|The Limits of Control (Directed by Jim Jarmusch)|
The following extract is from an interview with Jim Jarmusch for Film Comment Magazine on the writing and making of the film.
You’ve often said that your approach to writing is that you accumulate material and ideas in notebooks, and find the story through the development of characters. Is that applicable here?
JIM JARMUSCH: Yeah, maybe even more so to this. I mean, this came out of frustration because I had another project that took a long time to write, which means four months. I had written it for specific actors, as I always do, and it was a story for two people and one of them loved it and the other one didn’t really want to do the film, and that threw me for a loop. So then – I don’t know if I want to say I wasted time, but it was a somewhat bigger film for me, maybe $10-15 million, but the people who were interested in financing it started pulling this kind of traditional thing where they were giving me lists of actors that would replace the actor I had written for that would make it possible for them, and they were not actors that I wanted to work with, or that I had imagined. I’m not a studio filmmaker, so it just seemed like, Wow, I’m entering this kind of structure. So I basically got frustrated and put that script away in a drawer.
I had a lot of little elements for this film in my head. First of all, Isaach De Bankolé – wanting to write a character for him that was very quiet, possibly criminal, on some kind of mission. Then I had the idea of shooting in Spain for disparate reasons: one was the incredible architecture of Torres Blancas, this building in Madrid from the late Sixties that has almost no right angles in it and it’s very strange. I first encountered it maybe 20 years ago, an old friend of mine, Chema Prado, the head of the cinematheque in Spain now, has had an apartment there for years. And Joe Strummer’s widow, Lucinda, gave me a photograph of this house in the south of Spain, outside of Almería, and said that Joe always said, ‘We gotta show Jim this house, he’s gonna want to film it.’ So I had those elements. Then Paz De La Huerta, who I’d known since she was a teenager – somebody told me, you know, Isaach and Paz are in four films together, some of them student films. And I said, Man, I’m going to use them in a film together then! So that was another element. So that’s always my procedure – having these initial ideas. And I was listening to a lot of music by these bands Boris, Sunn O))), Earth, Sleep – it’s a certain genre of noise-oriented rock with some allusions to metal, but Sunn, for example – if you listen to some of their stuff without knowing what genre it is, you might think you were listening to some avant-garde classical music or electronic-generated feedback.
But anyway, that stuff was floating around in me, so it’s my normal process to have these things and then start drawing details and eventually a plot. But this one I kept very minimal because I wanted it to expand while we were shooting. I wrote the story in Italy over a period of a week or so, and I wrote a 25-page story, and there wasn’t really dialogue in it at all. So I used that and I took that to Focus and said, I want to make a film based on this story, I’m going to expand it as I go; I wanna cast these people. And they were like, Wow, yeah, great… I felt they’d say, Go write a script and come back, but instead they said, No, if that’s how you wanna do it, we’re interested in that. So they financed the film. And Chris Doyle and I had wanted to work together for a long time; we’d made one music video together, but we’d known each other a long time; he was actually going to shoot the other film that fell through, and he even put off certain films for that one, and gave up some things, and then he did the same for this as well because our schedule got moved. So he was very supportive in that way, waiting to work together. And we talked a lot about my little 25-page story; in New York, whenever he’d come through town, we’d spend a week or so just talking, listening to the music, getting general ideas for the images. Then we went to Spain and started getting locations.
I don’t know how other people do it, and I don’t like scripts as a form. I don’t read other people’s scripts because I had a lawsuit against me some few years ago, and I hadn’t read the guy’s script, so scripts are always returned unread. So I don’t read scripts; I only read if a friend of mine asks because they’re going to make a film out of it, they’re not offering it to me. But I hate the form; I just don’t like it. Unless I know the director and their style, and the places they’re gonna shoot, I have a really big problem visualizing scripts. So for me, a script is only a map; it’s a roadmap that is created beforehand that has to grow as we work. So I kind of just emphasized that with this film. I took that further and had less to start with…
Than ever before, it seems to me.
