By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington On Movies: Paterson
D: Jim Jarmusch, 2016
A poet takes words, thoughts and objects, talks colors and feelings, and makes them palpably physical and dancingly metaphoric. Occasionally he (she) rhymes; more often she (he) collides those words and thoughts into something (hopefully) pared down and memorable. Take Jim Jarmusch, a cinematic poet who also likes to claim a physical resemblance to that notably nasty movie bad guy Lee Marvin (a poet of violence). Jarmusch: He’s a poet. In fact, as the distinguished Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan once wrote: “I’m (he’s) a poet. I know it. Hope I don’t blow it.” (Hey, it rhymed!)
Perhaps only a guy who looks like Lee Marvin — and who founded the poetic tough guy club called “The Sons of Lee Marvin“ for himself and his friends (Nick Cave among others) — would have the balls to make a movie where the hero (anti-hero), was a guy named Paterson who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, is played by actor-driver Adam Driver, and is a (non-professional) poet — a movie where the major action consists of Paterson writing poems, reciting them, bantering with his versatile Iranian girlfriend Laura (Golschiateh Farahani), walking his dog, drinking (one) beer in the local bar and driving a Paterson New Jersey metro line bus around town.
Jarmusch’s Paterson — which won the Palme Dog for his unforgettable bulldog Nellie at the Cannes Film Festival (and fully deserved it) — is another of the director’s celebrations of the beauty of nothingness, the stripped-down poetry of urban decay and of the way rock ‘n roll sounds in, say, Finland or New York at night, coming from old juke boxes and old record players, and drunken Finns and old rock n’ rollers. It takes place in a familiar Jarmusch landscape of seedy bar-rooms, dirty streets and sidewalks, and people walking in straight lines with a camera tracking them, a little buzzed and drunk as a Finn, on the dark side of town.
A confession. I love Jarmusch’s movies — or most of them anyway, because, like Jerry Seinfeld‘s TV show, they’re so resolutely and unblushingly about nothing or nothing much, or, to be more succinct about it, about the poetry of nothing. This is one of his best, a really sweet nothing. The poet who inspired it is William Carlos Williams, who once lived in Paterson (New Jersey) and wrote a poem about it (called “Paterson“), and is the guardian angel of a group of Patersonians that includes the comedian Allen Ginsberg and the poet Lou Costello. (A cadre called “The Sons of William Carlos Williams.” Maybe.)
I’m sure Williams had a drink or two himself in hangouts somewhat like the barrooms Jarmusch shares here. And anyway, if he didn’t, I‘m sure he would have enjoyed spending an hour or two in the company of people like the people in this movie — a gallery of outsiders that includes Driver as Paterson, Farahani, as his persistent muse, and Marvin the bulldog (played by Nellie), a dog who really does eat Paterson’s homework (or his notebook full of poems), as well as Doc the bartender at Paterson’s favorite bar (played by Barry Shabara Henley) (Doc that is, not the bar), Marie, Donny, the Blood in the car and Method Man (played by Method Man).
Like most of Jarmusch‘s movies, from the very start with Permanent Vacation — the people here, especially Paterson, tend to wander around the city — although here, Paterson has a route and a schedule –a fixed routine that he always follows — get up, breakfast (Cheerios), drive the bus, spot a lot of twins and couples, go to Doc’s bar, write a poem, go home, gab with his wife, go to sleep, wake up, start all over again. (7 times, which makes a week.)
This single-minded schedule (like God, all he needs is a week) has enabled Paterson to accumulate a whole notebook full of poems, all written somewhat in emulation of William Carlos Williams — and actually penned by poet Ron Padgett. But also, because of Paterson’s imprudent refusal to copy the poems (as Laura keeps suggesting that he do), leaves him vulnerable to the dog who does eat his homework. It also sets him up for the movie’s denouement, which involves another poet, who’s Japanese (and is played by Masatoshi Nabase), and who has something for him. Something no poet should be without.
Jarmusch is the kind of filmmaker, who drives many straight audiences crazy (I‘m not referring to sexual identity, but to conventional people, white dudes who don’t like the idea of people just wandering around the city and spending a lot of time with black people in bars. His masterpieces — Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train, Night on Earth, Only Lovers Left Alive, as well as this film, are lyrical and dry, visually beautiful (cinematographer Frederick Elmes is almost as good as Jarmusch’s ex, Robby Muller) and they take place mostly in working class cities or areas, regions of the night — though not always. They’re not usually so fixated on vocation, or permanent vocation, as this one.
It may perhaps be taken as a sign of growing up, that Paterson depends so much time here driving a bus and writing his poems — though surely, his carelessness with his notebook and Marvin will be criticized by, say, hard-driving business types like the Ray Kroc that Michael Keaton plays in The Founder. I thought that that movie‘s Kroc was an asshole, where I wouldn’t have minded having a beer or two with Paterson. But then who are we to judge? I’m just another voice in the dark, thank you very much, and I’ve always enjoyed the stories that Jarmusch wants to tell me (us). Poet. Know it. Don’t blow it.