ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE: Jarmusch as Vampirically Cool Genre Equalizer

Jim Jarmusch is cool. Very few would have the misguided nerve to argue against this claim. His writing is cool, his directing is cool and his hair is very cool. His scripts seem to be written with the implicit intent of being undersold while his directing technique routinely undermines flash and outright refuses to sizzle. He often casts musicians like Tom Waits (who might be the epitome of cool) in leading roles and he is never afraid to let a shot linger glacially long enough to outlast contemporary audience expectations of what is appropriate.

Jarmusch is cool enough that venues should consider starting his movies an hour after the listed showtime in order to allow the images to arrive fashionably late to the eyeballs.

Illustration by Max Brown

Jarmusch is so cool that 1995’s DEAD MAN plays it’s principal death scene out over the course of at least an hour of running time, making it one of the more laid-back departures ever recorded onto film. Death scenes are usually a free pass for an actor to indulge in some serious scenery chewing but Jarmusch knows how to minimize even the most dramatic of opportunities. When the character finally succumbs to death it feels like a nap that’s been put off for far too long. The movie plays it cool.

The titular Ghost Dog of 1999’s GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI emulates the Samurai culture. These fashionable warriors of ancient times used to commit suicide without making a fuss over the act. Instead they offed themselves quietly and, again, without over-dramatizing the moment. When conflicts come to a violent head in GHOST DOG the scene plays like more of a whisper than a gunfight. It’s a climax that’s quiet enough for a library.

Many of Jarmusch’s most devoted fans revolted against the copious understatement of his last feature, 2009’s THE LIMITS OF CONTROL. That film keeps so much information from the audience that it bends our notions of what constitutes a narrative feature. Jarmusch refuses to emphasize both narrative context and character motivations — two basic elements as important to the substance of a film as hydrogen is to the substance of the universe . The film acts as steadfast proof of his inability to oversell anything. Thankfully, this inability includes vampires.

It’s hard to imagine many people will find themselves in Iceland while watching his new film, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, but should one happen to be so lucky, as I was while attending a festival screening during a visit, there’s a moment early in the film that kills with the Icelandic people. Our lead vampire, played delicately within the Jarmusch wheelhouse by Tom Hiddleston, meets a doctor, played by Jeffrey Wright, to score some 0-negative. Unfamiliar with Hiddleston’s vampiric lifestyle, the doctor suggests he might want to implement vitamin D into his diet to combat the pale skin. The moment was giggle-worthy for an American like me but for an audience that spends a couple months of every year in complete darkness, as the Icelandic people do, this little quip finds a national chord to resonate with. The packed house in Reykjavik erupted at the line.

Admittedly, this was a unique set of circumstances that helped elevate the minor joke’s chances of success but the anecdote works as example of Jarmusch’s ability to garner great poetic effect from even the most unobtrusive moments. It’s a wonderfully insidious brand of rope-a-dope filmmaking he utilizes. He lulls us and then he pounces on us. His eye is naturally comedic but he rarely indulges in straight comedy.  ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is no different. It offers the easy quips and the heady laughs but they are presented in the midst of some pointed social commentary.

He manages to straddle this line because his cool isn’t a superficial glaze. His cool is his technique and he uses it in a way that differentiates him from his peers. Even when he works in diverse genres he seems more interested in turning them inside out and implementing his style than conforming to the norms. Think of DEAD MAN, which is hardly the western your father grew up. And while GHOST DOG features plenty of action sequences it would be a sore thumb next to the Van Damme catalogue in the action section of your local video store — if you still had a local video store.

When it was announced that he would be tackling a vampire film as his next project I thought it would be wise to temper my genre-induced expectations. To hype a Jim Jarmusch film in any way feels somehow inappropriate. He works best without any type of expectations because you’ll be disappointed when he defies them. If this new effort is his version of a horror movie then it only further reinforces his tendency to eschew genre conventions.

To create his vampire iterations Jarmusch cast two of the cooler actors currently working. Not cool in a trendy way, more “cool” because it seems like the actors’ body temperatures never quite reach 98.6 degrees. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton both radiate a reptilian chilliness that feels uniquely suited for portraying creatures of darkness. They suggest terror and existential dread without the crutch of an exposition-rich script. They also manage to bring real moments of tender humanity to their renditions of inhuman vampires — a feat often attempted in vampire films but rarely accomplished.

