BFI Classics: Dead Man

Author: Jonathan Rosenbaum

Jim Jarmusch was never a conventional film-maker, but then he did tend to stay close to modern times. So when this film came out with a huge ensemble cast of known faces from Johnny Depp, Robert Mitchum and John hurt to Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott and Gabriel Byrne it wasn’t quite what people expected.  Black and white, arthouse style of shooting, deliberately surreal dialogue – It was at the time let’s say given a mixed reception. But those that got it loved it immediately. For others it is one perhaps that they need to revisit at a future date.

And there is no time like the present, and Jonathan Rosenbaum delves deep into the films artistic style, but more importantly the theme the film takes on. His take on the film’s racist content is spot on. But a bigger issue is the view of the world of industry rising at the time (starting perhaps with a rich man more interested in retrieving a horse than wrecking revenge on the man who killed his son). Hell even the town featured is called “Machine.”

The book follows the narrative and picks out some of the stand-out cameos as well as some of the choice dialogue, music, style and violence within. Just another good choice from the BFI/Palgrave on another solid film with heavy content.

Steven Hurst

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