Paterson


Paterson and Laura see things in black and white.

Paterson and Laura see things in black and white.

(2016) Drama (Bleecker Street/Amazon) Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie, Rizwan Manji, Barry Shabaka Henley, Trevor Parham, Troy T. Parham, Brian McCarthy, Frank Harts, Luis Da Silva Jr., Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Kacey Cockett, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Sterling Jerins, Masatoshi Nagase, Sophia Muller. Directed by Jim Jarmusch

 

Paterson is a bus driver. Paterson is also coincidentally the name of the New Jersey town in which Paterson plies his trade. It is not coincidentally the home of famed 20th century poets William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg. Paterson (the bus driver) also writes poetry in a journal he keeps with him. He scribbles during lunch breaks and before he starts work. He uses mundane, everyday subjects to inspire him. He leads a mundane, everyday life.

Director Jarmusch is notorious (or acclaimed) for finding the rhythms of life and setting his films to those rhythms. We see Paterson’s routine; getting up in the morning at 6:15 precisely, eating breakfast with his wife Laura (Farahani), going to work, coming home for dinner – Laura is apparently not much of a cook but he gamely is polite about pretending to enjoy it. Afterwards he takes his English bulldog Marvin out for a walk, ending up at his favorite watering hole talking with Doc (Henley) the bartender and then heading home to go to sleep with his wife.

We follow Paterson in his routine over the course of a week. It’s not a particularly important week – just a normal, mundane, everyday week. His wife is making cupcakes for a popup farmer’s market. She has ordered a guitar which she paints black and white like everything else in the house and dreams of becoming a country music star, which would be a bit of a stretch being that she is an immigrant from Iran which in the current climate might not fly among a certain element that loves country. He overhears conversations on the bus, adjusts his mailbox which always seems to be leaning (late in the film we find out why), and sometimes just sits out by the beautiful waterfall that is Paterson’s pride and joy.

Paterson is definitely a working class environment. Some might remember that it was the town in which Ruben “Hurricane” Carter was framed for murder; it is referenced during the film but not dwelled upon, at least not as much as the fact that it was also the home of Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello fame. Then again, Laura’s penchant for black and white patterns might allude to the racial divide that led to one of the most notorious legal cases of the 20th century that was part of the DNA of Paterson at the time.

There is a beauty to the rhythms of life here. Jarmusch is an expert to finding the beauty in the mundane. But, as mundane as Jarmusch wants to make the environment of Paterson, he can’t help but populate it with quirky indie film characters that lend an air of “this isn’t real life in the rest of the world” to the film. I think in some ways it sabotages what he’s trying to do and for me it diminished the enjoyment of the film. Why can’t films about ordinary people actually have a few ordinary people in them?

Driver is a bit white bread here. He doesn’t really distinguish himself much which is likely what Jarmusch had in mind. Paterson (the bus driver) is basically a pretty nice guy without much ambition; his poetry is amazing (written by real life poet and Pulitzer prize winner Ron Padgett) but he refuses to publish them. He clings to them like a lap bar on a particularly scary roller coaster and when near the end of the film an event occurs that puts that to paid, it feels like it should be more liberating than it is. Or at least more traumatic than it seems.

I’m not really quite sure what to make of Paterson (the movie). On the one hand it achieves the “all about nothing” that the Seinfeld show aspired to. On the other, it definitely succumbs to indie film clichés. On a third hand, it plays as a cinematic tone poem, analogous to the works of Williams and T.S. Eliot. There’s beauty here but Jarmusch makes it oddly humorless, although there are occasional twitches of the lips that approximate smiles. It’s an elegant movie that’s not completely successful but is completely worth your while.

REASONS TO GO: This is very much a cinematic tone poem.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many quirky characters inhabit Paterson’s world.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Driver undertook training to drive the bus for three months in Queens; he passed is licensing test a week before shooting started and was able to drive the bus himself, allowing Jarmusch to get a broader amount of options in shooting the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mike and Molly
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Country: Portraits of an American Sound

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Inside the Burly Q


Behind the Burly Q

Margie Hart ponders her career choices.

(2010) Documentary (First Run) Alan Alda, Sally Rand, Lily St. Cyr, Lou Costello, Tempest Storm, Margie Hart, Blaze Starr, Kitty West, June Lee, Lorraine Lee, Vicki O’Day, Sara Jacobs, David Kruh, Dixie Evans, Janet M. Davis, Nat Bodian. Directed by Leslie Zemeckis

 

Before there was internet porn, before there was Playboy there was burlesque. Often people make the mistake of thinking it was all boobs and butts but in reality there was much more to it than that. There were singers, comedians and other performing acts.

Burlesque was considered a step below vaudeville due to the prurient nature of the shows. Burlesque was the province of the strippers, of Sally Rand, Tempest Storm and Lily St. Cyr. It was raucous horns, tassels and pasties. Burlesque theaters were looked down upon in their day, tolerated to a certain extent but thought to be extremely low class.

These days burlesque is undergoing a bit of a renaissance as hipsters are discovering the joys of burlesque comedy and scantily clad women. That’s what makes it a good time to make a documentary about the heyday of burlesque.

Of course it’s a bit of a slam dunk as naked female breasts are generally going to attract plenty of male attention, and there are plenty of bare breasts here. There are also plenty of interviews, some of which are more revealing (in a personal level, get your mind out of the gutter) than others. The problem is that there is so many of them that they tend to blend in all together.

There is a good deal of archival footage but I’d like to have seen more. Talking heads telling stories about life back in the day are all well and good, but I think more performance footage might have been a little more welcome.

Most of the talking heads are the performers themselves, now mostly in their 70s and 80s. There are a few children (Alda’s dad Robert was a straight man in a burlesque act and also provided musical accompaniment) and spouses as well as siblings. There are also some historians and authors to provide some perspective which is needed.

The stories are for the most part pretty fascinating although, to be honest, near the end they began to blend together a little bit. You do get a sense of the camaraderie between the girls as well as the competition between them; you also get a sense that like any job some of it was wonderful and some of it was pretty awful. That there was drug abuse and sexual abuse in the theaters is documented but whether it was to the same degree that exists in modern strip clubs is anybody’s guess – those sorts of things were swept under the rug back then.

Burlesque merits a serious documentary and while this makes an attempt to capture the magic, it simply doesn’t. I haven’t yet seen This Is…Burlesque! which is another documentary on the subject but for the time being, I’m still waiting to find the movie that will truly bring burlesque to life for me.

WHY RENT THIS: Fascinating look at a bygone era and of women who were sexual at a time when sexuality in women was verboten.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Becomes overwhelming at times; too many interviews.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of sexuality, some nudity and some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zemeckis is the wife of director Robert (Forrest Gump) Zemeckis and has produced a burlesque revival show that has played in clubs around the Los Angeles area.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on a burlesque performer reunion in Las Vegas, a timeline of the burlesque theater, a look at the costumes and memorabilia of the era and an interview with director Zemeckis in which the origins of the project are discussed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $23,889 on an unreported production budget; I have a sense that it probably didn’t make money theatrically.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Fantasia 2000