Tufnell Park, London

Sunday 29 September 2013


Dear Winona

You don’t know me but I’d like to thank you for not only starring in Heathers and Beetlejuice but also for being the catalyst that broadened my cinematic and musical horizons.

On Tuesday evening I’m introducing Night on Earth at the film club I run with a friend in North London. I first saw Jim Jarmusch’s film at the Phoenix Cinema in Oxford when it came out in 1992 purely because you were in it. I was 15 at the time and pretty well obsessed with you. That picture at the top of this page? That was on my wall.

I was a committed teenage film geek back then. Little has changed. I first heard about Night on Earth because I saw you on the cover of Sight & Sound magazine. It was like no film I’d seen before: quirky, arty and with subtitles in three languages.  

More importantly it was like no film I’d heard before. As a voracious reader of the music press I knew who Tom Waits was and had heard a few of his songs before. But Night on Earth was the first time I’d been exposed to a sustained blast of his weird percussion, accordions, harmoniums and pump organs and I loved every second. As soon as the film finished I walked to Our Price to buy the soundtrack. It cost more than £13! On tape! Instead I bought another Waits album I’d heard was meant to be good - Rain Dogs.

From that moment I became a devotee of both Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch. It was only later that I learnt that Jim Jarmusch had used the music from Rain Dogs in the first film he made with Tom Waits, Down By Law.

I’m sure I’ve read that you’re a big Tom Waits fan. You’ve probably met him, after all you were both in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. When I saw Tom Waits play at Hammersmith Apollo in 2004 your old boyfriend Johnny Depp was in the front row! So many connections!

The connections from Night on Earth that sent me down a variety of cultural rabbit holes. Into Jim Jarmusch’s previous films, which in turn introduced me to John Lurie and Screamin' Jay Hawkins; towards more of Spike Lee and Aki Kaurismaki’s movies after seeing their regular actors in Night on Earth, and most significantly for me, to Tom Waits’ incredible back catalogue.

Without you, would I ever have travelled to Berlin and Paris (twice) to see Tom Waits? Would I have seen this clip of Tom putting a red snapper down his pants? Possibly not. So thank you once again for opening my eyes and ears.

Best wishes



AuthorNigel Smith