If one word could describe the cinema of Jim Jarmusch, it would be “cool”—in a Miles Davis-esque view of the term. Jarmusch’s films possess an acute attention to style. Music, characters’ personal styles and place are central in this films, which deal more in mood and character development than plot progression. Rather than collaborating with specific fashion designers in his films, Jarmusch develops the clothing style in his films like a designer, focusing on theme, period, atmosphere and attitude to create characters that are as idiosyncratic as they are alluring.

In anticipation of Jarmusch’s new film The Dead Don’t Die (2019), here we look at three films, Stranger than Paradise (1984), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Though not an extensive survey, these films encapsulate the silky, off-beat styling of some of Jarmusch’s most louche characters and mark critical moments in his oeuvre.

An enthusiastic Jarmusch arrived in New York in the 1970s, a time when the city’s art scene was in flux. Vernacular (or “street”) elements were converging with the art scene, as were elements from the punk and no-wave music scenes that spilled from iconic venues like the Mud Club and Max’s Kansas City. A fan of punk and a musician himself, Jarmusch joined the no-wave group the Del-Byzanteens. In this period—paralleling no-wave music—the New York underground filmmaking movement also labelled ‘no wave’ sprung up; much like the music this style of cinema was moody, austere and cynical. From this crucial convergence of art, music and film, Jarmusch’s cinematic style was formed. Sound and vision are of equal importance in Jarmusch’s narratively stripped-back films that have a strong sense of place, style and atmosphere.

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