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Five Questions with Jim Jarmusch

October 8, 1997 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Jim Jarmusch dropped out of New York University film school almost two decades ago, after his thesis project was deemed ``too long.″ But that didn’t stop the writer/director from earning his degree outside the classroom.

Recently, NYU bestowed a diploma on its famous almost alum, who’s succeeded in carving a niche for himself and his brand of offbeat independent cinema.

Not one to sacrifice integrity for acceptance, Jarmusch turned his student thesis into his debut film, ``Permanent Vacation.″ He employed the same resourcefulness on his next release, the much-lauded ``Stranger Than Paradise,″ by using leftover film stock given to him by director Wim Wenders.

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His independent spirit, which he had well before it became trendy, has earned him the admiration of fellow filmmakers. He serves on the advisory board of the Independent Film Channel along with Robert Altman, Martha Coolidge and Martin Scorsese.

``They use my name,″ he says with deadpan humor. ``They never ask me for advice.″

Hollywood has also come calling but so far the towering, gray-haired director has resisted the West Coast’s siren’s call.

``It would be a bad thing for me to work under those conditions because I’d end up kneecapping some guy in a suit,″ he says in a plaintive tone. ``I would go nuts.″

In his latest film, ``Year of the Horse,″ Jarmusch chose the grainy look of Super-8 film contrasted with ultrasharp Hi8 video to document and complement the history and music of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

``With no real road map to follow,″ Jarmusch boarded a tour bus, sans script and crew, not knowing what would become of the onstage and behind-the-scenes footage.

The result is ``somewhere between a rock ‘n’ roll movie and a documentary ... with a nice big blast of music.″

1. You’ve said that Neil Young’s contribution to the soundtrack on your last film, ``Dead Man,″ lifted it to another level. Do you feel you’ve uplifted the band’s work in ``Year of the Horse?″

Jarmusch: No. I think that would be presumptuous to say .... This film doesn’t come out my soul, it comes out of their souls. My hand is in it to celebrate them _ to put their work in a kind of frame so that it’s presented visually .... You can’t find deep insights into this band that has a 30-year history by hanging out with them for part of a tour and asking a few questions. It’s so involved. You can’t make a film that really delves into that in any really significant way.

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2. Why have you shied away from Hollywood?

Jarmusch: I’m very stubborn and so I insist on certain things. I have to have ... creative control over my films ... and that’s not really the Hollywood way. I don’t think I would fit in there. ... They’re so terrified of taking any chances that they have to test-market everything ... They’re just worried about the bottom line.

3. Ever consider taking the plunge into the mainstream?

Jarmusch: I’m not a player. I don’t feel comfortable with ... the holy trinity being some sort of, you know, money, success, power. Those things don’t drive me. There’s nothing there to suck me in ... I just find my place sort of in the margin of narrative storytelling films that I hope will reach an audience.

4. Describe your relationship to music.

Jarmusch: Music to me is the most beautiful way of expressing things inside of people, it’s the most immediate. I always am inspired by music. ... I certainly listen to more music than I see films.

5. You’ve said that there’s no difference between Beethoven and the Butthole Surfers. What do you mean?

Jarmusch: I’m really anti-cultural hierarchy. To say this is a B-movie, this is trash culture, this is high art _ I just don’t see things that way. It can be Dante or Mickey Spillane, if it speaks to you, then it’s something interesting. I’m very judgmental about my own tastes but not about other people’s tastes, because if somebody’s greatest joy in life is to wake up and listen to the Carpenters every day, you know, more power to the Carpenters. ... I’d rather listen to Ornette Coleman.