Film and Cigarettes
In a nearby ashtray, veteran filmmaker Jim Jarmusch sees a real find -- a healthy cigarette butt with plenty of drags left in its nicotine-laced life. So Jarmusch flicks away its ashes and sets the butt aside for later.Such little pleasures, it seems, are what helps make Jarmusch's life so sweet. The acclaim that past Jarmusch films like Stranger Than Paradise and Night on Earth have received throughout his 17-year career of making movies doesn't hurt either. The previous evening, Jarmusch's latest project, Year of the Horse, a concert film that follows Neil Young and Crazy Horse throughout a 1996 European tour, made its debut to an enthusiastic Toronto Film Festival crowd.A longtime fan of Crazy Horse, Jarmusch worked with Young before, shooting a music video on Super 8 film for the band's last album. Young liked the video so much that he was asked to follow the band and make a longer feature film, Jarmusch says. For Jarmusch, the chance to spend time on the road with Crazy Horse was an offer too good to pass up."We had a lot of fun doing it, but we really didn't have a plan," says Jarmusch, speaking the next day at a Toronto hotel. "It was like collecting material, take it back to the cutting room and let it tell you what to do with it."Jarmusch and the film's producer L.A. Johnson had decided to also shoot the film on Super 8 stock in order to give the film a gritty appearance. Super 8 cartridges only contain two and half minutes worth of film so 16 cameras were eventually used to capture the band's footage. The film's post-production proved to be a nightmare. But ultimately, Jarmusch says, working in Super 8 was worth all its hassles."It made me happy because of the kind of raw visual quality of the film," Jarmusch says. "I'm not sure how people will react. Some people will probably be put off by it, but I like it because the sound's so big and strong and clean and the imagery is so kind of raw. I think in a beautiful way that it sort of fits their music, which is raw and kind of messy and yet so powerful."Year of the Horse also uses some archival Crazy Horse footage. Watching the band evolve over the years offered further proof of the band's talent, Jarmusch says. "For me, great artists are artists whose work is a process," Jarmusch says. "And Neil and Crazy Horse are a great example of that. Its funny, if they play a song three nights in a row and on the third night they're really happy with the way it sounds, they won't play it for two more weeks. Its like we got that this almost shamanistic sense about the magic of something. It was like let's let this rest and let's not disturb the magic of the thing. So they're just interesting to me and live they're getting better and better."For Jarmusch, the goal was for him to sit back and hope that his cameras capture some of the magic that's Crazy Horse live."Being a filmmaker, I don't trust film," Jarmusch says. "It's like Godard said, it's truth at 24 frames a second and William Burroughs once said to me it's lies at 24 frames a second. Which I agree because even with a documentary as soon as you put your eye to the camera it subjectifies things. I don't trust historical perspective anyway. That's why I make fiction films. But this film isn't exactly a documentary. It's more a concert film, a little in between, it's just a rock-and-roll movie."A friendship between Jarmusch and Young formed during the project and it soon became clear to Jarmusch that he shared a lot in common with his idol."We're both really stubborn and we both insist on having doing the things the way we want them to be done," he says. "We resist outside forces that are not creative forces interfering with what we do and we both draw a kind of circle around ourselves when we're creating something to keep those outside things off our backs, out of our visions and from meddling in it."The importance of artistic freedom was a lesson that Jarmusch learned the hard way on his last film, Dead Man. Then, Jarmusch had to fight off the film's distributor, Miramax Films, and its Chairman Harvey Weinstein who wanted to edit the film despite an agreement that Jarmusch had final cut."When I give my word, I keep my word and it's for myself, you know?," Jarmusch says. "And Harvey Weinstein did not keep his word to me about Dead Man . I've worked for 15 years or more making films my own way, and Dead Man was an extremely difficult film to make physically, and it needed more money than it had. But we made the film and then I signed a deal with Harvey. Here's the film delivered to you. You didn't produce it. You will distribute it the way it is, and then he continually pressured me to let me have him or other people re-edit the film. Now if I wanted to do that, why would I spend 15 years of my life having my own company license my films in each territory and go through all this stuff, which I've done to protect my right to have control artistically over the film?"Jarmusch might have won the battle -- Dead Man was released in its original form -- but he lost the war."It's my opinion that as a result, Harvey (Weinstein) didn't put very much behind the film in its release, which is his right, you know?," Jarmusch says. "But he didn't really keep his word about respecting the film in the form it was bought by him so that's the way some people work. I don't work that way and if I give my word, I keep it."Demanding such artistic freedom has made it more difficult for Jarmusch to get American financing for his films. Overseas, however, things are different where Jarmusch remains a sought-after talent with a mainstream following. He says that he doesn't intentionally go overseas for funding -- he'll go anywhere he still can call the shots."I think it's funny, in America, I'm like a cult director or an underground director or an independent director," he says. "There's always an adjective in front of it. In Europe or Japan, I'm a film director, you know? But I'll go wherever I am allowed to retain the control over the artistic side of the film. So it's been easier for me to do that with European and Japanese financing where they don't have to approve the script or the casting or the music I use. I always have final cut as long as I can do it that way, I'll take the money from whoever."Like Neil Young's music, Jarmusch expects his films to stand the test of time. So it doesn't matter if they're only known by a small group of fans. Time, Jarmusch says, is the ultimate judge."Anything that's real stays," he says. "It's like what I say a lot in interviews. Duke Ellington, when asked what's good music, says, 'If it sounds good, its good.' And the stuff that's real, that moves you, whatever your perspective is, stays true. I think good stuff stays around, and Neil is real." Chances are Crazy Horse would say the same thing about Jarmusch's films.