Saturday, May 31, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Only Lovers Left Alive,”
A Biting Film by Jim Jarmusch

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of our favorite musicians turned out to be vampires. Consider their wan complexions, goth attire, and nighttime habits. Mick Jagger and David Bowie are still rocking as if they will live forever, surviving on the blood of their fans. Maybe Ziggy Stardust didn’t fall to earth, but instead rose from a crypt.

That’s the premise of “Only Lovers Left Alive,” the Jim Jarmusch film that’s playing at the Tropic -- a musician who is in fact a vampire.

Jarmusch is known for his unhurried, minimalist style of filmmaking. His idiosyncratic works include “Stranger than Paradise” (credited with launching the American independent film movement), “Mystery Train”  (winner of Best Artistic Achievement at Cannes), and “Broken Flowers” (winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes).

He describes his films as “looking at America through a foreigner’s eyes.” In “Only Lovers Left Alive” he does that, but the foreigner here is a vampire. In fact, several of them.

After living for centuries, a famous musician named Adam (Tim Hiddleston) is hiding away in a rundown neighborhood of Detroit. Having become world-weary, Adam survives on blood bank donations supplied to him by a doctor (Jeffrey Wright). Because she’s worried about him, his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) flies to Detroit from her home in Tangiers. They lounge around eating blood popsicles and playing chess, but this idyllic reunion is interrupted when Eve’s younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) joins them. However, a hematophagic faux pas by the younger sister sends them fleeing to Tangiers where they hook up with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), a fellow vampire who’s feeling under the weather after snacking on some bad blood. But soon enough, these only lovers left alive start to feel hunger pangs. So what choices do they have? As that fast-food slogan says, You gotta eat!

Jim Jarmusch should be congratulated on his casting. Who looks more the part of modern-day vampires than Tim Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, and John Hurt? Etiolated and pallid, they’re the very image of anemic bloodsuckers.

Tilda Swinton, who has worked with Jarmusch on numerous occasions, refers to him as a “rock star.” Point in fact, he has often worked as a musician. Even today he plays with a group called SQÜRL. That band’s cover of Wanda Jackson’s 1961 song “Funnel of Love” opens this film.

In 2005 the American Film Institute hosted a retrospective titled “The Sad and Beautiful World of Jim Jarmusch.” Even so, the celebrated director laments, “I don’t know where I fit in. I don’t feel tied to my time.”

Jarmusch’s pal Jozef van Wissem describes “Only Lovers Left Alive” as “a very personal film, maybe even autobiographical.”

Years ago, I used to see Jim Jarmusch hanging out in SoHo cafés, easily recognizable by his gaunt features and upswept hair, eyes hidden behind dark keep-out-the-sunlight shades. Come to think of it, he could have passed for a lonely urban vampire in search of his next meal.

Maybe he found it. “Only Lovers Left Alive” turns out to be a delicious repast.

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