Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nosh 56: 'Paterson' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Review of Paterson
It opens with a dream, as Paterson’s pretty partner tells of dreaming about twins. Shaking off sleep, he replies in his wry, subdued way, “One for each of us.” Paterson is one for all of us, a dream of a poem of a movie.

It is about Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, N.J. He’s a rather dreamy driver, mulling his poems. He lives with cheerful, artistic Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), excited by her new and almost Picasso-styled guitar, and also with their willful, grumpy bulldog, Marvin (whose notion of urban poetry is a long walk with a thousand sniffs). The movie is nested into old Paterson, a working-class town (pop. 145,000) of weary but enduring brick, many streets interlaced by streams and falls of the Passaic River – and by the flowing legend of Dr. William Carlos Williams, whose epic poem is “Paterson.” Poetry sprouts wings when Paterson, walking to work, spots a haiku-worthy waterfall through the open backside of an abandoned building. Later he will meet a Japanese tourist who loves water, poetry and Williams.

As Paterson, tall, sober Adam Driver is the driver this movie needs. He has one of those forget-me-never faces like Jeff Goldblum, John Turturro, Paul Giamatti (and like them a line-biting voice). Driver was shunted to a side-spur of Scorsese’s Silence. He doesn’t reach for stardom here, but he is central, dominant and even winsome (without cutes). Paterson speaks pensively and recites cleanly; his sly, gentle verses were written by Ron Padgett. His relations with lovely Laura and burly Marvin, with a veteran bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) and a heartbroken Romeo (William Jackson Harper), arrive as segments of soul. Nothing is overdone, including the poems printed on the screen image. The only “melodrama” involves a toy gun, and the dog adds a segment of suspense. This could have all been wistful and precious, an arty doily. Not so.

Flawlessly in command is writer and director Jim Jarmusch (now 64 – hard to believe!), once an ’80s indie-movie prince with Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train and others. He seemed to take a long hiatus, springing back with the elegant vampire reverie Only Lovers Left Alive in 2013. With alert simplicity, Jarmusch  absorbs old Paterson and visually feasts even on a box of matches, along with David Lynch's great cinematographer Frederick Elmes. A movie that celebrates the working-stiff demographic without dumb populism, that salutes both Petrarch and comic Lou Costello, that honors poet Williams without becoming pedantic – it all add up to what I think is  Jarmusch’s best film.

When Paterson hears a solitary rapper, practicing in a laundromat, he backs out of sight to demurely listen (he’s always listening, looking, pondering). Like its hero the film can seem shy but is creatively no wimp. Each month of this cold, wet winter has brought an artistic keeper: Aquarius in November, Rules Don’t Apply in December, Jackie in January, The Salesman in February. And now Paterson. As Henry Gibson’s Haven Hamilton said and sang in Nashville: Keep a-goin’.

SALAD (A List)
Twelve Impeccably Poetic Movies, in order of arrival (director, year): Ménilmontant (Dmitri Kirsanov, 1926), L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934), Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1949), Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954), The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1955), Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus, 1960),  L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1963),  The Scent of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung, 1993),  The Cruise (Bennett Miller, 1997), Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002), Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (Steven Shainberg, 2006) and Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson’s casual moviegoing never achieved cinephile purity, for in youth he often walked into a film after it had begun: “We’d leave when we said ‘This is where we came in.’ Everybody said that. They didn’t cost that much, so if you didn’t like one, it was ‘Let’s do something else, go to another movie’ ... walking out of a movie was what for people now is like turning off the television set.” He never saw the Internet’s omni-plex of perusal. (Quote from My Lunches With Orson by Welles and Henry Jaglom, editor Peter Biskind.) 

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In Dallas Buyers Club, hustling conniver Ron Woodroof “fits into the populist-pest tradition of Ernie Kovacs, subverting military orders in Operation Mad Ball; Paul Newman, rousing the chain-gang rubes of Cool Hand Luke; Jack Nicholson, sabotaging medical fascists in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Julia Roberts, finger-flipping the law in Erin Brockovich. His rude, crude sanity is tonic for the afflicted.” (From the Matthew Conaughey / Dallas Buyers Club chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Kindle, Nook.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Nadia Sibirskaya in the silent, surreal Paris of Ménilmontant (France, 1926; creator Dmitri Kirsanov).

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