I recently got the Criterion DVD for Jim Jarmusch's film Permanent Vacation, his debut feature after having graduated from NYU's film school. Vacation stars Chris Parker as Allie, a young New Yorker with no particular hopes and dreams. Allie is the kind of kid who has no job, no distinguishable friends, and no direction in life. Even the girl he seems to share an apartment with is never identified as a girlfriend, or even a friend. Is she even real? Allie goes through his days dancing to jazz and blues records, talking to anyone who will listen, going to movies, walking around aimlessly, and creating mischief.
Jarmusch's feature, while owing to other films before it, could be seen as a blueprint for a lot of the American "indie" films that would come out after it - the dreamers dream. I mean, as an artist, who wouldn't just want to exist in a world where all of your bills are magically paid for, and yet you don't have a job to speak of. A world where everyone you meet has the potential of being your friend, and the streets are always empty. A world where all there is to do, or that needs to be done, is to laugh, love, and dance to your favorite music. Jarmusch, and those that followed him, may have defined the perfect American dream.
Did I like Permanent Vacation, though? Can't say I did, can't say I didn't. It's one of those stories that just unfolds in front of you. You have to take it at face value, because there really isn't anything greater going on than what you see on the screen. It was enjoyable, for me, to see it, because Jarmusch is a constant favorite of mine. I don't recall ever having seen a Jarmusch film I didn't like, so, ultimately, I guess I'd have to say that I did like it. It has a lot of the problems that no budget independents d0 - poor lighting, bad sound, questionable acting. What you get, though, is an incredibly interesting slice of this kids life, and an extremely interesting document of New York City, circa 1980. On the DVD is a program called Kino 84: Jim Jarmusch, shot for German television, that focuses on Jarmusch, Permanent Vacation (which was a hit in Germany), and Jarmusch's new film (at that time) Stranger Than Paradise. On the program, Tom DiCillo, who shot both films, talks about how much New York changed in just four years, and even Jarmusch points out a location (a decrepit building that Allie goes to visit), that had been raised and replaced with a huge apartment complex.
I always love seeing a director's first work, even if they aren't that good, and you can really tell how Permanent Vacation was already seeing Jarmusch cement a lot of his style. The film has a lot of those stationary camera shots, shots within shots, and that kind of ambling dialogue that is especially heavy in some of the early Jarmusch films.