Jim Jarmusch was an unlikely soul to emerge into the hectic world of film, hailing from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, but then again, so were many of his like-minded peers, who wandered their way into the independent filmmaking renaissance of the 1980's and 1990's. This was a period when everybody, regardless of skin color or social class, wanted to get their voices heard. This period, often called the "do it yourself (DIY) movement," is one that incited a chain reaction of young people who felt that they could show their experiences and voice their own themes on-screen, be them fueled with commentary on racial relations, a triptych about three souls in prison, a film about a clerk going in on his day off, a group of seventies goofballs raising hell in their town, and so forth. The domino effect of the independent film community during this time period was intriguing because with the evolution of home video and cheap, albeit expensive, video technology, ambitious and willing young men and women would see films made on a shoestring budget and think, "I can do that." It's a movement that has spilled over into the past decade and the current one, where one can make, edit, and distribute an entire film on their cell phone and have the world see it on the same device. What a time to be alive.
With that being said, because of the state most of these filmmakers were in when they made these films - dead-broke, little means of professional or even competent productions, minimal editing skills, and even fewer means to polish the evident aesthetic shortcomings of many of these films - it's hard to expect many of these early works to be masterpieces. Consider Richard Linklater's It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which is more or less Jarmusch's directorial debut Permanent Vacation except with a self-referential statement firmly embedded in its title. Linklater was essentially stating shooting a movie, much like learning to plow or do another arduous and time-consuming physical activity, is impossible to learn by reading books. In response to his beliefs, rather than wasting away in a classroom, he got up and scraped together what he could to shoot a seventy-five minute musing about everything and nothing. I gave it a three out of four star rating a few years ago; it was a quirky effort that showed that, at the very least, everyone had a lot on their mind and was excited to unleash it bit by bit throughout the course of their respective careers, with Linklater being the ultimate headmaster.
Permanent Vacation has similar charm without the insight, unfortunately. It stars Chris Parker as Aloysius Christopher Parker, whose opening line in the film is the declaration of his name and the fact that if he did indeed have a child, he'd be named "Charles Christopher Parker" just so he can have a son named "Charlie Parker." Aloysius is a drifter, slumming his way through life on a "permanent vacation" of sorts. He's forever a drifter, waywardly wandering from place-to-place and meeting some eccentric folks along the way.
I refuse to go forward because Permanent Vacation is an experience in which secondary source summation doesn't do it adequate justice. I will go as far to say, however, that at only seventy-one minutes, this is a film that tests the patience of its audience considerably. It's about as disjointed as you can get, relying on a vignette-style that winds up offering less and less to grapple with each and every passing instance. Because of this, I found myself becoming disconnected throughout the entire experience, only being briefly brought back to the film when Aloysius delivered one of his insightful narrations that broke down his life and experiences in a way that was simultaneously revealing and alienating.
Jarmusch toying with that dichotomy through a means that is meant to give us the unspoken truth is a very interesting ploy and those glimmers of subversion and gives us the revelation that this is a man seriously destined for directorial greatness. His film Down by Law is one of the most entertaining pictures from the 1980s I have yet to see, bleak and fascinating, uproariously funny and darkly fixated on the inevitable and the uncertain. Permanent Vacation is a footnote, much like Linklater's It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. An adequate, if bland, appetizer with some notes of true zest and flavor that gets you more excited for the meal than it does about the product itself.
Starring: Chris Parker. Directed by: Jim Jarmusch.