Words by Jacqueline Castel
Growing up in the dusty casino town of Reno, NV, I had the same insatiable hunger for VHS tapes found in pawn shops as I did for scouring the local record stores. (And later, primitive P2P sites.) I got into no wave and post punk at the same time that I got into underground cinema, so it made a lot of sense to me when I stumbled upon Jim’s band The Del-Byzanteens. (I later searched in vain for those records as a teen transplant to NYC.) I was already well versed in his films at the time, so discovering Jim’s musical background resonated with me as an independent filmmaker who’s always been on the fringes of the music scene.
At the time the “Etimasia” project was presented as a possibility, Jozef was crafting the score for Only Lovers Left Alive and working with Zola Jesus to incorporate Gregorian chants into the soundtrack. My first video for Nika was set in Detroit—the setting of Jim’s new vampire film—so it all somehow made a lot of sense to me at the time. As someone who’s worked with mostly younger artists, it was exciting to work with Jim and Jozef as individuals who already own their own narrative and bring such a strong, venerable, presence to a room. Paired with an old church left to ruin, and an ancient instrument (a handmade, all black lute—the only one in existence), there was an intoxicating elixir of history present in the cathedral that day. The term “Etimasia” refers to messianic prophecy, so an astrological omen felt fitting as a companion to the piece, especially given the two forces present in the room. Everything felt completely cyclical at the moment.
Backstage, behind the altar, was a hidden entranceway to the priest’s quarters where we had set up holding for the cast and crew. Despite the freezing cold—there was no heat—Jim shared anecdotes on Tom Waits, quoted Showgirls and debated wardrobe options while listening to records, which helped cut through my constant anxiety. Adding to the surreality of the experience was the strange nature of those back rooms; it looked like a New Age cult’s headquarters, filled with rows of matching blowup mattresses next to white croc clogs piled in the corners. The scene was so convincing it took me a moment before I realized that I was looking at a film set that was taking place at the church (the “hot set” warning I missed taped to the wall). At the time, a group of artists and promoters were throwing parties, art events, and shooting the aforementioned “cult film” at the church. After the shoot, I climbed the attic stairs to the old bell tower where you could ring the church bells over Brooklyn, which I later learned were played by drunken party goers into all hours of the night. Looking out over NYC that evening I felt proud to have contributed, in some small way, to one last go at such an incredible space before it’s ultimate demise, and current rebirth, into Bushwick high rise condos.
Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch’s latest album, ‘The Mystery of Heaven’, is available now through Sacred Bones. Check out Van Wissem’s thoughts on Jarmusch’s classic film ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ here, and the “Etimasia” video/’Only Lovers Left Alive’ trailer below…