Vampire horror has been creeping around cinemas for just about a hundred years. Imagine the difficulties a filmmaker faces in attempting to spin a yarn with this vampire ingredient while still managing to make it come off as fresh. Jarmusch manages that very feat. He breathes new life into a genre that has been coasting off cliche for decades. We know that vampires need blood and the source of this blood is a human. We also know that vampires kill humans for this blood. But Jarmusch presents to us the other side of the equation, ignoring the chance to go for some easy violent bits of plot. He doesn’t romanticize the torment of his characters’ bloodlust, their urge is more medicinal. He doesn’t melodramatically wallow in the dynamic of human/vampire love either. He instead shows us the moments that fill the gaps between activity in these very extended lives. Instead of wallowing in pale-faced emotional torment, Jarmusch shows vampires hanging out.

He understands that the one thing vampires possess that ordinary humans do not, aside from an aversion to sunlight, is a grand historical perspective. Consider what you would do if you had an eternity to hang out and consume culture. What would you read? What would you watch? Which historical figures would you idolize and which would you choose to besmirch to your vampire friends? If you were around when Tesla was in his prime and then you saw our species now, what sort of opinions would you have? Would you let the centuries pile up until the accumulated despair forces the immortal to consider suicide? Or would you always find the good in a world where the bad often makes its presence known much more clearly? As they sip on their 0-negative, Jarmusch’s vampires discuss these matters. They get excited, they get depressed, they read books, they make music and they dance.

Jarmusch lets his vampires pose questions that reinforce and redefine what it means to be human. He twists the genre and bends it to his will. This isn’t to say he avoids all the thrills one would expect it’s just that these moments of fright are doled out with a much more muted effect. When they do occur, the macabre bits mix beautifully with the moments of the mundane. One of the very few moments where teeth are bared is given to us in a context that poignantly strengthens our sense of humanity’s potential, not its failings. This is a life affirming vampire movie about sometimes-depressed vampires. It’s funny, sad, simple and, through and through, it’s Jarmusch. In fact, it’s too cool to be anyone else.



CHILDHOOD MACHINE TEASER

CHILDHOOD MACHINE — Teaser from the WHITEMAN BROTHERS on Vimeo.



Tony Scott, Dead at 68

Director Tony Scott died today. If that’s not enough of a bummer, he committed suicide by jumping off The Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Fuck. I’m genuinely sorry to break the news to you. It was certainly bizarre and shitty news to receive. Tony Scott is dead. And it’s awful to think about.

Instead of obsessing over and speculating on why he would do such a thing, let’s take a moment and a few hundred words to remember the awesome movies this British-born director made and their part in helping to build a genre that is now an American tradition.

Tony Scott Dead

Scott left behind numerous icons of badass cinema such as, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Crimson Tide, Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout, Enemy of the State, Man On Fire, and most notably, True Romance, his most acceptional and well-rounded film.

(Note: I haven’t seen them all, but you can bet I’ll get around to it.)

Many attribute the film’s greatness to the fact that it was written by Quentin Tarantino (who may or may not have subtly or blatantly taken much of it from Roger Avary), but there is a controlled, human element to the film that Tarantino’s superb direction would never have been able achieve. Tony Scott took a great script and turned it into a masterpiece of modern narrative cinema. And in my opinion, the excellent films of his brother, Ridley Scott – movies that tend to be more involved, epic, emotionally weighty, and much, much more revered – do not hold a candle to how full, rich and complete True Romance is.

Odds are the death of Tony Scott, a semi-known B-movie, popcorn flick director isn’t going to mean much to most people, but film nerds, action aficionados, and popcorn lovers everywhere will surely feel that, even though Tony’s heyday of 80′s action has long since been over, an era has ended tonight.

