Wednesday, February 8, 2017



PATERSON               B                    
USA  (118 mi)  2016  d:  Jim Jarmusch

Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He
lies on his right side, head near the thunder
of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep,
his dreams walk about the city where he persists
incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.
Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom
seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his machinations
drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring river
animate a thousand automations. Who because they
neither know their sources nor the sills of their
disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly
      for the most part,
locked and forgot in their desires-unroused.

—Say it, no ideas but in things—
  nothing but the blank faces of the houses
  and cylindrical trees
  bent, forked by preconception and accident—
  split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
  secret—into the body of the light!

From above, higher than the spires, higher
even than the office towers, from oozy fields
abandoned to gray beds of dead grass,
black sumac, withered weed-stalks,
mud and thickets cluttered with dead leaves-
the river comes pouring in above the city
and crashes from the edge of the gorge
in a recoil of spray and rainbow mists-

  (What common language to unravel?
  . . .combed into straight lines
  from that rafter of a rock's

A man like a city and a woman like a flower
—who are in love. Two women. Three women.
Innumerable women, each like a flower.

only one man—like a city.

Paterson, by William Carlos Williams, published in five volumes, from 1946 to 1958, From Book I, Paterson by William Carlos Williams - Famous poems ...

A return to a cinema defined by small moments of existential reverie, feeling more like fables or fragments of dreams, as expressed in Jarmusch’s earlier film COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (2003), though this film has a more cohesive plotline that holds all the material together, but otherwise it’s similarly structured around a series of vignettes, where a rhythm of life is established by following a single character, a bus driver aptly named Paterson (Adam Driver), who goes about his daily routines in the town of Paterson, New Jersey, a city made famous by an epic series of poems by William Carlos Williams.  While this is among the more understated films on record, it isn’t without several elegiac moments, yet, much like another recent film Fences (2016), an adaptation of an August Wilson play set in Pittsburgh, the film fails to transcend its working class existence, where people are boxed into claustrophobic realities, where race is an economically restrictive component for Wilson, while poetry is presumably the way out of similar suffocating restrictions for Paterson, yet he is similarly confined by mind numbing work routines that make it exceedingly difficult to rise above the regimented parameters demanded by the job, as evidenced by another bus driver Donny (Rizwan Manji) who incessantly complains about the daily grind that often feels overwhelming.  Not sure there won’t be more viewers identifying with Donny’s plight than Paterson’s seemingly unflappable demeanor, as most would find it hard to get past the accumulated rigor and more demanding aspects of work that take its toll over time, preventing workers from having a greater sense of independence.  There are only a few that reach utopian pleasure from work, turning it into a positive environment where they literally thrive from being constantly replenished on a spiritual level, yet that is the main thrust of this film, where it defies social realism and instead becomes a provocative imaginary treatise on the way it could and perhaps should be, but unfortunately isn’t for the mass majority of human beings on the planet.  Inhabiting a dreamlike structure, the film exists in an imaginary world, where the economic and social pressures that consume us on a regular basis simply don’t exist, where we’re instead free to collectively pursue our dreams in a utopian world where life is as we imagine it instead of the way it is.

