Mystery Train

Jim Jarmusch, 1989

The recurring theme of estrangement, predominately from a character's native land, is considered a  hallmark in the films of Jim Jarmusch, with the audience often viewing the director's America through foreign eyes, with films such as Down by Law, and Night on Earth using an alienated protagonist to give an outsider's perspective towards events. Between the successes of the aforementioned features, Jarmusch directed Mystery Train, an anthology film set in Memphis, Tennessee, that follows three separate story lines, involving characters foreign to America, that are linked by a run-down hotel they each spend the night in, various locations throughout the city, several loose character links and most notably, Elvis Presley. Unlike other anthology films, such as New York Stories or Paris je t'aime, Mystery Train's triptych stories do all follow a consistent storyline, but are told parallel to one another, showing each characters experiences in, and perspectives of, Memphis, all amounting to the same eventual climax.

Far From Yokohama, the first story in the anthology, follows a young Japanese couple, Jun and Mitsuko, on an excursion to Memphis, with the prospect of visiting Graceland during their trip across America. For the feature segment, Far From Yokohama is an inviting story, acting as an almost precursor to Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation, a film with similar themes of alienation, loneliness, boredom and culture shock, that also follows an out-of-place couple who find mutuality also in a hotel, and perfectly blends deadpan humor with elements of drama. The second story of the movie, A Ghost follows Italian widow Luisa, astray in Memphis after experiencing trouble escorting her husband's coffin home, after becoming conned out of money on two occasions, and being confronted by two men outside a diner, she finds solace in the Arcade Hotel. Whilst falling asleep, Luisa is visited by the ghost of Elvis Presley.

The third and final feature Lost in Space follows recently single, and unemployed Englishman 'Elvis' (Joe Strummer) as he drunkenly flaunts a gun at a bar, before leaving with his ex-girlfriend's brother Charlie (Steve Buscemi) and his friend (Rick Aviles) and commiting a robbery and possible murder at a local liquor store. In an attempt to hide out and lay-low, they too retire to the Arcade Hotel. This segment could been seen as polar to the themes of the previous two features, displacing the reoccurring ambient theme of isolation, with a fast-paced use of crime and violence, most notably towards the climax of the story. Mystery Train has been influential on many other filmmakers, most notably the work of Quentin Tarantino with the three-tiered, interwoven storylines and the Lost in Space segment being more than an obvious inspiration for Pulp Fiction, using the same culmination of intense, humorous and wild events as Jarmusch's film, that is far too often associated as being an original characteristic of Tarantino's work. 

With Mystery Train being Jarmusch's first venture into colour film making, briefly abandoning his signature black-and-white bergman-esque cinematography, which he would most notably revisit in Dead Man and Coffee & Cigarettes, his employment of European-film legend Robby Müller is greatly received, with Müller capturing the beauty of everything from a cityscape, to an empty run-down hotel room. What remains, is one of Jarmusch's finest and most original works. Whilst today he is considered one of the greatest independent, cult directors in the world, staying true to his art without compromise, Mystery Train is the film that brought him out of the art house, and in front of an audience.
words by danny walker.

Une Femme est une Femme

Jean-Luc Godard, 1961

How good a Godard film is tends to be inverse to how seriously it takes itself. During his initial years as a filmmaker Godard was at his most playful, approaching moviemaking in a care free manner that led to him being, almost by accident, responsible for countless stylistic innovations (most notably his use of jump cuts) that would influence generations of filmmakers to follow. What stands as one of Godard’s best works, is also one of his earliest, and most light hearted films Une Femme est une Femme.
Une Femme est une Femme follows Angela (played by Godard’s then wife Anna Karina) as she attempts to persuade her boyfriend 
Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) to have a child with her. When he refuses she begins to flirt with the idea of having a baby with Émile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). As always with Godard, the plot is secondary with Godard using it merely as a framework throughout which he can shoehorn in various nonsensical 
conversations and playful camerawork.

Whereas his previous feature À Bout de Souffle can be seen as Godard’s own take on the crime films of directors he admired such as Howard Hawks, Une Femme est une Femme is his take on the Hollywood musical (further imitating Hawks by choosing to make genre pictures) and also his earliest foray into colour filmmaking. Godard’s regular cinematographer Raoul Coutard doesn’t squander this opportunity putting the use of colour at the forefront, ensuring that the film is illuminated by lighting of bright blue and red, particularly during the scenes in which Angela sings at the club. This use of red and blue is extended to both the set design and to the costumes of the characters, meaning that despite the realist elements associated with the Nouvelle Vague such as location shooting the film still possesses the fantastical appearance of a 1930’s musical.

