Monday, July 5, 2010
Nog's Criterion Corner: Mystery Train
Mystery Train is the third Jim Jarmusch film to arrive on Criterion (following Down by Law and Night on Earth), and it's probably my personal favorite of his films. Robby Muller's cinematography is gorgeous and colorful while still conveying the dinginess and loneliness of the not-so-nice parts of a city (Memphis, in this case) late at night. The film gives us three stories happening (more or less) simultaneously, all linked by a gunshot. For me, the first, Far From Yokohama, is the most perfect of the three, and maybe the best distillation of the Jarmusch aesthetic, a sort of deadpan cool masking a deep sense of longing and alienation. Two Japanese teenagers arrive by train in Memphis. Mitsuko, the girl, is excited to see Graceland and all things Elvis. Jun, perhaps to establish himself as a more discerning consumer of American pop-culture, constantly asserts that "Carl Perkins is better." Mitsuko is a wide-eyed bundle of energy; Jun is utterly laconic, insisting upon arrival that the city is not so different from Yokohama. After a visit to Sun Studios, which leaves them baffled by the mile-a-minute speech of their Southern tour guide, they end up at a cheap hotel (the night manager is played by musician Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who gets some of the film's funniest lines). Late at night, Jun stands by the window in their hotel room, looking out at the city and finally seeming to acknowledge the distance he's come from his familiar world. "It's cool," he says, "to be 18 in Memphis." He and Mitsuko make love and afterwards we see hints that their relationship, which has seemed wonderfully tight-knit, may be a bit tenuous after all (and the next story, "A Ghost," quickly transitions into a world of relationships falling apart). Keep this cool stuff coming, Criterion!