Jim Jarmusch hopes his latest project – a score composed with his SQÜRL bandmate Carter Logan for a new restoration of Man Ray’s silent films – will induce a “psilocybin-inspired” experience in viewers.
The director and musician of “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Stranger Than Paradise,” along with Logan, spoke exclusively to IndieWire about the screening of four early 1900s black-and-white short films by Dadaist pioneer Man Ray due out tonight at Cannes Classics: “ Return to Reason”, “Emak-Bakia”, “The Starfish” and “The Mysteries of the Chateau of Dice”.
Together, Jarmusch and Logan improvised an original soundtrack, a wacky sonic soup of distorted guitars and crazy feedback, now recorded to accompany the films. The quartet of short films displays a distorted mirror of human sexuality as the haunting music of Jarmusch and Logan engulfs the Freudian dreamscape – and while you might be tempted to drop an acid tablet or a mushroom or two for viewing, Jarmusch says you don’t it is necessary, as the fusion of sound and image here seek to create the same effect.
“Surrealism was about altering the senses, perception, psychedelic music and psychedelic drug use, there’s a point where they intersect,” Jarmusch told IndieWire over Zoom on a sunny afternoon in Cannes. “We don’t use mushrooms or psychedelics to create the music, but there’s something important to us where those two things connect in having an altered perception, rather than one being force-fed at you. Man Ray and the Dadaists were very interested in altering those perceptions”.
Jarmusch is certainly not against people using drugs to watch Man Ray movies (or at all), but he said: “We’re trying to get to that point without the use of them… psilocybin and some psychoactive drugs they have a vibrational thing to them.. i don’t use these drugs, but i know them from earlier in my life.It blends well with man ray’s disdain for expected narrative or expected perception.
The soundtrack, a maelstrom of Moog synthesizer, drums and distorted guitar, takes you on quite a hallucinogenic journey, so if Done taking drugs while watching their series Man Ray, “I think it could induce a really bad trip, honestly, because the movies are very weird and the music is dark at times, and you don’t know where you’re going,” said Logan.
“I’m an older guy and having a clarity of conscience is wacky enough. Things are weird. The more I live, the more I appreciate just having a conscience,” said Jarmusch, whose cult films from 2019’s ‘Dead Man’ to 2019’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ and his 2021 YSL short ‘French Water’ seem already made on a drugged and hypnotic stupor “It’s exciting enough to be alive.”
Jarmusch and Logan founded SQÜRL in 2008 as a means to score his Tilda Swinton crime novel “The Limits of Control”. The band is just one of Jarmusch’s many clever ways to maintain full creative control over his projects. But along the way to scoring films like Jarmusch’s Tangier-to-Detroit vampire odyssey “Only Lovers Left Alive” and Adam Driver’s lonely vehicle “Paterson,” Logan said he and Jarmusch wanted to score live that could be manipulated in real-time with a projection. He enters “New Sounds” WNYC radio host John Schaefer, who gave them the platform to play Man Ray movies.
“We’ve been performing these films live together for the past eight years or so,” said Logan, who with Jarmusch has taken the Man Ray omnibus up and down every coast of the United States, across the Rust Belt and into Europe. , most recently at the Center Pompidou. The producers went in and found first-generation nitrate copies of the films, now restored in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, La Cinémathèque française, Pompidou, the Library of Congress and the French CNC.
Until now, SQÜRL was just improvising music during screenings. “Even though we’ve now recorded it and made a version that’s going to be shown in theaters and otherwise, we didn’t set out to just do a little piece of music for this portion of the film,” said Logan. “It’s a journey that we do and we want to engage the audience, exploring the themes of these films. They are unobtrusive, but there are also echoes that recur and reference each other throughout the entire program.
Jarmusch has long been delicate about the use of music in his films, not only as composed by SQÜRL but also by the likes of Tom Waits, John Lurie and Iggy Pop (who also starred in his films). But recently, Jarmusch said his next film, a project he’s not yet willing to divulge details about, may not have any music at all.
“I probably shouldn’t have said that because now we’re wondering, and I don’t know,” Jarmusch said. “I haven’t shot (the movie) yet, so I’m not entirely sure, but my gut says that sound should be music. It’s a very quiet film, so maybe little corny sounds would be needed – it’s a film where I don’t want to tell you what to think or feel what’s dramatic from the camera or the music.
Jarmusch has said he gets frustrated with soundtracks that try too hard to tell audiences how they should react to any given scene. “There are a lot of great movies without a soundtrack,” he said. “I thought about ‘No Country for Old Men’ or Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. Some movies don’t want the music to tell you something.”
He said it’s “frustrating” and “annoying” in “commercial Hollywood movies” how much music is about. “There are times when I like a movie but I can’t keep watching it because the music is driving me crazy. Sweeping, telling you, ‘Oh, the drama!’ Please. I find it offensive.
Don’t expect SQÜRL to tell you at all how you should feel about the fascinating and strange works of surrealist Man Ray. Turn your mind off, relax and float downstream.
“Back to Reason: Man Ray x Jim Jarmusch” will premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday 23 May.