If you are a fan of Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Fishing with John’s John Lurie, or the understated but highly original story-telling of Jim Jarmusch, you should own Down by Law. Not just rent it, but own it. I recently watched this movie again and if the first time I saw it I focused mostly on the performances and the joys of watching Tom Waits in a movie, I was much more aware of the visual compositions this time around. The gorgeous black and white photography of Robby Müller creates a depth to the images that draws you into the world rather than distancing you from it. The performances are pitch-perfect and fit the actors like the proverbial glove—so it’s not surprise to discover in the commentary that Jarmusch wrote the principle characters specifically for these actors. This is a wonderful movie that doesn’t rush itself or try to be more than it is and is laid-back and “cool,” but sincere and fun at the same time.
Speaking of not rushing, the time and space that Leone allows his actors to simply be and to look while on camera is at once slightly discomfiting and strangely exciting at the same time. The first thing that you notice in Once Upon a Time in the West is just how different the pacing is when compared to contemporary films. Leone creates amazing visual moments in his films and allows us to actually look at them instead of instantly shifting to another picture. People stand in doorways, or look across rooms, or are silhouetted by sun and sky and do so for long periods of time. In fact, I would say that in this and other Leone films, his characters become iconic, less because the say very little and more because the audience gets the chance to simply stare at them for long periods of time and can invest ourselves in these character’s lives and emotions precisely because they are both still and silent. There are some incredibly beautiful shots in this movie.
However, if there is one reason to see this movie—and there are several reasons, but if I had to pick just one—it is to watch Henry Fonda playing a stone-cold killer. His performance is brilliant and watching him in this reminds you of just how good an actor he was.
Unless you yourself are a stone-cold killer without any weakness for inspirational stories or music, then you will probably enjoy Buena Vista Social Club. Wim Wenders is one of my all-time favorite directors but I’d never gotten around to seeing this documentary examination the group put together by Ry Cooder that revived a whole genre of music and several musical careers along the way. I have to admit that at times I found the movie to be a little over-directed in the sense that the camera would occasionally be pointing itself out during an interview, but overall the music, the personalities, and the stories are joyful and inspiring. As an artist, I find that hearing the stories of other artists, especially ones of these caliber, is a profoundly humbling experience. At the same time, these stories also challenge me to challenge myself to be better and work harder at my own art.
The stories and the music in this movie will definitely bring a smile to your heart.