October 4, 1984 [Stranger Than Paradise]

I've seen these guys from Stranger Than Paradise: off to the track every other day, lounging against the storefront or wolfing down a slice of pizza in a corner spot, low-key Daddy-Os, the last men still wearing hats, their pongee shirts a little frayed.

And the lead, John Lurie, knows how to play cool cat--his combo "The Lounge Lizards" has been diggin' that fake jazz for a few years now, and his entire posture in the movie is lank and off-the-cuff, an act Willie's perfected--but it's shot to hell by his Hungarian cousin, an actual kool kitten with her matter-of-fact way of walking, smoking, sizing up the situation--all to the constant accompaniment of Screamin' Jay Hawkins puttin' a spell on you over and over from the tinny depths of a cheap little cassette player. And her cousin hates the sound of it, but Eva knows better: "He's a wild man, so bug off." And to round out these hip Stooges is a perfect Larry Fine, long-faced Eddie, the little guy with the tentative manner, always on the verge of flinching, but following along all the same, waiting for something he can grin at.

Together they sit in the worn-out New York apartment--we see little of the city itself, aside from blank walls and empty streets; it's as though they're waiting to go somewhere, the apartment a kind of way-station with TV dinners and a ratty bed. And then Eva goes off to Cleveland--as run-down as NYC, except with the blank stare of a snow-blind lake--and the other two eventually, aimlessly, follow; and on a whim it's down to Florida, where the clouds roll by unnoticed and the weather seems as chilly as anywhere. And they have some trouble--madcap farce in any other picture, but here it's all oblique and offhand, barely worth worrying over--just another gambler's irony.

And not even the camera wants to get up off its lazy behind and do something about it, watching them blandly, occasionally nodding off--the screen black so long you think that's it, time to go home; then the next scene pops up. Maybe somebody nudged the camera just enough so that it pries its eye open again just to check things out. This goes on for a while until the movie's over. You don't like it, man? Then bug off.

Comments

  1. Thanks Paul, love this flick. Down on the E. 9th Street pier in Clevo, white on white ... "It's beautiful."

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  2. I'd seen it 2-3 times before, but to write about it now I watched it again. Still a piece of work.

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  3. STRANGER THAN PARADISE is certainly one of Jarmusch's most justly celebrated features, and for many his quintessential work. DEAD MAN and DOWN BY LAW are favored by some, but there's a wholly original idea in his maiden work that still impreses on repeat viewings. the typical narrative inertness yields to the fascination of character dislocation in a stark, ordinary landscape.

    Great post and wonderful site my friend! I just addred it to the WitD blogroll.

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  4. Sam, thanks for the comment. Yes, Stranger Than Paradise endures. A couple years ago I had fun teaching a 3-week course that considered Magic Realism in film, and spent some time looking at movies that reflected that movement as it originated in painting--think of the comedy and menace and deadpan directness of Grant Wood's American Gothic or some of the "faux surrealist" touches in Edward Hopper. We went from Keaton to Val Lewton to David Lynch to Napoleon Dynamite to the Coens--and Jarmusch fit right in, his detachment not distancing us but drawing us in.

    Oh, and thanks much for adding my site to your blogroll. Wonders in the Dark and all its movie-minions are the tops.

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