The Path Is The Destination

March 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

A metaphor for painting, from the film Down By Law by Jim Jarmusch (1986.) Roberto Begnini draws a “bella finestra” (beautiful window) on their prison cell wall while John Lurie looks on. When he has drawn his window, Begnini asks Lurie, “Do you say, in English, ‘I look AT the window, or do you say, ‘I look OUT the window?'” Lurie replies, “In this case, Bob, you’d say “I look AT the window.”

Jim Jarmusch and Tom Waits

Jarmusch, comments on his film, “Down By Law.”

“For me filmmaking, although its very difficult, and it kicks your ass and it’s incredibly hard – you know it’s just as hard to make a bad film as it is a good film; it’s just hard to make a film – but it comes from a place of joy, not of trying to change the world, or express something really deep inside you; it’s more just trying to follow your instincts, things that are moving to you; and to me those are most often mundane ridiculous things, small things, you know, not big dramatic things. It’s really interesting to me, I’ve read reviews and even occasionally, like, dissertations on some of my films that really surprise me because they find all kinds of things that are connected, that are referenced, and half of them I never consciously thought of. So whether those things are in there on a subconscious level, or whether you’re not conscious on any level of them but they somehow wind up in there, is really fascinating.

People think that when you make a film everything that you do is planned, and maybe there are some films made that way. Alfred Hitchcock is famous for story-boarding every single shot in the film but I think you’ll find that most filmmakers, certainly since the 60s, probably don’t use that rigorous structure at all. And I certainly don’t. I consider the script to be a kind of blueprint, and it gives you the shape of the house you’re going to build but it doesn’t really tell you where all the windows are, or what the décor is, or what color the paint on the wall is. You know, it’s kind of a vague idea of the story… I like to have a story that is my departure point, and I try to follow its structure, but also the film has to grow while you make it, or, for me, there’s no point in making it. And, you know, a lot things happen by accident, or things happen by mistake, or the weather interferes so a scene ends up being shot in the rain that wasn’t in the script. Someone improvises some dialogue that you weren’t expecting that is stronger than what you might have had in the script; and all these things kind of combine to make the final film. So it is interesting that, you know, things you think that were planned in a film, often some moments, the most beautiful moments in films, may have happened completely by accident or even by mistake.

One reason that I don’t look at my films again once they’re finished is because I’ve already learned from them what I’m going to learn and by watching them over them again doesn’t teach me anything. There’s a quote by the French poet Paul Valery; he said, ‘a poem is never finished, only abandoned.’ You could edit a film for the rest of your life and still keep changing it and changing it, but at a certain point it leaves your hands and you send it off to military school, or whatever; it’s gone, it’s on its own, you know. You kick it out of the house and it’s gone, and it has to live in the world itself. I have a personal motto that it’s hard to get lost if you don’t know where you’re going. I really believe that intuition is the real guide. Therefore to me my work as a filmmaker is a process and there is no destination; it’s like the Buddhist saying, the path is the destination. I really feel that way. I loved it when they asked Kurosawa, when he was in his eighties, when would he stop making films, and he said, ‘as soon as I figure out how to do it.’

It’s very hard to say specific things you learn from each particular film, but the experience of making films is the end result. And the film itself is something you kind of leave in your wake as the result of the process.”  (From the  DVD release of Down By Law.)


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