Yesterday evening I decided to rewatch a movie that I’d seen fairly recently. Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law. I first saw it a couple of years after it came out – back in the late 80s. But I didn’t see it again until a month or so ago when I got hold of it on DVD and was reminded of just how good it is. Despite seeing it only a few weeks ago, it suited my mood perfectly last night, so I thought “What the hell” and dug it out once more.
And it was just as good again. Jarmusch captures perfectly the hazy dreamlike landscape of the American Deep South with some of the richest black and white cinematography ever to grace a screen. And the characters played to perfection by Tom Waits and John Lurie are right out of Tennessee Williams. The lost of Louisiana. And yet, into this dark and brooding world Jarmusch throws Roberto Benigni playing… well, playing “Roberto”.
I’ve been told that Benigni’s humour can be something of an acquired taste, and not necessarily appreciated by all (a fact that amazes me)… but if you like him, as do I, then his scenes in Down By Law are side-splitting. His enunciation of the phrase “not enough room to swing a cat” had tears rolling down my cheeks. And the “I scream. You scream. We all scream. For Ice cream.”-scene is an obvious and gloriously funny nod to the Marx Brothers.
That this effervescent Italian clown should work in a film shot with so much stillness is a tribute both to Jim Jarmusch’s skill as a film-maker and to Roberto Benigni’s genius as a comic. And hearing Tom Waits deliver the weather report as late-night DJ ‘Fat Baby Slims’ is an absolute joy.
I’ve yet to see Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch’s most recent film, but I can highly recommend Night on Earth, Ghost Dog and Dead Man. And if you’ve not seen it already, I urge you to check out Down by Law. It’s an exquisite film. Up to and including the fairytale ending.