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  Book Review


DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

BFI Modern Classics: Dead Man

Jonathan Rosenbaum
BFI Publishing chapbook, 96 pages 7.99
review by Jai Clare

My interest in Westerns died when Clint grew craggy, that's if I had that much interest in them in the first place. Westerns on the TV during my childhood were full of do-gooders trying to find the woman stolen by nasty Red Indians who were really white men reddened; landscapes were stage sets of thin bits of twigs standing in for trees, and Alan Ladd and James Stewart always got their man in full surreal Technicolor.
  Then, this year, I saw Dead Man on video and was mesmerized. It's a truly beautiful film with authentic Native Americans and the evocative American West - at least those bits without telephone wires. Shot in black and white, it stars Johnny Depp - gorgeous as ever - and Gary Farmer, with cameos by Gabriel Byrne, Robert Mitchum, John Hurt and Iggy Pop in a dress! I enjoyed the movie, which I thought had a lot going for it.
  But it was only after I read this study of the film by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, that suddenly I saw that the depth to the film, depth which director, Jim Jarmusch, admits can really only be perceived on the second viewing, which is perhaps why the distributors Miramax referred to Dead Man as "a dog."
  The book looks at Jarmusch's reputation and his previous films: Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, and at Dead Man in relation to other westerns - oh yes, I do see Depp's resemblance to Bob Hope in The Paleface! And how it is in relation to the sub-genre Acid Western, - but what is most fascinating about this book, is the way it unfolds the hidden depth to the film. A depth that is there for all to see if they but looked. The tobacco jokes, Jarmusch's search for authenticity in the creation of the Makah village, the use of language, the comments on capitalism, the American Dream, the weaving of literature and above all the way the film attempts to show the Native American, in a refreshing non-stereotyped portrayal, as the real owner of the West. One interesting fact emerged that Depp himself is quarter-Cherokee. An amusing irony.
  The book draws heavily on interviews with Jarmusch and the man proves to be articulate and imaginative. Overall, it's a full discussion of the film, without being laboured, and a good addition to it. And the book does best what a book of this kind needs to do: it adds to the enjoyment of the film and makes you want to watch the it again. In this case, it makes me want to catch up on all Jarmusch's films that I've missed. I couldn't ask for better.

Jai Clare

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