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USA 1989
Directed by
Jim Jarmusch
115 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Mystery Train

Departing from the black and white aesthetic of his previous efforts, Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Down By Law (1986) but using many of the same creative team including a laid-back bluesy score from John Lurie, Mystery Train is shot in Technicolor and concerns three separate but interconnected stories that take place the same night in a two-bit hotel in a black neighbourhood in Memphis.

Tennessee (Screamin' Jay Hawkins, whose classic song I Put A Spell On You provides the theme for Stranger Than Paradise) plays the night clerk and Cinqué Lee, Spike's younger brother, is the bell-hop whilst the all-night radio show they listen to is hosted by Tom Waits who played a DJ in Down By Law). The first episode involves two teenage rockabilly fans who have come to visit the Mecca of the style the Sun Studio (their "guided" tour is one of the funniest segments of the film). The second episode, "A Ghost" involves a wealthy Italian woman (Nicoletta Braschi who played Nicoletta in Down By Law and whose husband, Roberto Begnini, would feature in JArmusch's next film Night On Earth ) whose plane made an unexpected stopover in Memphis and ends up at the hotel where she shares a room with Dee Dee (Elizabeth Bracco) who is running away from her English de facto Johnny (Joe Strummer). The final episode, "Lost In Space" involves the drunk Johnny and two other guys, Will and Charlie (Rick Aviles and Steve Buscemi)  hiding out in the hotel after  Johnny robs a liquor store.

As ever with Jarmusch, this is an adroitly deadpan film with Robby Müller's photography with its Hopperesque imaging of urban decay and isolation, first class. Although Jarmusch's characteristically dry humour pervades the film, the introduction of colour and a somewhat more complex narrative takes it beyond the rather constricting minimalist style with which he made his name. One cannot help but be impressed by the methodicality with which the director extends each film in this respect. Indeed Night On Earth  completes the sequence although this skilfully-constructed effort is the most satisfying of the four.




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