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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

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.

One Response to “Wilmington On Movies: Paterson”

  1. Andrew Coyle says:

    You were wrong about Spacejam. It is undoubtedly a classic.

Wilmington

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin