Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Stranger Than Paradise
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Stranger than Paradise is a road-movie of sorts about where a man’s Hungarian cousin arrives to New York City to stay for 10 days before going to Cleveland as he and a friend later visit her where they go to Florida. The film is an exploration into the lives of three people who feel out of place in their environments as they try to find themselves in different places in the U.S. Starring John Lurie, Richard Edson, and Eszter Balint. Stranger Than Paradise is a witty yet entrancing film from Jim Jarmusch.
The film is a simple story about a young Hungarian woman who arrives to the U.S. to stay with her cousin for 10 days in New York City before she moves to Cleveland. A year later, her cousin and a friend of his visit her in Cleveland where they later take a road trip to Florida. That is essentially the premise of the film as writer-director Jim Jarmusch doesn’t really divulge a lot of plot schematics or scenarios to drive the story except separate into three parts. The first part is in New York City where Eva (Eszter Balint) arrives from Budapest as she crashes at the apartment of her cousin Willie (John Lurie) who isn’t keen in having her stay for 10 days while their aunt (Cecilla Stark) is in the hospital. Yet, she manages to charm him and his friend Eddie (Richard Edson) before finally leaving to Cleveland.
The film’s second act takes place a year later where Willie and Eddie cheat at a card game as they take their winnings and decide to go to Cleveland to meet Eva and Aunt Lotte as the trio hang out and such. Notably as the story showcases how out of place Willie and Eddie are in Cleveland as they deal with the cold which is similar to how Eva felt out of place in New York City. The three then decide to go to Florida for the film’s third act just to see what it would be like and hope they can score more money but the sense of alienation and such just add to a sense of uncertainty for the three as they’re stuck in a place in Florida that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Jarmusch’s direction is quite simple in the way he presents the film as if the characters are sort of alien to their surroundings. Jarmusch’s approach to compositions and framing adds this very intriguing quality to the film such as the way Eva wanders around through the streets of New York. There is some intimacy in the shots he creates as well as a sense of style of how he shoots scenes in a car as well as the use of wide shots for the surroundings in New York City, Cleveland, and Florida. All of which has this enchanting quality to the images where it feels very foreign rather than something looks typically American. Even in the framing devices and such where Jarmusch does allow some humor to be played out though it’s mostly dramatic and low-key. Overall, Jarmusch crafts a very intoxicating yet compelling story about alienation in America.
Cinematographer Tom DiCillo does fantastic work with the film‘s sort of grainy black-and-white photography to create a look that is very low-key yet also stylish in the way the locations look as well as some of the interiors with it use of low-key lights. Editors Jim Jarmusch and Melody London do excellent work with the film‘s editing where it emphasizes a lot on style from the use of cuts-to-black to give the film a sort of episodic structure as well as some rhythmic cuts for the humor. The sound work of Greg Curry and Drew Kunin is terrific for the way it captures the atmosphere of the locations in order to maintain something real and to the point. The film’s music by John Lurie is wonderful for its low-key yet somber string quartet pieces that he created that is performed by the Paradise Quartet while its soundtrack also includes an amazing use of Screamin‘ Jay Hawkins‘ I Put a Spell on You.
The film’s cast includes some noteworthy appearances from street artist Rammellzee as a man Eva meets in Florida, Sara Driver as a woman in a hat in Florida, Danny Rosen as friend of Eva’s in Cleveland, cinematographer Tom DiCillo as an airline agent, and Cecillia Stark as Eva and Willie’s aunt Lotte who often speaks Hungarian as she’s very old school. Richard Edson is great as Eddie as this guy who hangs around as he is very friendly to everyone while being a foil for Willie. Eszter Balint is amazing as Eva as this young Hungarian woman who loves Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as she is baffled by her surroundings while proving to be quite cool as she is very good at shoplifting. John Lurie is fantastic as Willie as this guy who is very good at cards and has this idea of winning in gambling while dealing with his surroundings as he isn’t sure about how much he cares for Eva.
The 2007 Region 1 2-disc DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a 1:78:1 theatrical aspect ratio for 16x9 widescreen as well as Dolby Digital Mono. The first disc is solely devoted to the film in its remastered presentation under the supervision of writer-director Jim Jarmusch. The second disc includes Jarmusch’s 1980 75-minute film Permanent Vacation which showcases Jarmusch’s brilliance as a filmmaker as well as his willingness to be completely independent.
The 45-minute 1984 German TV program Kino ‘84: Jim Jarmusch is essentially a profile into the works of Jim Jarmusch based on his first two films that include interviews with Jarmusch, cinematographer Tom DiCillo, producer Sara Driver, and actors John Lurie, Chris Parker, Richard Edson, and Eszter Balint. Much of it talks about Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise where Jarmusch and the others talk about the production of the two films as well as Jarmusch’s approach to storytelling. It’s a very insightful piece that explores Jarmusch’s rise early in his career as he was becoming a very important voice for American independent cinema.
The 15-minute behind the scenes documentary Some Days in January 1984 by Jim’s brother Tom is shot in Super 8 film. Though the short doesn’t contain any sounds, it does showcase what was happening during a very cold period in Cleveland where Jarmusch, his cast, and crew were trying to shoot scenes. Some of it is in black-and-white and some of it is in color where the film showcases how Jarmusch creates a film through very limited resources yet finds ways to get things done. The second disc also includes a photo gallery of the location scouting that occurred for the film as well as two different trailers for the U.S. and for Japan.
The DVD also includes a booklet that features essays and notes from Jim Jarmusch about Stranger Than Paradise. Jarmusch’s notes that was written in March of 1984 for the film’s press book showcase Jarmusch’s explanation about the film, it’s style, and why it’s so different where he also reveals that some of the reason the way things look and are acted isn’t just because of limitations but also to find something real. The essay entitled Enter Jarmusch by British film essayist Geoff Andrew who talks about the film and why it was so different from what was happening at the time. Even as it had a lot of European and Japanese film influences that made it so unique as Jarmusch was a bona fide film buff as Andrew also comments on some of the later films that Jarmusch did that may have seemed different from Stranger than Paradise but had that sense of quirky humor and such that made it similar to that film.
The second essay entitled Paradise Regained is from New York film critic J. Hoberman which is a brief insight into the film and its legacy that is really served as an introduction to a review that Hoberman wrote in October of 1984 for the Village Voice called Americana, Right and Wrong. The review talks about the film and its eccentricities as well as why it feels so fresh at a time when Hollywood blockbusters were ruling American cinema as Hoberman was championing the film. Two more essays from author Luc Sante are about Jarmusch’s first film Permanent Vacation as the first one entitled Love Among the Ruins: Permanent Vacation and Jarmusch’s New York that is about Sante’s reflections about the film as well as the moment when it was filmed as Sante was part of that culture.
Sante’s second essay My Lost City, which was written in 2003 and was part of an afterward in Sante’s 2004 book Low Life, is essentially about New York City in the 1970s and how a city that was once revered was suddenly regressing by crime, a bad economy, and social disorder. At the same time, it was sort of wild where a lot can happen where Sante reveals how youth was able to take advantage of this disorder in the city. Even as Sante reflects on a time that he felt was joyous and is considered lost since the city managed to clean itself up and become something different as it’s a wonderful essay to complement two great films from a great filmmaker.
Stranger Than Paradise is a remarkable film from Jim Jarmusch. Armed with its witty humor, a great cast, and some cool music. It is definitely one of the finest and most captivating films of the 1980s as well as a true definition of what independent films were about in those times. Especially as it has an energy and intelligence that captures that sense of alienation as well as play into something where America can seem very foreign at times. In the end, Stranger than Paradise is a sensational film from Jim Jarmusch.
Jim Jarmusch Films: Permanent Vacation - Down by Law - Mystery Train - Night on Earth - Dead Man - Year of the Horse - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - Coffee & Cigarettes - Broken Flowers - The Limits of Control - Only Lovers Left Alive - The Auteurs #27: Jim Jarmusch
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