Archived Events, Film

(6/20 & 6/21) DEAD MAN (1996) DIR. JIM JARMUSCH @MFA


We are quick to hail director Jim Jarmusch as a cinematic prophet of our times and the man is well deserving of this title. His films range from strange vignettes following Hollywood A-Listers (COFFEE AND CIGARETTES) to prison escape comedies featuring Tom Waits and John Lurie (DOWN BY LAW). Many of this visionary’s works are poetic elegies to an image, an idea, a concept. He’s shown time and time again that he is a man who deeply considers what exactly he’s trying to say and his end product always reeks of his own personal touch. Ten minutes into a Jarmusch film and you know you’re watching the gears click in his head.

BANG! Yer dead.

BANG! Yer dead.

It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce one of my favorites from Jarmusch’s canon is screening in Boston right now — DEAD MAN. The film follows crowd pleaser Johnny Depp, long before his days of fame (infamy) in the PIRATES series. Johnny plays William Blake, a young accountant (nerd status confirmed in photo below) who becomes embroiled in the life of an outlaw when subjected to the hardships of the frontier. After narrowly escaping the town of Machine with his life following a series of unfortunate circumstances and with a bullet lodged firmly in his chest, Blake is found by Nobody (Gary Farmer). Nobody, whose full name means “he who talks loud, saying nothing,” is an American Indian (notably, DEAD MAN is one of the few films to really portray Native American culture accurately with several lines of dialogue spoken in Cree and Blackfoot with no translation for white audiences) who finds Blake and declare the bullet too deep to remove making him effectively dead already. Upon learning of the injured man’s name, Nobody conjectures that the man is a reincarnation of the esteemed poet with the same name and is destined to be a killer of white men. Blake at first doesn’t accept this fate, but ultimately embraces it in one of my favorite scenes ever to have flashed across the silver screen. Click that link. Mmm.

Johnny starts as a big 'ole nerd.

Johnny starts as a big ‘ole nerd.

DEAD MAN is an Acid Western, a la Jodorowsky‘s EL TOPO with a slightly more coherent pathway and soundtrack composed by rock legend Neil Young. To support this journey, the film offers many scenes of philosophical import that provide ample opportunity for some of our most lovable stars to shine. Here are two that show my point:

In the very first moments of the DEAD MAN, we have Crispin Glover as a train fireman entirely blackened by coal who gives our then innocent hero a warning to turn back. This all happens on Blake’s long train ride during a startling moment when the frontiersman in the car all stand up to shoot at the buffalo roaming outside:

Crispin doesn't care much for the buffalo being shot at stage right.

Crispin doesn’t care much for the buffalo being shot at stage right.

Later on, we meet a strange coterie of fur-traders (read: outlaws; everyone in this film is pretty much an outlaw) led by a cross-dressing, bible-toting Iggy Pop. Will the bible raise the earthly station of these hungry, lawless, uneducated men?

Iggy looks nice in a bonnet.

Iggy looks nice in a bonnet.

So do yourself a favor: buy a ticket to this psychedelic train ride into a Western unlike any other you’ve seen.

DEAD MAN (1996) DIR. JIM JARMUSCH [134 min.]
6/20 – 7:30pm $9 students, members and seniors / $11 GA
6/21 – 10:30am $7 students, members and seniors / $8 GA

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Remis Auditorium, 161
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115

Part of the MFA’s ongoing series: The Limitless Possibilities of Black and White

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