Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

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“This is your wilderness? Detroit?”
“Everyone left.”

A couple of people left midway through the advance screening we caught. Perhaps they were expecting Thor pyrotechnics. Already a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s work, I knew the sort of film I’d be getting—in fact, I was eager for it.

Only Lovers Left Alive hooked me from the opening notes of Wanda Jackson’s ‘Funnel of Love’ played at a slightly slower pace with a looping crackle of vinyl sound, the swirling 45 alternating with swirling images of Tilda Swinton’s Eve in Tangier and Tom Hiddleston’s Adam in Detroit. The circular, swirling images repeat throughout the film and heighten the impression of the circularity of time for the long-living vampires. Even at the start of the film, we see things from Eve and Adam’s viewpoint, looking down at the world below.

Jackson’s tune was a lynch pin of my novel White Rabbit, so no surprise that worked on me, but the music drives the film from Adam’s morose soundscapes created with his treasure trove of antique guitars and classic Premiere drum kit. Jarmusch’s own band, Sqürl (I laughed out loud at the name) and Jozek van Wissem have created a wonderful soundtrack that I can’t wait to get. It has the same feel of swirling spirals that the narrative evokes.

Vampires offer a way to see the world over a long period of time. You can get the maudlin world-weariness of Anne Rice’s Louis or the hedonistic heedlessness of the teens in Lost Boys. Mia Wasikowska’s Ava seems to embody the latter with a great sense of puppy-like fun. Hiddleston’s Adam rises above the breast-beating self-pity some vamps have (cough *Angel* cough) despite his nigh on suicidal depression. This is in sharp contrast to Eve’s joi de vivre (or would that be mort?); she asks him at one point why he doesn’t just dance. She fills her suitcase with inspiring books—from Orlando Furioso, where she pauses to look at an illustration of the creation of Adam and Eve to Don Quixote and even the hipster’s handbook Infinite Jest)—in fact Eve fills her days with wonder and beauty.

Adam’s depression is not the usual “I’ve lived too long, seen too much” vamp sob, but the pain of the creator. That’s what Jarmusch is really after: reigniting that spark. Adam has a familiar desire to get his work “out there” but to resent the “zombies” (as they all call humans) having access to it. His pet zombie Ian (Anton Yelchin) warns him that his reclusiveness only makes him more interesting, but he can’t see that. The jokey part of this is that he of course wrote many famous pieces but gave the credit away to others.

The agony of influence is a big part of that (and inevitable for a vampire film). When Eve refers to his heroes, Adam angrily spits back “I have no heroes!” Yet the wall of his room has (seemingly signed) portraits of many friends and influences from William Blake, Mary Shelley and Oscar Wilde to more modern folk like Iggy Pop. John Hurt’s ‘Kit Marlowe’ (yes, this movie is just full of things that delight me) clearly has a career beyond that particular name, but after centuries he’s still writing and has a devoted apprentice, Bilal. I can easily imagine continuing to write for centuries, reading all the time, but it seems music requires more outside input and hearing new people to spark ideas. Playing the same old vinyl seems to increase Adam’s depression. When he sees people actually enjoying his music, it affects him.

Detroit as a golden wreck, preserved like a fly in amber at its apex of dissolution. It feels more like an art installation than a rapidly imploding city. The destruction is clear, but also held at a distance, as the Ren Center appears almost as a ghost in the distance of one shot. Apart from the hospital where Jeffrey Wright’s “Dr. Watson” works, it’s also a remarkably white city, which jars. Mostly it’s empty; coyotes wander the streets and out of season amanita muscaria grow, in contrast to Ava’s L.A. which Adam dismisses as “zombie central” (heh).

I don’t want to say too much about it. I was grateful that all I knew was the cast and it was about vampires, which turns out to be a motif rather than a subject. I love the music, the imagery and the completely realized world Jarmusch has created (the Thousand and One Nights café!). I love the little rituals of normalcy for them, such as the politeness of asking to remove their gloves (they glean so much from touch) or waiting for an invitation to cross a threshold. I know I’ll want to watch it over and over just to admire the set decorating and costumes.

And the music: that I’m already listening to now. The cast of course is superb. Even small roles are perfectly cast. The film is beautiful, intoxicating and mesmerizing. I recommend it to anyone who usually enjoys this kind of immersive film experience. Dive in.

[Big tip o’ the hat to Jay for alerting me to the preview tickets via Total Film]

TOA/V: Volcano Saga

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Thanks to Nicholas Currie (on Facebook, but he linked to his Tumblr site) I was delighted to see “Volcano Saga” yesterday. It’s a performance piece by Joan Jonas, whose fairytale-inspired installation “The Juniper Tree” I wrote about when it was at the Tate Modern. What could be more wonderful than bringing together two things I love: medieval Icelandic sagas and Tilda Swinton (who might be doing a project in Dundee!). In particular the Laxdæla Saga which is one of the best. In particular, Jonas seems to have been most interested in the prophetic dreams of Gudrun (Swinton).

I enjoyed it; the age shows a bit on the rough green screens, and this certainly isn’t any kind of narrative story. There’s lovely footage of Iceland including the Blue Lagoon and Jonas herself even appears in the short movie.

I did a quick search and was delighted to find a bunch of Joan Jonas films online so hurrah!

Check out all the other overlooked A/V at Todd’s blog.

The Next Big Thing

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I got tagged by my pal Vic Watson to talk about my ‘next big thing’ (i.e. work in progress), so here we go:

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?

White Rabbit.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A couple of things: I was at a talk and concert by Spacedog’s Sarah Angliss in Hackney and I scribbled down the phrase, “luminiferous ether.”I didn’t have any plans for it at the time, I just like the way it rolled around in my head. I had decided I wanted to write a crime/noir novel (I blame Mr B who led me into the genre like a stranger with candy) and then I realised I had the first line. Then it started rolling and it’s just kept rolling.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s crime, but it’s got some supernatural elements, so I guess I could maybe fit it under the weird noir umbrella. What can I say? I like the neighborhood.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Tilda Swinton. She could play all the parts and it would be amazing. The love scene would be particularly interesting, so I guess I better write one.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A fake psychic who might not be, a murdered trophy wife, a ruthless media mogul, a weird drug cult: it spells trouble for someone. Wow, I have to work on that hook.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m far too lazy to self-publish so I’ll have to seek out someone to publish it. I’m sure someone will eventually. I hope. Eek.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still writing it. I started in August and I’m up to 27K but the pace has slowed as the semester started and I got this flurry of publications.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’d say it’s a mash up of Dashiell Hammett, Hunter S. Thompson and the lyrics of Mark E. Smith, but that would sound pretentious so I’ll just say the Dandy and the Beano.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Well, the title gives away a connection to Lewis Carroll and Jefferson Airplane, but a more apt inspiration comes from the B movie Blue Sunshine, which I was obsessed with for a while years ago and can only remember the vaguest bits of now — but what I recall must matter. And the three wise men above.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s a ginger cat! And a character inspired by my pal Chloë, so there’s some salty colorful language. I like to think it’s funny. It makes me laugh anyway. >_< But it’s also creepy and atmospheric, or I’m trying to make it so.

Thanks, Vic! Be sure to check out her books (click the links below).

OTHER NEWS: Things I may have forgotten to post around here — my interview at Heart of Fiction, my Chinwag at the Slaughterhouse with Richard ‘Mr Glamour’ Godwin, my Halloween reading recommendations at A Knife & A Quill. My story over at Shotgun Honey, ‘Guide Me Soft’, is still getting nice comments. How we love to get positive feedback!