Over the course of a single night in pale Memphis--the home of Sam Phillips' legendary Sun Studio--a vivid triptych of romantic Rock n' Roll pilgrimage; sad nostalgia; emotional Americana, and forgotten, decrepit places unfolds. Pivoting around the low-rent and almost dilapidated Arcade Hotel, the strange stories of four visitors unwittingly intertwine, as the aloof couple of Japanese teenagers--Mitsuko, who yearns to visit Graceland, and Jun, a sad-faced die-hard fan of Carl Perkins--arrive in the Tennessee ghost town, in "Far from Yokohama". Likewise, the recently widowed Italian, Luisa, who's come to town from Rome to take her deceased husband's body back to Italy, winds up in the same hotel, sharing a room with the garrulous Dee-Dee, in "Ghost". Then, elsewhere in the city during the same endless night, the neighbourhood's barber, Charlie, reluctantly goes on a boozy binge with the unemployed British immigrant, Johnny, and, eventually, they both end up in the Arcade, in "Lost in ...Written by
'Mystery Train' is probably the most entertaining, interesting and understated of indie-fave Jim Jarmusch's early work (i haven't seen 'Coffee and Cigarettes' yet). The films portrayal of Elvis' birthplace of Memphis, possibly one of the most featureless, gritty and desolate representations of urban America ever committed to film, is a deceptively clever and substantial take on American subcultures.
Without doubt, it is the first of the films three vignettes that makes the film stand out a little more than Jarmusch's other quirky offerings. Two Japanese tourists besotted with the King's legacy and 1950's American retro-culture in general, decide to visit Memphis, where they experience the superficiality his iconic status has been reduced to. The over-excitable and optimistic teenage girl, along with her more austere, cooler-than-cool boyfriend, are equally unimpressed with what the town has to offer. It's quite impressive that 15 years after its release, Jarmusch's depiction of alternative culture manages to capture the pretentious but proudly on-the-edges attitudes probably more apparent in today's retro-obsessed climate than ever before.
Jarmusch's signature eclectic cast is another reason for repeated viewing, the subtleties of, in particular, Steve Buscemi's stuttering and nervous performance, are worth looking out for. As is the linking theme of Elvis' ghost in all three vignettes, a brilliant example of how to take a simple theme, and continually parodize its implications until its every mention leads to some sort of in-joke. The cool, laid-back pace of the film allows the humour to hit you unexpectedly, and the timing is often genius. Very, very, very watchable.
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