects or marquee names to accomplish his task. Instead, he creates a world and populates it with interesting people doing entertaining things. It's the kind of movie that escapes the typical dunderheaded American meathead.

I took a run through Youtube and found the requisite - and expected - number of clips from GD; car jackings, RZA beats, Hagakure stylings, hits... but I didn't find any that included those moments with then little Camille Winbush, who would find steady work later as a teen on the Bernie Mac show. What a face! And what a presence; her dialogs with GD, kinda droll but shot in that beautiful New York afternoon light, perfectly capture two actors and a filmmaker who are committed to something greater than themselves.

Isaac de Bankole is also great, sharing moments with GD and Pearline (Winbush) that transcend their lack of verbal communication. Their relationship is indeed one of the major metaphors of the movie, infused with all the irony - and comedy - it can muster.

And although she only has a few short scenes, Tricia Vessey's dry delivery is perfect, matched only by the brindle pit bull with his blank stare.

If I don't give a lot of ink to the mobsters - Henry Silva, John Tormey, Cliff Gorman... - it's only because they are the obvious ones in this flick to give praise to. They are indeed scene stealers, particularly Gorman, who's hilarious delivering his limping mafioso take on PE's "Cold Lampin'".

Ghost Dog is a romantic film, that is, among other things, about a forgotten era and its parallels to a modern day phenomenon. That Jarmusch invokes many disparate contexts - bushido, cosa nostra, hip hop, racism... - and creates one of the most singularly unique visions in cinema is an homage to those old school ways and a triumph of the creative spirit. That Ghost Dog is entertaining, funny and poignant as well is, I think, one of those singular achievements in art by a mind on fire with the creative spirit.

Oh, and my favorite among many others is the black bear scene. I remember one of my music teachers once opined that musicians these days don't know how to end a song, that a fade out isn't an ending, it's an engineering technique. While I don't always agree, as I like fade outs and think they can be kinda ghostly, Jarmusch very much is a filmmaker in command and with GD he composes one of the most sublime endings in filmdom.

This is some wallpaper I made shortly after I saw the film many moons ago.