Say what you will about his later films, but unlike many filmmakers, Tony Scott never seemed to slow down. In fact, stylistically, he seemed to accelerate. Visually, his later films were always an intense and enjoyable sight to see. Perhaps they could be overwrought or decadent with in-your-face cuts, color saturation, canted angles, and unnecessary subtitles flying around (Man On Fire and his short film, Beat The Devil come to mind) – but, man, sometimes you just need to lick the frosting off the cake.

Anthony Scott was a damn frosting artist, and for that, he will always have the love, admiration, and respect of The Whiteman Brothers.

Tony Scott
1944 – 2012



Ghost (1990) // Chrisjof’s Audition Tape

Ghost (1990) is a great film — don’t get me wrong. It’s got a lot of heart and tension and supernature in it. But let’s face it: Ghost (1990) is not perfect. It’s CLOSE, but it’s not quite there. This is why Chrisjof thought it would be a good idea to audition for it. Add some zest to the dish.

You might say, “Chrisjof, how in the heck are you planning on being in Ghost (1990) when it is 2012 out here?!”

And the obvious answer is: the magic of motion pictures, babe. Anything can happen. Didn’t you see Jurassic Park (1993) or Shallow Hal (2001), huh?

Magic, babe. Pure magic.

In this audition tape, Chrisjof is hoping to be cast as the role of Patrick Swayze’s character — you know the one. The ghost-ish one. With the good hair.

Please watch this painstaking performance, and share it with your friends. If we get this thing going viral, we might be able to change some minds in Hollywood, and the next thing you know, you’ll be popping in the Ghost (1990) DVD cassette and Chrisjof will be getting freaky with Demi Moore and that moist, moist pottery.

Well, let’s get into it:

 

 

“I can’t believe I’m a fuckin’ ghoster-strudel!” — Sam “Patrick Swayze” Wheat in Ghost (1990)



Portland Comedy: Chrisjof’s Stand Up // “Children’s Store” Routine

Portland Comedy: For just about a year now, Chrisjof (who is not Christof Whiteman, but they are similar dudes – I mean, they are only a consonant away from one another) has been performing at stand-up comedy open mic nights at places like Helium, Funhouse Lounge, and the occasional art museum (more on this another time). Chrisjof has expressed disdain toward the term “stand up comedy” and much prefers to think of it as “comedy whilst standing”, but let’s not let that bum us out. Life’s just too short for that shit, man.

This performance was at the Funhouse Lounge, a lovely venue in SE Portland that crams comedy, music, and improvised theater (among other things) into every action-packed week.

Christof Whiteman’s routine takes on very hot-button issues such as Children’s Stores and Fat Babies and Making Fat Babies.

In the immortal words of 2 Unlimited, “Y’all ready for this?!”

 

 

Click dat for Portland Comedy!



February Clusterfuck Complete! 29 Films in 29 Days done!

Phew!

Now that it is all over and done with and almost three months have passed, we can talk about it again. It took a lot out of us Whiteman Brothers to fulfill round two of the Leap Year project: 29 Films in 29 Days – this edition aptly referred to as, 29 Wishes in 29 Films in 29 Days. As you probably know (since everybody is talkin’ ’bout it!), in 2008, we embarked upon a nasty little challenge to make a film a day for each of the 29 days in that February. Because we are never content with how thin we may stretch ourselves, we decided that we would do this EVERY leap year – say whaaaaat?

We had the help of some high-concept genie-baby-magic in this round, where in we were granted one wish for each of the days.

Frequently Asked Question: “Yeah, but, like – what was the first wish?”

Frequently Cringed-Over Answer: “It was wishing for more wishes! Which may only slightly be implied. Shut up! Leave us alone! Don’t look at me!”

Over all, the project was a success! Because for One: we made 29 movies in 29 days. Two: we didn’t hate any of them. Three: none of them make us shudder too much. And lucky number Four: we believe this batch far surpassed the original 29 cookies! Success! Hooray! Fuck, we’re tired! By the end of it, we were so spun out on Red Bull and silly jokes that we rode that tension into the following days, not knowing what to do with ourselves. Elation finally did arrive, thank goodness.

To view these puppies, still relatively fresh out of the oven (who doesn’t love a good puppy out of the oven!), here’s the 2012-ers: Be CaReFuL WhAt YoU wIsH fOr!

