Down By Law

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

Happy birthday, Mr. Jarmusch.

Read J. Hoberman’s essay on where it all began: STRANGER THAN PARADISE.

Look through polaroids of Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni while filming DOWN BY LAW.

Or watch Jim talk about musicians, filmmaking, Robert Mitchum, and the Sons of Lee Marvin.


Jim Jarmusch: I’m a big blues and R&B fan. I had never been to New Orleans when I wrote the script, but I had a lot of images in my head mostly just from the music of New Orleans. That just kind of drew me there. […] Shooting it was so much fun. Being in New Orleans was great and we had a really wild time. In retrospect I don’t how we got through it—it seemed as if we had a celebration after each night of shooting and I don’t know physically how we got the film made. I tend to see my films in retrospect like home movies—I don’t see the film any more, but I remember the experience of making it. […] For me, in the end of the film I definitely imagine Zack and Jack, and Roberto and Nicoletta, continuing to exist as characters and I really did not want to draw a velvet curtain across the screen and have everything all finished. I wanted these characters to continue to exist out there in the world somehow. [1994/1992/2002]

Robby Müller: In the beginning I didn’t know what form Down by Law should have. Then I got the most important directing from [Jim] when I asked him what should I do in this story, because I have no idea what style of photography I should give, and he said, “Well, Robby, it’s just a fairy tale.“ And it was really the only direction I got and I was very happy with it because it was not precise, in that sense. So I suddenly felt free and could do what I liked and I felt extremely free there—any invention I did would fit into the film… [Jim] is by far the director I most respect of all that I’ve worked for in my life. I feel that he respects everyone around him, including me. [2002]

Claire Denis: When Jim asked me to work with him, I thought it was a joke, because at the time I was off doing location scouting in Cameroon for Chocolat. But Jim was serious. So I flew halfway across the world from Cameroon to New Orleans to work on Down by Law. And there, when I was his AD, he gave me a rabbit’s foot that I kept. I think I did my first film with that rabbit’s foot in my pocket the whole time. And then I lost it when I was in Cannes, and thought, uh-oh, the good luck charm is gone. Maybe I didn’t need it, who knows. […] I think really I was not needed. I think he enjoyed the fact that when he was about to shoot Down by Law, it was like a sort of poetic gesture to decide I was going to be the assistant. I was not even allowed by the union so they changed my name or whatever. But I mean I really worked. I was not just invited to watch shooting. I really enjoy working with him, yeah, very much so. And it’s still strong, because he is—I don’t know—we don’t see each other very often, as you might imagine. But it’s important for me to know that he’s working. His work is important for me. [2003/2004]

Roberto Benigni: I met Jim Jarmusch in Italy. I couldn’t talk one single word in English, and he the same in Italian. So we tried to talk with physical, with the body. We immediately love each other, and Jim decided to write this character Bob in Down by Law. It was my first time in United States, in Louisiana, in the swamp, with the crocodiles. For me it was a dream, this is such a wonderful memory, such a wonderful souvenir. And what it is very rare, I met also Tom Waits and John Lurie, the musician and the singer, and we are still very close friends. Especially with Jim Jarmusch, every week we call each other, we talk. We are still very, very close friends. [2009]