Permanent Vacation (1980)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch | 80 minutes | drama | Actors: Chris Parker, Leila Gastil, John Lurie, Richard Boes, Sara Driver, Charlie Spademan, Jane Fire, Ruth Bolton, Evelyn Smith, María Duval, Lisa Rosen, Frankie Faison, Suzanne Fleetcher, Felice Rosser, Eric Mitchell, Chris Hameon
Jim Jarmusch’s debut film ‘Permanent Vacation’ was labeled a ‘waste of time’ by the film academy, but – although the film is not the most interesting piece of celluloid ever, this qualification is certainly not justified. The film does contain fascinating artistic choices and is – actually surprisingly often – worth watching.
‘Permanent Vacation’ starts off quite fascinating, with desolate shots of alleys in New York, interspersed with a crowd that – in slow motion – passes a (jazz) saxophonist on the corner of an intersection, with several people looking at him slightly surprised. Then the main character – Allie – comes into the picture, who talks about his aimless, fragmented history, which he compares to entering different rooms, where we actually get to see photos of rooms and still lifes. Formally a nice, almost meditative way to start a film or provide points of rest, but some of these images are also intriguing in terms of content, as they suggest that Allie has been in all these rooms. So when we get to see a prison cell, you’ll be curious to know what the story is behind it.
Unfortunately, it only remains with beautiful pictures and you don’t get a background with anything, although Allie’s shown – including lawless – lifestyle makes it plausible that he may indeed have spent some time here.
Yet the patience, or goodwill, of the viewer is soon put to the test. Pretty much from the moment Allie (Chris Parker) opens his mouth, it goes downhill. The semi-pretentious lyrics he has to scoop up, but especially the mechanical way in which he does this, largely strip them of the irony they (probably) have to convey. Yes, this is a wannabe hipster, jazz fanatic, cool dude and anarchist. Someone who roams – or says to roam – in search of meaning and new stimuli in his life, paying little attention to ‘society’ and people around him. However, the humor in the fact that he’s a ‘poseur’, a dork who only pretends to be an indifferent, cool dude, eager to live the ‘poetic’ drug, sex and rock & roll life of his heroes, is lost when he often turns out to be reading his texts. One scene in particular is disastrous, when he accidentally pastes the first word of a new sentence at the end of the previous one. Was a new take too much trouble for this?
While no scene is as bad as this one, it is symptomatic of this character’s problem and the engagement he generates with the viewer. Because presumably it was just Jarmusch’s intention that the character’s indifference – feigned or otherwise – should become the main ’emotion’, without any depth or tragedy involved. But if so, the question is, what’s the point of the movie? In that respect, the assessment of the film academy is understandable. Because what does Jarmusch mean by this? And if nothing, what is the visual or formal added value of the film to ‘compensate’ for this and thus make it worth watching?
If Chris just clearly pretends and secretly showed empathy and actually doesn’t want to “live quickly and die young”, like his hero Charlie Parker, there would be more to experience in terms of content. But for a large part of the film we now have to listen to his posturing – how ‘ambition and a career aren’t his thing’, for example – or reading half-pages from books in full, without having the idea that we are doing it for anything.
But then anyway… when you don’t really expect it anymore, Chris’s nonsense – within the whole context – may not quite be this after all, and the apparently incoherent fragments may nevertheless be representative of a certain kind of character that contradicts his indifference or at least reveals an interesting artistic or intellectual facet of his personality. Because even though he initially seems to ramble on about his parental home that was bombed in an – apparently invented – war with the Chinese, when he later walks to his house, we actually see dilapidated, presumably hit houses, and – more importantly – meet we’re a crazy veteran referring to the same war. Would it then…? But if so, what kind of time and world do we live in? Anyway: it makes Allie a more sensible figure, at least within the film world.
The visit to his mother in an asylum also seems to indicate somewhat – despite the lack of real contact – some feeling or a search for meaning in Allie. And other episodes also show some empathy and even initiate the formation of a personality. Like when Allie doesn’t run away when he sees and hears a troubled Spanish-speaking woman in a morning dress in her porch screaming, but sincerely wants to know if everything is okay. Or when he has a brief altercation with a bum about the ‘doppler effect’, which makes him something more than a simple delusional slut. All in all, it is not enough to completely free the film from its static atmosphere, meaninglessness, and at times somewhat amateurish character, but it does ensure that the attention of the viewer is stimulated at enough moments to make the film worth the effort. worth making.