I knew the film wanted from the beginning, because I wanted to let it find itself, and also while working be very aware that anything can change and new ideas will come. So they have to be sifted through or received, and thought about. The problem with this film strategically following that was that our shooting schedule was too short. And that became really exhausting because I have these great actors coming in only for a few days, and I have to get their wardrobe, and rehearse, and write their stuff. And also while having shot a 16-hour day. I wanted to have a longer shoot, but we got backed up against the Easter holiday, which in Spain is a whole week. And so keeping our crew and everything would have gone way over our budget so we worked our asses off to shoot it fast, but also to keep ideas coming. So I just put myself in a kind of suspended state of, Okay, you’re not going to get any sleep for six weeks, you’re gonna have to prepare yourself and work this way. So I spent weekends writing dialogue and stuff, trying to prepare for the next scenes with the actors coming in. Luckily, Chris Doyle is extremely fast and focused while he’s working. So without him, I don’t know how I ever would have shot the film in six and a half weeks or whatever it was; it ended up being about seven, I guess. And you’re moving all around Spain too; it was hard, shooting in train stations and stuff.
The movie has the minimal structure and trappings of a thriller, but it requires a different kind of engagement from the viewer; there’s a different kind of contract being made with the viewer in this movie than in the traditional genre movie. You could compare it to certain Rivette films like ‘Pont du Nord’ or ‘Paris Belongs to Us’.
Out 1 especially. Part of me wanted to make an action film with no action in it, whatever the hell that means. For me the plot, the resolution of the film, the action toward the end is not really of that much interest. It’s only metaphorical somehow.
It’s not cathartic.
It’s not cathartic.
No, and it’s not traditional in that it even says, ‘Revenge is useless,’ so it’s not a revenge plot. This sounds very simplistic but to me it’s more about the trip and the kind of trance of the trip for the character than the ending being a kind of…
Yeah. It’s there as a kind of convention, you know? But it’s definitely metaphorical. It’s an accumulative approach in terms of the contract with the audience. It requires them to allow things to accumulate, and in a way, just be passive receptors of the trip he takes.
And the film is also a celebration of cinema in a way that the artifice of cinema is definitely referred to as a positive thing, as something I love. This is not a neo-neo-realism style of film; it’s fantastic in a certain way. I didn’t want to make a film that people had to analyze particularly while watching it. I really wanted to make a film that was kind of like a hallucinogenic in the way that, when you left after having seen it, I hope the audience will look at mundane details in a slightly different way. Maybe it’s only temporary, maybe for only 15 minutes, but I wanted to do something to… I don’t know, just trigger an appreciation for one’s subjective consciousness. I was just thinking the other night that in a way, for me, the poet Neruda is a huge inspiration. All those beautiful odes to mundane objects. I kind of wanted to just build that kind of sense of perception of things through this character and how he sees the world. But he’s on a mission, and that’s another element – I’ve always liked this kind of game structure in things. The title comes from an essay by William Burroughs. And Burroughs, his use of cut-ups, and re-arranging found things, was very interesting to me in the same way that Burroughs was very interested in the I-Ching as a motivator. Or Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards. Or the French poets… Queneau made this book, Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, that has little strips you can move around. All of these things were inspiring, I didn’t realize until we were editing the film that I was using Oblique Strategies all along the way. I was weaving things, in a way...
I have the sense that in this film you’ve gone further in the direction of working from and being led by your unconscious – by setting up a situation where you didn’t have the usual comfort zones to rely on. Working fast with no script in a country where you don’t speak the language, working with a cameraman you don’t have an established routine with.
I wanted very badly to sort of break something – maybe it’s like breaking the idea of a frame I’m always looking through, that the frame could now be rubber, conceptually. I’d think of how I want to translate a scene from my imagination to the screen, and thought maybe I’m too rigid. I’ve always believed that limitations are a strength in a way. Which is why I maybe fell back on the hard-cuts, thinking, Let’s impose something that will make us stronger somehow. And for this film I needed to not have, first of all, a fully fleshed out script.
But you’re absolutely right, that the whole thing was wanting to break something in myself to tap into this intuition, which I’ve been trying to use all along. I’ve always been non-analytical in my films. I’ve always put things in the film without analyzing why. Or what do they mean? Or what am I trying to say? They drew me or pulled me towards them. So this time I wanted to do that even more. And so the structure of making a film and a production based on only 25 pages, ensured that there’s no other way to make it. You’re going to have to follow your instincts. And once you’ve got the cast, the money, the crew, and the locations: the train has left the station. And I had a really good feeling when the train had left the station, though I didn’t have a map of where it was going really. Or a map with only line drawing, sketched outlines. It was a very liberating thing. I can’t analyze if we’re successful but we felt like we were successful in following that instinctual strategy. We were happy to be on the boat that had left the shore and we were gone, you know.
– Excerpt from Jim Jarmusch Interviewed by Gavin Smith. From Film Comment, May/June 2009 issue.
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