If you happen to want to catch the back story and to gauge any improvement on our part over the years, here’s the 2008-ers:  asdfjlaskdvknag wafpeyt lsdgjlasdg!

And we’ll see you all again in 2016!

Now who wants to edit a feature length movie? Shit…



YOUR CAT IS DEAD

The project file went corrupt! Motivation to retrace steps and re-complete not likely to be found for a good long while. So, while not quite finished, enjoy the rough/final version of YOUR CAT IS DEAD: A CREEPER’S GUIDE.

Inspired by two lost cat posters from SE Portland. The posters are real and the stories almost are.

Words written by Sean Whiteman.
Words performed by Christof Whiteman.

Starring Hemingway the cat. We’d like to thank the owners of Hemingway, whoever they may be.

CLICK TO FIND OUT THE FATES OF FRANK AND MARCOS.



Extra! Extra! Christof exclaims, “Pen is mightier than the Sword”, takes down Fox News in the process!

Pretty much every second of every minute of every hour of every half-day of every full-day of our long, drawn-out lives, some nobody comes up and asks us, “Why aren’t you dudes ever REAL, man? You’re always putting up some kind of a front, putting on some kind of act, or putting the fronts of acts up and on other things that act like fronts. Why? Why not deal with the inconvenient truths of hard facts?”

Well, the Whiteman Brothers will now begin devoting entire minutes of their years to nonfiction. Christof took the first turn wearing the “Press” cap and managed to cover a real hot story without leaving a couch. Read it here.


Sweeping up the Head Crumbs

Recently, during a bout of external (and existential) hard drive spring cleaning, Sean found his HEAD CRUMBS trilogy. In the fall of 2007 he was living in Austin, Texas and working at a delightful movie theater named the Alamo Drafthouse. He enjoyed being a stranger in a strange state but having no friends meant he was left without a collaborator. To avoid artistic atrophy he scoured between hunks of brain meat to find some scraps. With the findings, he put this trilogy together. It takes just-shy of a half-hour to watch them all consecutively.

He likes to claim that they get progressively less embarrassing as the trilogy moves forward – an inverse of most franchise trajectories. He also suggests the audience should try to figure out the origin of his fluctuating-accents (he claims he notices heavy parts borrowed from his housemate-at-the-time and a little bit of Adam Sandler escaping during moments of immaturity). A few thought he had lost his mind in the great state of Texas. He wouldn’t argue, with any degree of passion at least, against such claims.

A friend wrote a wonderful essay extolling the finer qualities of the trilogy. His name is Santiago Vernetti and the title of his piece is: Sean Whiteman is a Man Hating Modernist God Destroyer.

Here are the films:

Watch: Head Crumbs: Part One
Watch: Head Crumbs: Part Two
Watch: Head Crumbs: Part Three

And here is the essay:

Title: Sean Whiteman is a Man Hating God Destroyer
Writer: Santiago Vernetti

I look forward to the day we can all share a hearty nervous laugh in the memory of the long dead and buried postmodern cinema. Most of today’s artists have seemingly resigned from any attempts at cinematic progression, preferring instead to embrace the all too common delusion that postmodernism is simply a passing wave. They’ve convinced themselves that it will soon crest, washing away all the cinematic sequels, remakes and adaptations its waters have carried over the past few decades. While most lay catatonically in this collective stupor, the 2007 summer marks a record high in cinematic unoriginality. Die Hard 4, Harry Potter 5, 28 Weeks Later, Evan Almighty, Fantastic Four 2, Hostel 2, Oceans 13, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Resident Evil 3, Shrek 3, Rush Hour 3, Spiderman 3, The Simpson’s Movie, Hairspray, Halloween, Transformers the Movie, Nancy Drew, Underdog, Revenge of the Nerds… it seems this wave is more akin to a rising flood. A flood that provides very little evidence to suggest any plans of receding any time soon. Where the majority drown, Sean Whiteman diligently treads for dry land. With camera locked and loaded, and a few dead bears to his name, Whiteman has arguably produced the only thing super about this summer: Head Crumbs.

