To date the only artistic pairing between
Johnny Depp and distinctly left of centre director Jim Jarmusch, Dead
Man sees a Cleveland accountant with the unlikely name of William
Blake (Johnny Depp) travelling to the town of Machine, in the industrial
hinterland of the Wild West, to take up a bookkeeping position. The
promised job turns out not to exist, the people populating the town of
Machine are an endless parade of grotesques and the frontier environs
itself is a dreamscape of hellish surrealism.
Through a series of violent misadventures
the naive Blake finds himself on the run in the company of a large
Native American called Nobody. Convinced the hapless Blake is the
reincarnation of the English poet who shares his name, Nobody helps him
outwit a trio of bounty hunters, and the pair make their way across the
country on one of the most allegorical, expansive and bizarrely
beautiful journeys ever committed to film.
A study in postmodernist cool, this ‘Acid
Western’ is frequently confronting and occasionally downright
bewildering, but it’s also a fascinating and stunningly authentic
portrayal of American life in the late nineteenth century (reportedly a
large chunk of the film’s $9 million budget was spent maintaining
historical accuracy). The costumes and performances are straight out of
the silent era, and when dialogue is utilised it tends to be poetic and
starkly significant, as when Nobody quotes the poet William Blake or
when one of the bounty hunters informs his partners to ‘expect poison
from standing water.’ One of the most beguiling and hypnotic films of
the 90s, Dead Man tends to either enrapture or enrage viewers,
but there’s no denying the brilliance of its performances or execution.
Audio & Video
The film’s score was reportedly improvised
by Neal Young in a single sitting, with him watching an early cut of the
film and strumming along on an electric guitar and cheap amp. The end
result is a sparse and haunting score which perfectly suits the subject
matter and sounds brilliantly resonant in lossless 2.0. Picture quality
is likewise a study in perfection – the black and white favoured by
Jarmusch always translates nicely to the small screen, but on Blu it
looks magnificent. Plenty of depth and gradient, and the perfect medium
for cinematic history’s strangest and most idiosyncratic Western.
13 minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes
(in rather rough video-quality standard definition), the original music
video for Neal Young’s ‘Dead Man Theme’ and several trailers.