Movie-making is a highly collaborative form, with individual contributors on every level adding up to a final product that is often associated with a few key figures. While directors are often associated with the aesthetics of their films — and naturally play a huge part in their determination — their oeuvre encompasses a vast multiplicity of visions. That’s why it’s interesting when director Jim Jarmusch, the maestro of casual dystopia, makes something all on his own; it’s the rare opportunity to identify the singular perspective of a filmmaker.
SOME COLLAGES (Anthology Editions, 2021) is, as the title suggests, a series of collage works — diminutive pieces with subjects excised from newsprint and presented on brown cardstock backgrounds. There is a corresponding solo show of the original work at James Fuentes Gallery, New York, on until October 31, but the book aptly captures each discrete little tableaux. In fact, it offers the opportunity to pull them close and examine them in more depth.
What can we divine from SOME COLLAGES about Jarmusch in the singular, comparing these aesthetics to those of his long film career, which includes Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986), Dead Man (1999), Broken Flowers (2005) and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)? An eye firmly fixed on the minutia of the everyday, for one, and the power to twist a symbol with the smallest intervention. Jarmusch’s go-to alteration is removing the original face or head and its replacement with another visage, often identifiable from pop culture or art history, sometimes animal. So too, there are moments where the head-space is filled by a little gasp of newsprint — specifically chosen or from the page beneath, it is unclear — but throughout the works presented, the juxtapositions are inescapably Jarmuschian. The word “Auschwitz” is framed in the empty face of a Pope surrounded by adoring nuns; a cheetah-headed woman leans reflectively against a railing; Warhols, Warhols everywhere.
Would SOME COLLAGES, Jarmusch’s first collection of collage works, be quite so much fun if it weren’t swirling in the wake of his existing legacy? It’s hard to say. But for fans of the films, it holds the same kind of sly humor, quiet dread, and concise observations on the banality and startling contrast of everyday life that have drawn a cult following to his film work. Ultimately, there are some unexpected surprises when you get Jim Jarmusch on his own — not to mention far, far less smoking than you’d imagine.