53. Stranger Than Paradise – Jim Jarmusch (1984)

Repeat Viewing.

“You know, it’s funny, you come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same”

It would be remiss of me not to mention straight away that Stranger than Paradise is my favourite movie of all time, so you’re not going to get a balanced and impartial review from me today. No way, Jose. It’s a movie that I love like a family member, and not a rarely seen great uncle or distant cousin, we’re talking a little brother or sister, in fact, just ask my nearest and dearest for further proof on my love for it! And, of course, I’m going to give it the full marks out of ten. (Sorry for giving away the entry’s ending) That being said I know it’s not the greatest movie ever committed to celluloid, that’s something like a Citizen Kane, Grand Illusion, Andrei Rublev, Tokyo Story, or Seven Samurai. Each one a great and influential film. Stranger than Paradise certainly influenced American independent cinema – I’ve got my own 16k word dissertation that attests to that- but I would struggle to call Stranger a great movie, at least in comparison to some of the previously mentioned films. I think my one true gripe with the film is the somewhat weak and out of place ending. It doesn’t really compliment the style of the film. My own take would be that the film doesn’t need an ending. It has no beginning or middle in the tradition of the Aristole three-act structure, so an ending doesn’t work in that context. Yet Stranger does bow to an ending with drama – and I use the term “drama” loosely – and it just doesn’t work for me.

That’s enough of the criticism. I can’t do it any more! What I love about Stranger is it’s uniqueness, I can’t think of another movie like it. I can’t think of a movie that deals with immigration, the failure, or even non-existence, of the American dream, alienation, friendship and so on whilst balancing it with a movie that has so little obvious drama and content. It’s almost like watching a home movie so little is happening in a literal sense, but it’s still so damn quotable. Anyone who doesn’t come away saying “bug off” isn’t paying hard enough attention. The characters are also very real. We don’t see them being people to admire, and we don’t see them redeeming themselves. They exist in their own bubble, and they don’t change. They are what they are. They’re the same in the beginning as they are at the end. People don’t change, really.

The film is also all kinds of cool. Anyone who has ever seen an interview with Jim Jarmusch knows he’s the coolest person on the planet. We’re talking Mick Jagger Gimme Shelter era coolness. And, naturally, the film’s coolness is transmitted everywhere. From the actors to the music to the cinematography. Stranger is beautifully photographed by Tom DiCillio – a hugely talented person – and edited into tiny fade-to-black vignettes, lasting from a few seconds and up to three or four minutes in some cases. The style was so inspiring to me that I shot my own grad film on 16mm black and white film stock and used about seven cuts in the whole flick. It just works so wonderfully when you’re working on a small budget. Finally I need to say a few words about John Lurie. For someone who isn’t even an actor primarily he gives a stunningly adept and understated performance. You should hate Lurie’s character, but you can’t help but like him.

I could go on and on about my love for this film, I didn’t even mention the locations’ importance, but I’m gonna quit while I’m behind ahead and start fantasizing about Jarmusch’s new film in production, Only Lovers Left Behind instead.

Marks out of ten – Ten

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1 Comment

Filed under American

One response to “53. Stranger Than Paradise – Jim Jarmusch (1984)

  1. Patricia Franchini

    Yes!

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