Jim Jarmusch, the celebrated indie filmmaker gives the vampire genre a clever tweak in his new movie, Only Lovers Left Alive. If you've been around sucking blood for centuries, you've probably met history's most famous characters, Byron, Schubert, to mention a few. The movie pushes this conceit, name dropping with aplomb, or just cracking wise in vampire tropes. Roaming the Tangier medina, Eve (Tilda Swinton) follows the well-worn path of the midcentury dissolute and hip, looking for a fix in the manner of beat legendary figures. Arriving at the "1001 Nights" café, she finds none other than Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who has a special "Type O," just what she needs. The café is named after one once owned by Brion Gysin, in the days when William Burroughs resided in the then seedy port hotel, the Muneria. Known as "El Hombre Invisible," he was a figure of unidentifiable age, seeming to exist on junk alone.
When asked, Tilda Swinton was not sure that Jim knew that, but that would be taking away the art of this send up of a movie. Jarmusch told me he was indeed evoking Gysin's restaurant, and doing one better, translating the place's name to French. "Of course it should be French," he said after a recent special screening, at a party in a new place, Chalk Point Kitchen and Handy Liquor Bar, chockablock with well-wishers including his wife Sara Driver, and friends Patti Smith, Steve Buscemi, David Byrne, Peter Sarsgaard, Duncan Hannah, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Paul Auster, and his wife Siri Hustvedt. Auster, a most beloved author, was pleased to announce the coming of Hustvedt's new novel, The Blazing World.
"You may be one of five people to get that café reference," Jarmusch says. Though they are not all so obscure, these humorous cultural moments add a sense of insider joy to the movie's appreciation, as when Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Eve's, eh, longtime lover who lives in Detroit mentions Motown. Eve slips in sotte voce, 'I'm a Stax woman myself." Motown! Stax! Okay. Music lovers will giggle at these riffs. But I hate to break it to Jarmusch: he may not be able to count on people knowing Christopher Marlowe!
Not that it matters, of course. Although posing as Dr. Faustus does then have special meaning. Jarmusch films are a genre unto themselves, and the coming retrospective of his work at Film Society of Lincoln Center: "Permanent Vacation: The Films of Jim Jarmusch," April 2-10, should satisfy any addiction most nicely.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.