A figurehead for American independent cinema since the ’80s, Jim Jarmusch is known for his dark, character-driven comedies that center the meandering lives of societal outcasts. Much like the work of his hero, John Cassavetes, Jarmusch’s films make use of minimalist set design, long takes, and suspended endings to explore and emphasize the quotidian.

Growing up in small-town Ohio, Jarmusch was frequently babysat by B-movies at the local cinema, and developed an early taste for counterculture and the avant-garde. On his preoccupation with outsiders, friend and frequent collaborator Tom Waits mused:

“The key, I think, to Jim, is that he went gray when he was 15… As a result, he always felt like an immigrant in the teenage world. He’s been an immigrant – a benign, fascinated foreigner – ever since. And all his films are about that.”

An advocate for finding inspiration anywhere, Jarmusch’s keen interest in music, poetry, and literature is woven into the very fiber of his films. His oeuvre is famous for casting musicians in key roles, 1995’s Dead Man is riddled with references to William Blake, and 2016’s Paterson is based on the epic poem by William Carlos Williams. Stealing what speaks to you, he believes, is something to be celebrated:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.'”

In 2002, the Criterion Collection released a special-edition Down by Law DVD which included a Q&A with the filmmaker. Asked to name a few of his favorite books, Jarmusch rattled off quite the collection of classics:

“I love the book Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. I like Flaubert’s novels, especially Madame Bovary and A Sentimental Education. I like pretty much anything by Balzac. I like Proust. I love Orlando Furioso by Arisoto. I love the Divine Comedy, especially the Inferno. How about Hamlet? Anything by William Blake. Rimbaud, Illuminations and The Drunken Boat. I love the New York school of poets, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, David Shapiro, Ron Padgett, Frank Lima, et cetera. I love Impressions of Africa by Raymond Roussel. I love Rilke, Neruda, Pierre Reverdy, Mallarmé, Georges Bataille, Blaise Cendrars, his poems and his novel Moravagine also. I love books like The Woman Chaser by Charles Williford, Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, James M. Cain’s Serenade. I love the book The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, one of my favorite books ever written. Luc Sante, one of my favorite writers, The Factory of Facts and of course Low Life. Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York, soon to be a major motion picture. I love Michael Ondaatje’s writing, especially the book Coming Through Slaughter. I love the novels of Samuel Beckett, far more than his plays. That’s just a start anyway. They’re some of my favorite books.”

Explore his reading list below, and complement with the libraries of David Lynch, John Waters, Tom Waits, and Tilda Swinton.


The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (also rec’d by Laurie Anderson)

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (also rec’d by David BowieErnest HemingwayKim Gordon, Norman Mailer & Philip Roth)

Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert (also rec’d by Bret Easton Ellis)

Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto

The Divine Comedy by Dante (also rec’d by Oscar WildePatti Smith, Susan SontagTina Turner & Viggo Mortensen)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (also rec’d by Kurt Cobain)

Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud (also rec’d by Johnny Depp, Lorde & Patti Smith)

The Drunken Boat by Arthur Rimbaud (also rec’d by Bob Dylan)

Impressions of Africa by Raymond Roussel

Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars

The Woman Chaser by Charles Williford

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Serenade by James M. Cain

The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain

The Factory of Facts and Low Life by Luc Sante

The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje

(via Orange Crate Art)

Categories: Directors

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