The Way of Jim Jarmusch

An interview with the director of Ghost Dog

When you say you 're learning how to be more "open to things, ' is this a process that has been an arduous and difficult one, or just something that evolved over a period?

Well, it's a pleasant one. Making a film is very difficult, but it's also really something I love. So, it's also something you learn from each time you try something. You learn a lot, more from your mistakes than from the things you did the way you expected them to work. So I really look at it as sort of like a craftsman that will get better the more work he does. It's like what Kurosawa said when he was very old. They said, 'When will you stop making films?' He said, 'When I figure out how to do it.' And he never did. Of course he was a great master and of course made incredible films, but he was still learning.

The RZA of movie-making: Jim Jarmusch on the set of Ghost Dog
Abbot Genser
The RZA of movie-making: Jim Jarmusch on the set of Ghost Dog

What was it about Whitaker that made you want to write this movie for him?

I'd met him a few times, and we had talked of maybe working together. I didn't have a plan, and then I started with an idea of making a character that was contradictory: a killer but someone that we respect and like in some way. And then Forest was the perfect contradiction for me, because in person he's very gentle and has a very soft quality in his face and in his expressions and his voice. And yet he's very big and imposing physically, and I hadn't really seen the perfect combination of that contradiction.

This is the first movie of yours that seems not only to acknowledge pop culture, but that really makes use of it. It 's as though you 've sampled it all, from the hip-hop references throughout the movie to the Itchy and Scratchy cartoons the gangsters watch.

Yeah, I think I got worn down from years of really loving bebop and hip-hop music. In the past when I wrote scripts and something would occur to me from another film or book that I thought would be interesting, that I thought linked up to something I was working on, I would push it away and say, 'That's not my idea; let's get that outta here.' This time I opened those doors saying, 'Well, I'm gonna let those things just flood in.' And I think it's because of musical forms that sample and quote and weave other things from other sources into something -- they make it their own ultimately. Maybe it finally clicked, you know? Maybe I'm just very slow, and it was like I finally got it.

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