282 Words on Mystery Train

Power Trio: Steve Buscemi, Joe Strummer, and Rick Aviles.

Elvis tributes, Sun Records, and the Arcade Restaurant?

I want to go back to Memphis. Very soon.

My first trip there was in April, 1990. This moment was, as it turns out, just a few months after Jim Jarmusch’s seminal film Mystery Train had filmed there. Granted, the film crew worked in different (rougher) neighborhoods than those my parents took us to on our spring break trip. We were more interested in Graceland, back then. Jarmusch’s crew worked near where Martin Luther King had been shot in 1968. The overlaps make me ponder how time flows in layers, with simultaneous stories meeting, barely touching, and then continuing on their way.

Brief, passing human connections and ephemerality of time is, after all, is what Jarmusch’s movies are all about. In Mystery Train, three stories barely overlap, with a shooting inside the Arcade Hotel as a connecting thread. In two of the stories, you hear the gunshot, and in the final one you’re an eyewitness. The story’s masterfully told and entirely entertaining throughout. The funny, quirky moments that the white haired and wonderful director is known for are there for your enjoyment, along with suspense, melancholy, and the occasional Asian Plum.

The music’s a worthy soundtrack. The urban landscape is gritty and gorgeous. Joe Strummer takes a break from The Clash (by then, defunct) to play a key role that’s both highly amusing and tragic. Steve Buscemi plays another version of ingenious characters he’s played in films like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Reservoir Dogs. Cultural treasure Screamin’ Jay Hawkins mans the hotel desk, with Spike Lee’s brother Cinque as his sidekick.

What’s not to love? Rent or buy yourself a copy of Mystery Train.

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