Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Night On Earth (1991)

WHO: Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed this. Gena Rowlands appears in the first of its five segments.

WHAT: One of the more neglected films from the director of such independent-film classics as Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai as well as the upcoming Only Lovers Left Alive, it's also one that, through its construction of five vignettes set in five separate cities across the United States and Europe, demonstrates the scope of Jarmusch's insider-cinephilia through its location and casting choices, many of which are meant to pay tribute to favorite directors through his choices of location and cast. Working backwards longitudinally (and chronologically), the Helsinki episode features actors known for working with Jarmusch's friends Aki & Mika Kaurismäki- and the late, great Matti Pellonpää even plays a character named Mika. Rome memorably involves actor/director Roberto Begnini, whom Jarmusch had worked with on Down By Law and the initial Coffee and Cigarettes short film, but also has Paolo Bonacelli playing a priest, a twisted homage to his role in Pasolini's Salò. The Paris segment casts Isaach De Bankolé, who had by this point already filmed performances in the first two features directed by Jarmusch's assistant director on Down By Law, Claire Denis. And the New York segment features Gianacarlo Esposito and Rosie Perez, both actors heavily associated with the work of Jarmusch's former NYU schoolmate Spike Lee. This paragraph is long enough so I'll deal with the fifth vignette in the "WHY" section just below...

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 9:05.

WHY: Jarmusch wrote the Los Angeles taxi passenger part for Gena Rowlands as a tribute to her performances in films made with her husband John Cassavetes, one of Jarmusch's filmmaker idols. On the supplemental materials for the Criterion DVD of Night On Earth Jarmusch says he was honored that Rowlands agreed to make his film mark her return to film work after the death of Cassavetes in 1989. However, this is contradicted by a New York Times article claiming that her performance in Lasse Hallström's Once Around was shot in January of 1990, when compared to the Night on Earth commentary track by cinematographer Frederick Elmes and sound man Drew Kunin, who indicate that the reason her scene begins at the Santa Monica Airport rather than a larger one was because of security issues relating to the First Gulf War.

No matter. Having Rowlands play a casting agent soon after her husband's death was surely a great honor for Jarmusch nonetheless. And it's a rare privilege for Frisco Bay audiences to be able to see Rowlands on the Castro screen on two consecutive Wednesdays; her Oscar-nominated performance in Cassavetes' 1980 film  Gloria screens there in 35mm on July 24th. I can't recall the last time this particular Cassavetes film screened in a local theatre and would be shocked if it was sometime in the past ten years.

HOW: On a double bill with Jarmusch's previous film Mystery Train, both on 35mm prints.

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