On June 15, the Criterion Collection will re-release Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” on DVD and Blu-ray in a new director-approved edition. While not a music film per se, it’s a picture with a uniquely musical sensibility: Shot in 1989 in the most decaying neighborhoods in Memphis, it’s an evocative meditation on the Bluff City in which the shade of Elvis Presley plays literal and figurative parts. Jarmusch used musicians in both featured and minor roles to great effect. The home video return of “Mystery Train” affords just enough of an excuse to excavate this wonderful clip, drawn from the third of the film’s three episodes.
The inimitable Tom Waits supplied the voice of the late-night DJ
spinning Elvis’ Sun Records version of “Blue Moon,” cut in Memphis in
August 1954. (Of course, the King also recorded his cover of Little Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” for Sun in July
1955.) The Clash’s Joe Strummer is the extremely drunk passenger seated in the car next to Steve Buscemi; the gaudily dressed hotel night clerk is rock ‘n’ roll wild man Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (subject of documentary footage to be included on the Criterion package). Note: Hawkins’ character bought his loud threads at Lansky Brothers, the same Beale Street clothier where Presley got his eye-popping outfits.