Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jim Jarmusch, Lee Marvin, and Hell in the Pacific

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Anthology Film Archive in New York City. In celebration, Anthology has planned a series of special events, the first of which took place last Thursday, and featured the great director/writer Jim Jarmusch introducing his most recent film Limits of Control, plus a scene from Coffee and Cigarettes that was filmed in the 80s at the 2nd Avenue Courthouse, in the East Village, while Anthology was in the process of converting the building into their cinema.

So I dashed over there after work, hoping to catch a great New York City personality at a great New York City venue. But, as with most great New York City events, TONS of other people had the same idea, and they had it well before I did. The event sold out while I stood at the end of a long line. So, no Coffee and Cigarettes for me that night. But, while I did miss what sounded like a swell program, my effort didn't go completely unrewarded. While waiting in line to hear the bad news, I struck up a coversation with another unlucky Jarmusch fan. This guy told me about how he’d encountered the director on the street just a few minutes earlier and had a chance to speak with him.

   “You know what he looks like, right?” the guy asked me.
    Yes I did.
    “You know he’s a big Lee Marvin fan, right?” he added.
    Yes again.
    “So, I told him we ought to get together and do a re-make of Hell in the Pacific. You ever see that one?”
    I confessed that I had not yet seen Hell in the Pacific.
    “Oh man!” he said. “With the Japanese actor, y’know, from the Kurosawa films.”
    “Toshiro Mifune?” I asked. “Lee Marvin made a movie with Toshiro Mifune?”
    “Yeah, and it’s as great as it sounds," said this guy, who also happened to be of Asian ethnic origin. "Jarmusch asked me ‘We’ll act in it together?’ I said yes. He liked the idea. But then I told him I wanted Lee Marvin’s part. He laughed. He liked that too.”
    I also laughed. It was a pretty good story. Although we both got skunked as far as getting into the show, my friend could now leave with at least some small consolation prize.
    And I had my own consolation prize now too. I went straight back to my neighborhood and rented Hell in the Pacific and watched it for the first time.
    Directed by John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, and many others) and released in 1968, Hell in the Pacific tells the story of two WWII soldiers, one American (Marvin), on Japanese (Mifune), marooned on an uninhabited Pacific island. However, this is not your average war movie. It’s more like a Beckett play depicting two doomed characters lost in a meaningless void. It’s tragic and hilarious, and features one of Marvin’s best screen performances. (Mifune was always a genius.) These performances Boorman managed to extract despite a bare minimum of dialog. What little we do get is frustrated by the English/Japanese language barrier unaided by any subtitles or translation. From Hell in the Pacific Jarmusch probably got the idea for the comic language barrier at work in Ghost Dog. Anyway, you can read loads of more in-depth plot summaries of Hell in the Pacific. The web is full of them. Here are a few clips.

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