 Whenever Godard casts a male lead other than Belmondo in these earlier pictures you can’t help being disappointed that he isn’t there, always feeling as though his replacement is simply acting as his stand in, this is also true of any female lead being considered over Karina. As he manages to cast both in this film (a feat he would only manage on only one more occasion four years later with Pierrot le Fou) the performances are some of the best seen in Godard’s oeuvre with Belmondo displaying the effortless cool that would typify all of his future roles. Karina is at her best too, not lip synching but singing the musical numbers herself and giving a great comic performance as the fickle Angela. Having married shortly before the films production, Godard appears to be setting out to make Une Femme est une Femme a tribute to his new wife and her beauty affording her numerous close ups and direct-to-camera dialogue.

After 1967 Godard’s films would begin to change for the worst, his marriage to Karina would end and his films would begin to take an ever more serious approach to their subject matter. He would focus less on technical and stylistic innovation in favour of experimenting in ways such as rejecting the narrative form of cinema, regarding it as capitalist construction, and with his most recent film Socialism even refusing to grant it English subtitles at Cannes regarding it as the language of western imperialism. With this his influence has wavered, the New Hollywood directors of the 1970’s took inspiration in countless ways from his earlier films and in turn have replaced him as the directors who the current wave of independent filmmakers look to emulate. When you think how Godard has sidelined himself it seems a shame, films such as Une Femme est une FemmeÀ Bout de SouffleAlphaville and Vivre sa Vie are all still here though are all, and standing the test of time as some of the most enjoyable art house films to ever be contributed to cinema.
words by pete bond.


Thomas Bangalter & Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, 2007

Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, the duo more popularly known as Daft Punk, have always had a long standing affair with film. Their first album Homework spawned numerous innovative music videos such as those for Around the World and Da Funk, giving visionary directors such as Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze some of their earliest exposure. With their follow on album Discovery they would collaborate with renowned manga creator Leiji Matsumoto on Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem a feature length animation set to the album, with the film divided up into it’s separate songs for release as music videos.

It is this point in their chronology that Electroma comes along, originally intended to simply be a music video for the title track off of their third recording Human After All, the concept soon snowballed into a feature length production with Daft Punk choosing to co-direct. Shot over the course of 11 days in the desert of Barstow, Electroma follows the robotic alter egos of Daft Punk as they pass through a world populated by robots, as they attempt to be transformed back into humans (people familiar with Daft Punk‘s mythology will be aware they were born human and only became robots when infected with the 909 virus). When this fails they head out into the desert, walking aimlessly to their certain death.

The film is sparse in every way, most notably in that their isn’t a single line of dialogue spoken throughout. Regardless of this the motives of the robots and their emotions are always clear, their disappointment at their failure to make the transition and their despair as they flee into the desert. The cinematography consists of extended tracking shots (with steadicam operated by none other than Chris Cunningham) with harshly lit white corridors reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whilst it’s minimal and steady approach may leave some viewers cold, it is fans of meditative science fiction such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running that will understand and appreciate it’s approach.
Perhaps the most unusual stylistic choice made by a duo primarily known as musicians is the restricted use of music. A mere nine songs feature on the soundtrack, none of which are performed by Daft Punk themselves instead choosing to use tracks by the likes of Brian Eno and Curtis Mayfield instead, it’s a curious choice given that the film was envisaged specifically to accompany the song Human After All. This would seem to be to avoid Electroma being viewed as Daft Punk repeating themselves, having already made one film scored by their previous album their was no need in repeating the task.

Although no further plans to continue their directorial career have been discussed, the duo have continued a close relationship with film. They provided both a cameo and the score for Tron: Legacy (the films only saving grace) and Bangalter continued his collaboration with Gaspar Noe providing the opening theme for Enter the Void, having previously contributed the score to his 2002 film Irreversible. Making electronic music, sampling the work of other people is a large part of what Daft Punk do. With Electroma they appear to have applied the same approach to filmmaking, drawing on their influences to combine the visuals of Kubrick with a story reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry with their own personal touch, making a film that stands alongside the likes of Duncan Jones’ Moon as one of the more mature and interesting science fiction works of the decade.

words by pete bond.