Friday, September 26, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

There's an abandoned theater in West Palm Beach, Florida that was known for many years as The Carefree. Very rich history as a cultural venue.  I drive past its remains at least weekly, reminded of the countless times since childhood I had attended films, concerts, and stand-up. What a treasure it was.  Hurricane Wilma sealed its fate nearly a decade ago; it was too expensive to repair all the water and wind damage. I was hoping that deep pocketed Palm Beachers, many of whom I would see when the Carefree ran art house in its later years, would've saved the day, but no. And there it still sits. Shuttered, decaying. Waiting? Lamented by many, but not enough.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) walk through an old, nearly condemned theater during a scene in 2013's ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, writer/director Jim Jarmusch's latest. Adam describes the glory days of the gargantuan palace, of all the musicians who graced its stage and the films flickered across its silver screen. But like much of contemporary Detroit, it has fallen into perhaps permanent disrepair. Ironic for the former Great American Town with its booming auto factories that the massive interior of the theater has now become a "carpark".

The Carefree has not become such, but rather a boarded up eyesore, a neglected piece of history awaiting destruction. It's surprising that the City or some developer has not annexed the land for expansion of the luxury apartments/retail space just across the street, which in fact was once a car dealership. ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW fans who'd enjoyed the midnight shows for over a decade at the Carefree were given the sad news when the owners of the tony new abodes would not have the likes of would-be Brads, Janets, and Magentas stalking their street in outrageous garb after hours.

Adam and Eve have stalked the Earth for centuries. They are vampires, though that word is never used during Jarmusch's movie.  Married sometime in the 19th century, the couple hung out and even played chess with literary figures like Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who likewise has survived to see the increasingly vulgar process of technology into the 21st.  Adam is especially slow to adopt to progress as he still listens to music on reel to reel and links his old laptop to an ancient television console.

But the very essence of survival remains the food of blood.  Adam dons surgical scrubs (with a vintage 1968 stethoscope over his shoulder) and mask, retrieving canisters at a hospital from his in-house connection,  one Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright). Eve, living a world away in Tangier, purchases her supply from Marlowe. Our lovers sometimes even indulge O negative popsicles!  It (at first, anyway) seems unnecessary for them to hunt and feed on humans, or "zombies", as Adam refers to them for a multitude of reasons.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is another deeply effective exercise in mood by Jarmusch. Having fanged protagonists may be incidental, but a better scenario for a walking, talking painting of loneliness and languid musing I can barely imagine.  Every scene takes place at night, which this time is for obvious reasons.  The director is far more interested in the way blood moves on a carpet than how it got there, or why. As with films like NIGHT ON EARTH, DEAD MAN, and MYSTERY TRAIN, he considers the lack of light and sounds in his foregrounds as much as he does his characters. Here, Jarmusch so beautifully exploits the canvases of his protagonists' respective cities.  Tangier is as exotic and enigmatic as Eve herself.  The streets are alive with hustlers and musicians.

But over in Detroit - probably the most appropriate landscape over which to display Adam's isolation (and a potent symbol for the vampire species/race) - the setting is more suitable for a Jarmusch POV. A rich, famous, yet ultra reclusive rock star, Adam nests in a dilapidated house in one of those abandoned neighborhoods of foreclosure. There are the occasional "rock and roll kids", fans who've discovered where he lives, ringing his doorbell.  Ian (Anton Yelchin) is one such zombie who got to know Adam, becoming an invaluable liaison for vintage guitars and even a highly specialized wooden bullet which may be saved for a death wish.

Adam and Eve, you've learned, live apart but are very much in love.  Adam quotes Einstein's quantum entanglement:

"When you separate an entwined particle, and you move both parts away from the other, even on opposite ends of the universe if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected."

Eve eventually joins her beloved in the Motor City, and their long rides through empty streets are the sorts of moments that really define and distinguish a Jarmusch picture, ones you rarely see in contemporary cinema.  Thoughtful treks among lonely spots. You'll either drink it in or check your watch.  There are moments of humor interlaced, as when Adam asks if his wife would like to see the Motown Museum. "I'm more of a Stax girl", she responds. And when Eve's far from welcome, mischievous sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives from L.A., it isn't long before she literally sucks her date dry, but didn't mean to.

As I absorbed ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, I kept thinking how cool would it be to be able to rip down the boards off the Carefree and fire up a projector to screen this movie. To sit in a musty,  dispossessed shell of its former glory.  It would be pretty heady.  Possibly the optimal way to watch the movie.  I'll bet Jarmusch, kinda vampirish himself, would approve. Perhaps it could spark a genesis of sorts, a new beginning. In this movie Eve surveys Detroit and proclaims that it will one day rise from the ashes. I've had similar thoughts. Maybe for the Carefree, too.
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