While it’s a challenging premise, it’s also interesting that Adam Driver has been associated with what might be called other mind-altering works, as he’s a significant player in the supernatural Jeff Nichols film Midnight Special (2016), where in each he seems to have the capacity to channel interior worlds most of us are incapable of seeing, as here he plays an everyday, ordinary man, yet he finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, tapping into the world around him, in keeping with the daily rhythms of life, writing existential poetry that finds beauty in the banal, where “Only one man like a city” can see what most of us do not.  Jarmusch remains faithful to the poet Williams’s most famous tenet:  “No ideas but in things.”  Remaining grounded by a working life, much like William Carlos Williams, a practicing physician throughout his entire life, Paterson keeps a notebook by his side, collecting thoughts and bits of overheard conversation while continuously tuning into the world around him as he jots down free verse poetry.  Shot over a week’s time, identifying each new day, the film uses an Atom Egoyan-like structure from his film CALENDAR (1993), where a repeating overhead tableau camera shot opens each day of the week, as we find Paterson snuggled closely in bed with his wife Laura, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani from My Sweet Pepper Land (2013) and 2015 Top Ten List #10 About Elly (Darbareye Elly), checking his watch for the time, sometime between 6 and 6:30 am, affectionately kissing his wife, as both start each day in each other’s arms.  It’s important to consider the quirky individuality of Laura, an excitable girl, who is like the perfect imaginary wife, always loving and devoted, yet consumed by weird idiosyncrasies that not only keep her occupied, but elated by each and every day, where she’s literally thrilled when he gets home from work each day, spending time in the kitchen preparing some culinary surprise, yet she’s fascinated by so many things on her own that it’s impossible for the relationship to grow stale.  Mind you, Paterson rarely shows any emotions or excitability, but remains passively contained, reserved, and within himself at all times, so it’s his wife that provides all the emotional outbursts, displaying a childlike enthusiasm for the world around her, whether it’s painting, decorating the house, learning to play the guitar, or making cupcakes for a farmer’s market, her upbeat demeanor expresses a woman who is not only satisfied and content, but filled with joy. 

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Paterson reads this poem to his wife, at one point, finding joy in the everyday, like miniature haiku impressions, where this might be described as a film where nothing much happens, a stark contrast to the excessive violence that prevails in most American films, instead it’s filled with small moments that reflect the passing of each day, as Paterson sits at the breakfast counter each morning and eats his cereal before heading off to work, lunchbox in hand, as he walks to the bus depot, usually without a word to anyone.  Sitting in his bus before he starts his rounds, he scribbles lines of poetry in his notebook that appear onscreen as he speaks them out loud, finding beauty in small things and day-to-day moments, yet reflecting a casual grace in expressing a natural rhythm of time, where he seems to drift through life completely insulated by his observations, which are actually the work of Ron Padgett, an esteemed New York school poet, editor, and translator whose many honors include winning the William Carlos Williams Prize from the Poetry Society of America in 2014.  Each night, after dinner, Paterson walks his dog, a distinguished bulldog named Marvin who has an amusing habit when left alone during the day, as he runs out and attacks the mailbox stand, knocking it off kilter, where it is noticeably tilted and ajar by the time Paterson gets home from work.  This running joke between a man and his pet seems rooted in some unknown irritation known only to Marvin, who may object to Paterson’s habit of tying his leash to a post outside a bar he visits every night.  Inside he chats with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), a black bartender and familiar face, with photos of Paterson celebrities on the wall (including Lou Costello, Allen Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams, and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave), where Paterson sips on a single beer before heading home.  One night he witnesses a lover’s quarrel, where the rejected lover (William Jackson Harper) takes matters into his own hand, pulling out a gun, with Paterson quickly taking it out of his hand, discovering it’s only a plastic toy.  This is as violent as the film gets.  Walking home from work one day he encounters a young 10-year old girl (Sterling Jerins) waiting for her mother, discovering she’s also a poet, reading something from her “secret notebook” called Water Falls, that begins with the lines, “Water falls from the bright air / It falls like hair / Falling across a young girl’s shoulders.”  While the poem was actually written by Jarmusch, an English major at Columbia who was fascinated by the poetry of William Blake in Dead Man (1995), Paterson has a habit of meeting various poets along the way, where the viewer is not sure if this is happening only in his imagination, as each time it carries a dreamlike quality.  In the evening after dinner, while out walking his dog, he overhears a man spouting free verse in a neighborhood laundromat, Cliff Smith (Method Man), suggesting poetry is to be found in all walks of life, thriving in the hidden corners of our society.  Finally, sitting at his favorite spot in front of the Passaic Falls, a visiting Japanese poet, Masatoshi Nagase from MYSTERY TRAIN  (1989), appears as if out of a lingering daydream, revitalizing his creative spirit.  As the only white adult in a cast composed of black, Indian, Iranian, and Japanese actors, Paterson internalizes his role, living on the outer fringe of society, mixing with, yet keeping a comfortable distance in order to best maintain an artist’s gaze. 

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