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Wolfville, Nova Scotia


Down By Law

Chris Campbell

Down By Law DVDOne of my all-time favourite films is Down By Law, directed by Jim Jarmusch. I haven't seen it in years and maybe not since the first time that I saw it was in the 80s in a theatre in Montreal. It's a stunningly beautiful film with amazing black & white cinematography by Robby Müller. The Criterion DVD features a transfer that presents the film in full grayscale glory. The film is languorously paced and follows Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni as they are thrown together in jail. Jarmusch is a master at letting things go on. You capture some amazing moments just by waiting and watching the right people as they improvise. Melody London edited the film and the rhythm is perfect visually and sonically. The film starts and ends with Tom Waits songs and John Lurie provides a great musical score that is almost impossible to separate from the film. While some remastered and retransferred films are accompanied by reworked surround sound soundtracks, the soundtrack of Down By Law is presented in the original mono. I was thinking that it would be a bit flat, but the soundtrack is amazing and full. I've been spoiled by technology and the false belief that more is better. A good soundtrack is a good soundtrack and you don't need all sorts of sounds whizzing around. The location sound is great and it makes me want to record sound again for a film. I was surprised at how wonderful the film was and I'm still amazed by the beauty of it all. The special features are as idiosyncratic as the film and have some interesting telephone conversations between Jarmusch and the three stars. There also are thoughts on the film by Jarmusch which are presented as just sound. It's better than most commentary tracks as it is difficult to talk about a film for the entire time it is playing. The neat icing on the cake the music video the Jarmusch and Tom Waits collaborated on as part of the Red, Hot and Blue project.
A few years ago I was at a huge film business barbeque in Toronto and I was in the beer tent and I saw Jim Jarmusch standing alone in the tent. I saw him and didn't go over and say anything as I was afraid that I'd freeze or say something stupid... now I wish that I went over and said, "Hi Jim, thanks for making some great films."