A Cultural Glossary to The Limits of Control

Slide 1: Introduction
Talking about his creative process while writing Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Jim Jarmusch revealed that in his earlier days, "when I wrote a script and some idea came to me from another source, I would immediately shove it away and say, 'That's not original, that's not my idea, I don't want that entering this story.' But in this case, I decided, well, why not just open the doors to those things in this case? Don't hide them. When Charlie Parker quotes a standard in the middle of a solo, he weaves it in beautifully, and it makes a reference, but he's still making his own music out of it.” In The Limits of Control, Jarmusch weaves in a few familiar melodies into the fabric of his cinematic symphony, and the following slideshow takes a look at a few of the artistic influences and cultural references that are visible in the film.
Slide 2: William S. Burroughs
The title for The Limits of Control is a reference to an essay of the same name written by seminal Beat writer William S. Burroughs. As Jarmusch says, Burrough's essay "is mostly about language as a control mechanism; 'words are still the principal instruments of control. Suggestions are words. Persuasions are words. Orders are words. No control machine so far devised can operate without words, and any control machine which attempts to do so relying entirely on external force or entirely on physical control of the mind will soon encounter the limits of control.' While that inspired me to think about how we perceive things and how they are attempted to be controlled, I didn't use the essay directly for the film's content but I did use the title."
Slide 3: Arthur Rimbaud
The Limits of Control opens with a quote from Arthur Rimbaud's verse poem "Le Bateau Ivre" ("The Drunken Boat"), which the 19th Century French poet wrote when he was just 17. The image conjured in the quote, of a controlling force being removed, was one that Jim Jarmusch felt was appropriate for the film's credit sequence, as he explains: "I did want a jumping-off point, or, more accurately, a boat getting pushed out from the shore. But I didn't think of putting the quote on until the film was finished, so it wasn't an initial inspiration. And the fact is, though, that "Le Bâteau Ivre," as a poem, is a kind of metaphor for the derangement of the senses; an intentional disorientation of perception."
Slide 4: Jacques Rivette
Another influence on Jarmusch for The Limits of Control was the work of the French New Wave director Jacques Rivette, whose first few films, such as Paris Belongs to Us, resonated with the kind of vision the director had for Limits of Control. As Jarmusch sees it, Rivette's early movies "incorporate the idea of a conspiracy that's hard to pinpoint and seems to grow entropically. At the end of some of these films, you understand the conspiracy less than you did earlier on, because it's grown out of control."
Slide 5: Point Blank (1967)
Jim Jarmusch has explained that one way he thought of the movie was, "What would it be like if Jacques Rivette remade John Boorman's masterpiece Point Blank?" Boorman's classic 1967 revenge movie starring Lee Marvin was such an influence on the film that the production company formed to make Limits is even called PointBlank Films. In its visual style, The Limits of Control is influenced by Boorman's film stylistically, as Jarmusch looked to echo its use of "frames within frames, objects framed by doors or windows or archways, shots that intentionally confuse as to what is exterior and what is interior due to reflective surfaces."
Slide 6: The Hunter by Richard Stark
In addition to Boorman's movie of Point Blank, the novel which inspired it – The Hunter by Donald Westlake (writing under the name Richard Stark) – was also an inspiration. Parker, the protagonist of Point Blank – and a series of other novels by Stark / Westlake – is a similarly clinical and controlled character to Limits' Lone Man. "Parker is a professional criminal," says Jarmusch, "and he is very, very controlled; when he's on a job, he will not be distracted by sex, by alcohol, by any kind of diversions. …It's a fascinating character. So these books were a big influence, although I didn't go back and re-read any of them. The character in the books and in Point Blank was always connected, in my mind, to how the character in this film came out."
Slide 7: Le Samouraï
Just as with Jarmusch's conception of the film being a collision of Rivette and Point Blank, the Limits auteur pondered the question, "What if Marguerite Duras remade Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï?" The movie certainly boasts a Duras-esque minimalism while this is the second of Jarmusch's films to give a nod to Le Samuraï's as buttoned-down, hermetic assassin after Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai put a contemporary, hip hop spin on Melville's classic thriller starring Alain Delon. The way that Jarmusch describes Melville's style also recalls the mix of influences in his own films: "They are so French, and yet he want them to be so American. Is his vision American? Western? Eastern? Hip-hop? What is it?"
Slide 8: Wim Wenders & Nicholas Ray
A movie poster seen on a building by the Lone Man in the later stages of Limits shows a picture of Tilda Swinton's character, Blonde, and the title Un Lugar Solitario. (The poster declares the film to be the work of Roi Prada, an enigmatic Spanish animator and designer.) The direct translation of the Spanish title is In A Lonely Place, which is the name of a 1950 film directed by Nicholas Ray starring Humphrey Bogart about a Hollywood screenwriter suspected of murder. Ray, who is most famous for films like Rebel Without a Cause, co-directed the 1980 documentary Lightning Over Water with Wim Wenders, to whom he was a mentor figure, just before he died. Jarmusch, then a film student, also worked on Lightning Over Water, and became friends with the German director. In 1982, Jarmusch contributed original music to Wenders' The State of Things, the first of a number of collaborations. Subsequently, both directors contributed music videos of Cole Porter songs for the Red Hot and Blue AIDS charity project in 1990, directed segments of the portmanteau movie Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002), and had cameos in Mika Kaurismäki's 1987 Helsinki Napoli All Night Long.
Slide 9: Aki Kaurismäki
In his explanation to the Lone Man about how the term "Bohemian" came to mean a young artistic type, the Guitar mentions La Bohème and recommends an unnamed film version of the story by a – once again unnamed – Finnish film director. This reference is an affection nod to Aki Kaurismäki and his movie La Vie de Bohème (1994). (Matti Pellonpää and Kari Väänänen, the two leads in Jarmusch's Helsinki segment of Night on Earth (1991), also starred went on to star in La Vie de Bohème a year later.) Jarmusch and Kaurismäki both share drily understated comic sensibility, and the two have long been friends. Jarmusch takes a cameo as a NYC car dealer in Kaurismäki's cult classic Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989), and Jarmusch and Kaurismäki played Silver Rider and Cadillac Man respectively in Gilles Charmant's 1994 Iron Horsemen. Jarmusch also appeared with Sam Fuller (another mutual friend of Wenders') in the 1994 doc Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made, directed by Aki's brother Mika Kaurismäki.
Slide 10: Art at the Museo Reina Sofia
For Jarmusch, the paintings the Lone Man sees at the Madrid art museum Museo Reina Sofia – El Violin (1916) by Juan Gris, Desnudo (1922) by Roberto Fernández Balbuena, Madrid Desde Capitán Haya (1987 – 1994) by Antonio López and Gran Sábana (1968) by Antoni Tapies – were a major creative touchstone while generating his visual vocabulary. "He goes there and picks out only one painting each time," the director says. "For me, if something moves me, I get flooded with it. So the idea was that he looks at everything in the way he looks at paintings. The way he watches the nude girl swimming in a pool. There's a scene where there are pears on a plate, and I wanted that to look like a painting. The way he compares the Tower of Gold to a postcard. Even the moving landscapes, when he is traveling by train."
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