As the coronavirus pandemic approaches its projected peak, the need to stay indoors takes on a renewed urgency. But, for a good many, self-isolation is less than a luxury. Escape is needed, and there are fewer art forms that offer escape like the movies.
For the upcoming days, weeks, maybe even months, I will be re-posting several old Boulder Weekly reviews, all of which you can find either for rent or streaming online. Here’s hoping it will soothe your soul for at least an hour or two.
It’s amazing how the right tone makes the movie, and the right movie makes the day. Outside my window, it’s cold and snowy. But inside, I have Paterson, set on a couple of gorgeous late summer, early autumn days. Writing those words, it dawns on me that Paterson is filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s most Ozu film. Ozu inspires a lot of Jarmusch’s work—don’t think I realized that as much as I should have. All movies, even the ones we’ve seen a dozen times hold secrets. Beautiful secrets. From Boulder Weekly Vol. 24, No. 24, “When I paint my masterpiece.”
Consider the bus driver. Do you notice them as you board the Skip? Do you wonder what they see as the Dash rumbles down South Boulder Road? As you stare out the window, lost in your thoughts, what thoughts are going through their mind? What movies have they seen, what books do they read, what music do they listen to? You pull the cord, saying, “Thank you” as you disembark and go on your way. But the bus driver rambles on. Up Broadway, down Arapahoe, across the Diagonal, people on and people off, all in a day’s work.
It may not be glamorous work, but there is poetry in the life of the bus driver. You just have to find it, and that is where writer/director Jim Jarmusch excels. One of the longstanding mavericks of the American independent scene, Jarmusch is a master of the quotidian, and when he is on his game, his highly personal forms of observation are unmatched. And his latest film — about a poetry-writing, Paterson, New Jersey, bus driver named Paterson — is one of his best to date and the best movie of 2016.
The film is broken up into eight days, each one starting with Paterson (Adam Driver: always good, never better) rising from his bed. We see him as he eats breakfast and makes coffee for him and his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks to work, jots down a few lines of poetry before starting his shift, drives the number 23 bus through the crowded but unhurried streets of New Jersey, has lunch beside the Passaic River, jots down a few more lines before quitting time, has dinner with Laura, takes Marvin — their stately English Bulldog — for his evening walk, and stops by the neighborhood bar for a beer and a chat with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) about who is the most popular Paterson native: Lou Costello or Fetty Wap.
As each day closes, a new one begins. Each one rhymes with the previous, but there are variations on a theme. One morning Laura awakes and tells Paterson that she dreamt they had twins, one for each of them. Paterson chuckles at the idea but begins to notice twins everywhere he goes. Paterson himself is a twin of the city he resides in, the bus he drives, and the hobby he practices. His hero is William Carlos Williams, also a poet from the same town. There must be something in that Passiac water.
Paterson is a delight. Few movies are this comfortable inside their own skin, and fewer still make you feel the same way. Jarmusch achieves this through ease and grace, the kind that comes not from conflict or strife, but from contemplation and appreciation. Movies make me homesick for places I’ve never been. The bathhouse in Spirited Away, those crowded alleys in An Autumn Afternoon, the Isle of Mull in I Know Where I’m Going! and now the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, Doc’s bar, and the waterfalls of the Passaic River.
Paterson is available to stream at Amazon Prime. All photos courtesy Amazon Studios, header image by Mary Cybulsky.