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4 December 2012

Dead Man (1995)

I can't remember who put me onto Dead Man. It was a recommendation from left field. I bought the DVD, but never got around to watching it... That was until today!

Practice makes perfect!
Dead Man, Miramax 1995

I guess Dead Man could be classed as a Western of sorts. My feeling watching it was that it reminded me a lot of a story that Cormac McCarthy might have written. Doing a little bit of research, I see that I'm not the only person to be making that comparison. Actually, the script was the work of silver-haired Director, Jim Jarmusch. He refers to Dead Man as being a Psychedelic Western. I think he's got it right there.

Crispin 'coal-dust' Glover
Dead Man, Miramax 1995

My introduction to Dead Man actually came a couple of years before I got the DVD. A friend of mine was on a Neil Young kick and was insisting that we jammed a couple of his songs. I duly did my homework and uncovered the Dead Man soundtrack which hooked me for a while. It's a moody pastiche of echoing guitar and atmospheric art-house readings. I believe that Neil Young improvised the soundtrack. It's minimal and catchy and incredibly effective. Right from the opening scenes where Johnny Depp is heading West, the mood for the film is set purely by sound. We have the rattling of the train inter-cut with snatches of the heavy reverberation of wailing electric guitar. It really is quite special.

Neil Young

Dead Man is filmed exclusively in black and white, but it doesn't have that old feel that often accompanies black and white films. Knowing that I'm colour-blind, you may find this a little bit odd, but I found myself seeing colour in some of the scenes. I can't explain it. Perhaps it was the crisp detail of the filming tricking me?

"It is strange that you do not remember any of your poetry..."
Dead Man, Miramax 1995

The story itself is a slow winding affair with a certain sense of inevitability as to where it is heading. Johnny Depp travels to the Wild West to take up an offer of work only to discover that the job he thought was his has already been taken. Feeling glum he hooks up with a pretty rose-seller only to find himself caught by a returning suitor with his long-johns down. Shooting ensues and before he knows it he's on the run with a price on his head. How can he possibly hope to get away with every man in the county after him? It doesn't look good!

Iggy Pop in a dress
Dead Man, Miramax 1995

There are some big names in the cast. Most notably, we have Johnny Depp as William Blake and I loved Robert Michum as the crazed John Dickinson. Depending on who you ask... this was Michum's final film. Each character helps to gently nudge the tale along. There are some great scenes. Every time I saw a new character I found myself squinting at the screen wondering who it was going to be this time. Iggy Pop's arrival was probably the nicest surprise. The acting is great. Surprisingly (and thankfully) Johnny Depp spares us his trademark histrionics. Actually, he spends most of the film looking and acting bemused. It was exactly what was required.

Gary Farmer. Am I the only one to see the colour?
Dead Man, Miramax 1995

The film wouldn't have been anywhere near as effective without the wonderful Gary Farmer as Nobody. He allowed the comedy to flow without descending into farce. Check out the scene where he tries on Depp's hat - fantastic! Actually, black comedy is a staple of this film. It is used to great effect and acts as a counterbalance to some of the horror of life on the frontier. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful moments of humour as we follow the exploits of the three bounty-hunters sent to catch Depp. But be warned... Every joke is punctuated with a gruesome bullet-hole.

Okay, I've said enough. You can tell that I enjoyed myself watching this film. It has cult written all over it.

On the Triple-B I'm going to buy 8 paper roses and then how's about I walk you home? Buy!


  1. I have this movie in my collection and love it.

    " Check out the scene where he tries on Depp's hat - fantastic! "

    My favourite part of the film too.
    Never fails to crack me up.

    And I'm throwing another paper rose onto your pile.

  2. Oh and look at this KU -

    Dead Man (1995)
    King Uke at The Ukulele Blog -
    42 minutes ago

    From my reading list on Blogger.

  3. I would have pegged this film as one you'd enjoy Daz. It's quite special. Are you a Neil Young fan?