Here's an obvious way that Europe trumps the USA: filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, marginalized in his homeland as a fringe talent, stands tall as a major artist overseas. When his new Broken Flowers premiered at the Cannes Fest last May, the huge Palais was completely packed with journalists for an 8:30 AM screening, more, I venture, because of Jarmusch as director than for the star, Bill Murray. The press conference was a different beast, however, as entertainment writers jumped in first, wanting droll, colorful quotes from the ex-SNL comic.
Was it fun for Murray to pop up in Jarmusch's story, playing Don, a middle-aged loser in love, who seeks an unknown son by visiting four ex-flames: Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Frances Conroy? "It's tough to go back to loves of your life," said Murray, "recalling the hurt you caused, the love that passed you by." Has he ever looked up an old amour? "I've tried. I'm usually in a strange town in the middle of the night," Murray joked. "But I do think of people in my past all the time. Having done it in this film, for six weeks of shooting with four different actresses, I found it unsettling and disturbing. Much of the time I was stung by what they'd say. You might try to go to a circus camp instead. It's the same kind of feeling, trying to learn on a high trapeze."
How much did he research his part, create a biography for Don? Hardly at all, indicated Murray. "I try as much as I can to 'be there,' when the camera rolls. I've tried a little of that 'backstory' stuff, but it kind of takes you away from who you are."
Jarmusch agreed: "I'm not interested in Don'd backstory, or what holes he has. It's sort of my style anyway, looking at details and nuances instead of srong plot devices. As a lot of critics have made clear, I'm not very plot-oriented. And I have no idea what genre the film is, which I'm happy about. I have always been attracted to stories of travel. The road movie idea is the oldest story form: the Odyssey of Homer. A journey is just a metaphor for one's life. That's a kind of vague answer, but it's the best I've got.
"I wrote a script several years ago with Bill in mind and decided not to do it. Bill said, 'I liked that story! Do you have any other ideas?' A few days later, I told him another story I was writing, about this character."
(Jarmusch explained further to Cannes' Metro daily: "Instead of Alain Delon, you have Bill Murray, who looks very human. In this film, you start with a guy you don't relate to. He's made money, so what? Now he does nothing. But as the film goes on, because it's Bill Murray, you start to feel little things for him.")
Jarmusch was asked if Broken Flowers is his own tale. "I don't think of it in personal terms. It's certainly not autobiographical," Jarmusch answered firmly. "I don't analyze characters in my films based on my life."
Tilda Swinton, who sat quietly through much of the Cannes conference, finally piped in about appearing in this Jarmusch picture about a desperately lonely guy. "I saw the film this morning for the first time," Swinton said. "That loneliness is not just a prerogative of men, that's something very clear in Broken Flowers. The film is about the irrelevance of the past, which only gets you so far, it's also in a way about the irrelevance of the future. It's about questions and, gracefully, not about answers."
Murray: "You just keep returning to the questions, and that's sobering in a result-oriented world."
I'm not sure why, but a journalist queried Jarmusch about the new technology.
"I don't do e-mail," Jarmusch answered. "I'm already irresponsible enough. I don't respond to phone calls from my friends, and I don't want another area where I'm delinquent. I'm still a kind of Luddite. I still write my scripts in a notebook, which I use to carry around my ideas. I'm terrified of losing my ideas in cyberspace."
(Boston Phoenix, August, 2005)