Permanent Vacation (1980)


(director/writer/editor: Jim Jarmusch; cinematographers: James A. Lebavitz/Tom Di Cillo; cast: Leila Gastil (Leila), Chris Parker (Allie), John Lurie (Sax Player), Richard Boes (War veteran), Jane Fire (Nurse), Eric Mitchell (Car fence), Maria Duval, (Latin girl), Susanne Fletcher (Latin girl), Lisa Rosen (Popcorn girl); Runtime: 65; Cinesthesia/Gray City; 1980)
“An odyssey of urban despair.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Filmed in 16mm just after Jim Jarmusch left film school; it’s a rambling, visually gripping dream piece, that plays like an odyssey of urban despair, about a street person named Allie Parker (Chris Parker) and his growing isolation as a member of the lost post-punk generation. It tells about a few days in his life and of his odd lifestyle. It’s set on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with its abandoned buildings and shabby tenements, which gives it the look of a war-torn city. Allie is a troubled and alienated young man, whose mother is in a mental institution. He calls his existence a reckless one, where he moves around a great deal living with strangers.

After walking the streets for a few days because he can’t sleep, Allie returns to his sullen girlfriend Leila’s (Gastil) apartment. Even this relationship appears strained, as she ignores him and prefers to quietly look out the window of her nearly bare tenement apartment. Allie tells her his hero is Charlie Parker, whose motto was: “Live fast and die young.” He further adds, when Parker died he was buried in a three-piece white suit. Allie’s plans are to visit the building where he was born, which he says has been bombed because of the war. When Leila asks: Which war? He responds: the Chinese did it. He next plans to visit his mother in the insane asylum, as he hasn’t seen her in a year.

At the building site Allie meets a mentally deranged transient living in an abandoned building, who thinks the planes flying overhead are enemy planes and he has to take shelter because they are dropping bombs.

Allie’s visit with mom, is equally as unproductive. She’s as loopy as one can be.

The film was mainly shot outdoors, and shows Allie wandering the streets of Manhattan and meeting an assortment of strange characters. On the street, John Lurie plays a mean sax solo (he’s a member of the Lounge Lizards and along with the director, is the musical arranger for the film).

Allie enters the lobby of the St. Marks cinema, one of the great old movie houses, where Nicholas Ray’s “The Savage Innocents” is playing. The popcorn girl pays no attention and continues reading her pocket book while he stands at the counter; but, when he orders popcorn and asks if the film is worth seeing, she says she only remembers the part where if an Eskimo has a baby boy they rub blubber over him and wish him luck. If it’s a girl, they put snow in her mouth and slay her.

The funniest scene is when Allie robs a car from a ditzy girl who goes to mail a letter and leaves the key in the ignition. He brings the car to a fence who gives him $800, and he uses the money to hop on a boat and leave NYC. Allie states that he’s a tourist who is on a ‘permanent vacation.’

Jarmusch is one of America’s most talented and original independent directors. This is his humble beginning in films, and the result is a well-crafted technical accomplishment with flashes showing of his great ability to tell a story. Permanent Vacation is not for the casual filmgoer, but it’s fun for those who can appreciate an independent way of looking at film.