“My movies, like Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law, are also about social misfits experiencing the dark side of the American dream.” Jim Jarmusch in The Simpsons, Season 19, Episode 18: “Any Given Sundance”
Everybody knows that New Jersey is the joke state of this country. With its clown car of indicted and soon to be indicted governors, its runaway trains and Tony Sopranos and the shambles of Atlantic City, it should probably change its name to North Florida. But it’s also the state that names its freeway rest stops after poets – while travelling on the New Jersey Turnpike, you can take a leak at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, and pick up a coffee at the Walt Whitman Rest Area.
It’s this second New Jersey that Jim Jarmusch focuses on in his new movie Paterson. Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson who lives in Paterson, NJ. He’s a big William Carlos Williams fan who spends all his free time writing poetry. He’s married to the delightfully eccentric Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani. One day, while Paterson is driving his route… nothing happens. And then the next day, nothing happens again. Sure, some people talk about the various famous people of Paterson N.J. (Lou Costello! Uncle Floyd!), and our hero walks his dog and gets a beer… but that’s it. No one puts a bomb on the bus that will explode if it drives slower than 55 mph. No one hijacks the bus or transforms it into a giant robot. It’s just a slice of (the indie cinema version of) life.
I have to admit I have mixed feeling about this film. On the one hand, it is a pleasant, poetic movie that is very cathartic if you have been binge-watching too much Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero movies. On the other hand, nothing happens. With New Jersey transit fiascoes making national headlines, I feel like maybe a movie about a NJ bus driver should be at least as interesting as reading the newspaper.
Paterson opened December 28, 2016.
The only thing wrong with this documentary about The Stooges is that it doesn’t go on long enough. It’s a near-perfect film featuring interviews with band members and top-notch live performance clips and none of that other crap that ruins most music documentaries. You know, testimonials from sanctimonious assholes like Bono or Sting saying how the subject was such an inspiration, interviews with self-important music critics explaining stuff you already knew, irrelevant pop-cultural “authorities” providing pointless “context.”
No, this movie is just the good stuff – watching Iggy Pop crowd-surfing in Cincinnati, hearing TV Eye and Search and Destroy coming out of giant movie theater speakers, and getting the stories first hand. Iggy, whose pretty face is, in fact, going to hell, tells most of the tale, apparently between doing loads of laundry. The former James Osterberg comes off like every barfly in a dive watering hole, going on about how his band was the greatest band ever. Only this time, it turns out to be true.
The movie covers the original incarnation of The Stooges, and (unnecessarily?) their recent re-union. Unfortunately, this leaves out Iggy’s years in Berlin and the classic albums he recorded there with David Bowie. One other nitpick – the glimpses of high quality performance footage are so tantalizing that it’s crushing not to be able to see the whole thing. But I suppose this is what Criterion Collection box sets are for.
Recommendation: Go see Gimme Danger during its theatrical run. Buy the extended blu-ray set when it comes out, which hopefully will include the full performance footage that mostly just got teased during the movie. As for Paterson – see it if you need a dose of indie film, or wait for it to come to Netflix if you don’t. Jim Jarmusch don’t care.
Gimme Danger opened October 28, 2016.