Stylistically, the “Texas saga” finds its roots in the modernist tradition. Riddled with self reflexivity, social/artistic commentary, and experimentation, Head Crumbs is Whiteman’s most progressive (dare I say radical?) work to date. Head crumbs is not only a refreshing concept amongst a sea of uninteresting cinema, but is executed in an outstandingly complimentary aesthetic. Not only can Sean Whiteman wrestle a grizzle single handed, he seems to know a thing or two about his craft. True, the piece is not without its technical flaws or shortcomings, but it is in the conceptual framework of the piece that these imperfections are actually welcomed, even embraced, regardless of artistic intention.

Wittily divided into three parts, Head Crumbs falsely advertises the typical three act plot structure. As with most of his structural critiques, Whiteman articulates his concerns with the subversion of narrative conventions, challenging audiences’ expectations and ultimately their involvement in the viewing process. Whiteman introduces part one just as “the tide shifts” and completes part three with not only an unresolved conflict, but with complex ambiguous metaphors. Though, his greatest subversion, and the most important element of Head Crumbs, is how Whiteman explores and deals with the idea of narrator.

The tradition of narrator within a greater fiction is literary, and for centuries it has carried with it the characteristics of a third person omniscient. This conventionally “effaced narrator” (to borrow the term from Henry James) provides an author with a direct voice, and one that holds unquestionably supernatural characteristics once the audience immerses themselves in the illusion of the fictional. The narrator takes on the godlike qualities of omniscience and omnipresence over the domain of the characters. The cinema however, presents an troubling obstacle in this respect to the effaced narrator. Though the cinema has its predisposition to the illusion of metaphysical dualism, it does so with respect to the camera and its transcendental relationship to the viewer. Were the voice of the narrator to be heard in a particular film’s soundtrack, the narrator would be revealed to us as character with a distinct voice. From this aural information we could suppose a number of things like age, gender, education, bringing the narrator further from godlike ambiguity and closer to definition representational of out natural reality. In this case, only the camera would remain a supernatural entity, superior to the narrator who now resides within the domain of the other characters. The possibility of a truly effaced narrator in the cinema is limited to the use of text (such as in the famous “One Year Later” device), but what Whiteman is concerned with is not the possibility of the effaced narrator in cinema, but of the greater issues of the authoritative nature of the conventionally effaced narrator. Not only does Whiteman give us a narrator with a voice and an image, he gives us the his own voice, his own image. Thus we are introduced to Sean Whiteman the narrator. This presents us with an interesting self referential paradox. The representation of Sean Whiteman claims to be Sean Whiteman, but isn’t the persona of this narrator Sean Whiteman merely a fictional construction of Sean Whiteman by Sean Whiteman? Yes. Of course. But by blurring the lines between authorship and narration, he is calling into question his own authority. Which, aside from being an interesting exercise in logic, is the most punk rock thing you can do.

Structurally and conceptually, Head Crumbs is a true work of avant-garde cinema! A progressive and political action in contemporary art criticism! When applying a psychoanalytic methodology, its narrative can even be viewed as a feminist battle cry in its depiction of male character Super Summer as the exhibitionist, and the female character Flip Flop (“more of a behind the curtains sort of gal”) as taking on the traditionally patriarchal role of the voyeur. Needless to say, this and many other events that unfold in the narrative are worth exploring and can be discussed on a multitude of levels. Yet, in remaining faithful to Whiteman’s commentary on the narrator, we can all agree he’s saying a lot about human relationships… but in the end, the most important thing he’s saying is, “Who gives a rats ass about the opinion of a man hating, modernist, god destroyer?” So let’s all take what we will from Head Crumbs and give our applause to Sean Whiteman, a filmmaker who, unlike so many of his contemporaries, has arguably the most important artistic quality there is – authenticity.



Brother Reunion

News from the NW: In the past year Portland has found itself in the custody of all three Whiteman Brothers. This is a feat no city has accomplished in well over a decade. In celebration of fraternal solidarity the brothers plan to collaborate on a new feature film. It’s entitled CHILDHOOD MACHINE and will commence production in the coming months. More details will come detailing our progress/regress.