Only Lovers Left Alive

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More tales from my callow years. There was a time when there was only one arthouse cinema screen in Glasgow. On a Friday afternoon, you could see whatever the ‘big’ release for that week was for 50p. So, I’d spend my week scrabbling together the fare, entry price and another good excuse for not being in school then. Such joy in 5th year when Friday afternoons became PE for us and we were given the run of the local sports centre: Sign the register, off down the train station. Never once did anyone ask me for ID. Saw loads of stuff certificate 18, resplendent in my school uniform. I guess that the GFT was close to enough posh schools for them just to assume I old enough. Or, reverse logic kicked in (who wouldn’t hide their uniform). Of course, having the countenance of a middle-aged man from childhood probably helped too.

It was on one of these trips that I caught Jim Jarmusch‘s Down By Law, which was as much of a game-changer for me as THX 1138 or Fury. The story of three men, two framed, one just bonkers, who find themselves incarcerated in a Louisiana prison, their escape and their bid for freedom thereafter. It’s filmed in long, slow (oft immitated) black and white. It made me want to live in New Orleans. It tipped my interest in Tom Waits into a long love affair. Same with indie cinema (until then it was art or world). It was hilarious, sexy, a little bit angsty and cool, cool, coooooooool. Just everything my teenage self wanted (even if I didn’t know that until then).

As much as that is a prison break movie, where you don’t even see the escape, Jarmusch’s latest Only Lovers Left Alive (is there an implicit “are” in the title, or is this a definite article? Of course that may be the point) is a vampire movie. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are a vamp couple. For some reason, she lives in Marrakech, hanging out with Kit Marlowe – y’know, him what wrote the Shakespeare plays. He’s in Detroit, being a retro-goth recluse, fetishising vintage guitars, driving an old charger, being wan, contemplating vampyre suicide and generally being all existential and rock ‘n’ roll. Which should really be quite risible. But, for some reason, it isn’t. I’m guessing as a result of honing this schtick over the last 30-odd years of film making. To help him get out of an ennui rut, Eve rushes to Adam’s side and they drive around the decaying city at night, lie about looking fabulous and just generally exude cool. Had the teenage me seen this, I’d not be affecting gloves and shades at all times of the day.

About the only real plot-point comes in the shape of antagonist Ava, Eve’s ‘sister’ (“not a blood relative”). There’s something happened in the past that makes her arrival on the scene abhorrent to the pair of them. We never find out what did happen, but we get the gist. Ava is played brilliantly by Mia Wasikowska. This is the first film I’ve seen her in. She brings a perfect balance of brattiness and charm to the part. Making her both completely alluring and abso-fucken-lutely annoying. A she really needs be for her part to work so well.

Although it may lack the emotional heart of, say, Broken Flowers (apparently there’s been another film between these two, shame on me), OLLA is still haunting moments of my thoughts. Even if those thoughts are just “I wish I was one of the cool kids”.


Written by Tony Kiernan

12 March 2014 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Film

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