Dead Man Screen 9 articles

Dead Man

1995

Dead Man Poster
  • Unless you find the notion of 19th-century characters speaking in modern vernacular inherently funny (I don't), or are amused by the notion of a "stock" American Indian character dispensing absurd homilies and saying things like "What is your name, stupid fucking white man?" (I wasn't), there's little to engage you on a moment-to-moment basis.

  • It's among the best films of the 1990s. I deeply admire the risk, the enormous, artistic leap that Jarmusch has taken here. All throughout, I kept asking myself: did this strange conjunction of Blake’s poetry, Native American myths and the modern Western come to Jarmusch in a dream? If so, he had the wherewithal to listen to his unconscious, and work with it. I won’t call the film surreal, since that’s a rather abused adjective these days. But I will call it genuinely dreamlike.

  • ++

    The Village Voice: J. Hoberman
    May 14, 1996 | The Village Voice Film Guide (pp. 85-87)

    Dead Man drifts inexorably at its own pace on the River Lethe into the Twilight Zone. By the time Blake reaches his appointed destination, one's sense of Jarmusch has deepened considerably. (Rather than fey and stubborn, he seems playful and primeval.) This is the Western Andrei Tarkovsky always wanted to make. Even the references to [William] Blake are justified. It's a visionary film.

  • Looser in structure than the director's earlier work, but pervaded with the same deadpan humour and superb imagery (cameraman, Robby Müller), this is an original and very weird account of the American wilderness. Haunting electric guitar score by Neil Young.

  • ...Dead Man represents a fresh start, even a quantum leap for Jarmusch, in style as well as subject. (I’ve seen the film six times now, and each time it’s grown in beauty, resonance, and visionary power; as Hoberman puts it, “This is the Western Andrei Tarkovsky always wanted to make.”) The view of America offered here — not merely by Nobody but by the film itself — is a good deal darker and considerably scarier than anything in Jarmusch’s five previous features.

  • Like most great westerns, Dead Man holds the American West and its (white) inhabitants up to close scrutiny, and in this sense its radicalism surpasses virtually every earlier example. While didacticism is not Jarmusch's goal, there is something instructive about Dead Man's critique. The film's power is impossible to extrapolate from its commentary on history and society.

  • Jarmusch's ability to transform knowingly and intentionally goofy material into real intelligence puts him closer in sensibility to Hollywood's great western directors than any of the other revivalists, who don't seem to have much awareness that anyone made westerns before Sam Peckinpah. Aided by Robby Müller's black-and-white photography (his best work after Wender's Road Trilogy), Jarmusch gets a tense linearity to his images, a sort of languid reimagining of Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher.

  • The film itself is cinematic poetry, reflecting seemingly incomprehensible ideas of the natural world. It reads as a poem and even moves like one, with the quiescent interludes providing breaks between stanzas of rhythmic action.

  • Were the opening of Dead Man a self-contained short film, those few minutes would still stand as one of the great revisionist Westerns. At its best, Jim Jarmusch’s minimal, no-wave filmmaking is poetic in the style of e e cummings: no punctuation, full of sequence gaps, and making the avant-garde oddly palatable by stripping it to the bone.

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