coming up on TV: NIGHT ON EARTH

NIGHT ON EARTH in Rome

Coming up on Turner Classic Movies on September 8 is Night on Earth, with one of the very funniest scenes and one of the very saddest scenes in the same movie.  Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Night on Earth is comprised of five vignettes each in a taxi and each in a different city: Los Angeles, New York, Paris Rome and, of all places, Helsinki.

Moving west to east across the time zones, Night on Earth opens with the contrast between a working class driver (Wynona Ryder) and a striver executive (Gena Rowlands) and how they connect – or don’t.

Then we move to New York where a totally disoriented East German immigrant (Armin Mueller-Stahl) gets a job driving a hack (on his first or second day in the US) and picks up potty-mouthed passengers (Giancarlo Esposito and Rosie Perez).

The LA and NYC scenes are good, but Night on Earth really accelerates in Paris when an African immigrant driver (Isaach De Bankolé) picks up a blind woman (the gap-toothed beauty Béatrice Dall). They are both a bit touchy and immediately get underneath each others skins. The prickly conversation that follows teaches each a little about the other.

Now we get to perhaps the funniest episode in the movies (yes, I mean in the history of cinema).   A manic, motormouth Roman cabbie (Roberto Benigni) picks up an ailing Catholic cleric and regales him with an unwanted stream of consciousness confession, highlighting his own ever more inappropriate sexual partners, including a pumpkin and a sheep. It’s a rapid fire comedic assault sure to convulse any audience.

Finally, in Helsinki, two guys toss their passed-out buddy into a cab, and explain that he’s had the worst day ever – he has lost his job just when he has a wife looking for a divorce and a pregnant daughter. But the driver (Matti Pellonpää) tells them a story that tops it. Profound sadness.

The cult director and indie favorite Jarmusch made Night on Earth in 1991 after he first made a splash with Mystery Train.  He followed it with Dead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers and last year’s PatersonNight on Earth is one of the few movies that I own on DVD, and it’s now available from the Criterion Collection.  But you can see it Friday on TCM. Go for it.

NIGHT ON EARTH in Paris

DVD/Stream of the Week: PATERSON – inside a poet

Adam Driver in PATERSON
Adam Driver in PATERSON

In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Adam Driver plays a Paterson, New Jersey, bus driver named Paterson. Paterson is a poet, and, when you think about it, bus driver is a perfect job for someone who eavesdrops and observes, and who needs time to rework phrases in his head. Paterson the movie is a genial, occasionally very funny, portrait of an artist’s creative process.

There’s not much overt action or conflict in Paterson. Every morning Paterson awakes between 6:09 and 6:27 AM, kisses the cheek or naked shoulder of his girlfriend Laura and heads to the kitchen for coffee and Cheerios. While his bus is warming up, he drafts and edits poems in his notebook until his supervisor appears at his bus. After work, he walks home past old factories and straightens his leaning mailbox. After dinner, he walks Laura’s bulldog Marvin and stops for exactly one beer at the neighborhood tavern. The bus, the bar and Paterson’s time going to and fro constitute the platform for his art: finding material for observation and for crafting and recrafting poems.

The city of Paterson is a perfect setting for this story. Paterson is not a tourist destination, and there doesn’t seem to be much interesting in the place that boasts of its memorial to Lou Costello. But a careful, open-minded observer like Paterson can revel in the beauty of the Great Falls of the Passaic River and find interest in all the dingy places and seemingly ordinary denizens.

Paterson doesn’t share any of his poetry, except VERY occasionally to Laura; in Paterson, he even chooses to quote her a poem from someone else when she asks for one of his. Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a suitably kooky artist, is impractical and adorable, and obsessed with black and white. She seems as frivolous as Paterson is deep, but he is devoted to her, and she lightens his life and is the unrelenting cheerleader for his poetry.

Paterson is filled with sly humor, much coming from the antics of the regular folks that Paterson encounters, along with Laura’s goofiness. I particularly enjoyed the two guys on bus talking about women they think have hit on them and the knowitall college student posing as an anarchist. At my screening, wry chuckles kept erupting in the audience.

To make sure we’re paying attention (and enjoying the film on other levels), Jarmusch has filled it with patterns, with recurring themes like twins and secrets and with repeated phrases. Paterson meets three other poets – none anything like him – and at the most unexpected locales.

For Paterson to work, an actor is needed who has the charisma to be interesting while acting very passively. Adam Driver is the perfect choice, and he is exceptional. I also really liked Barry Shabaka Henley as Doc, the tavern’s proprietor and bartender.

Not everyone will enjoy Paterson, but I did. A viewer needs to appreciate the juxtaposition of a routine exterior with an artist’s sometimes bursting inner dialogue. I recommend settling in and going for the ride. Paterson is now available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Barry Shabaka Henley in PATERSON
Barry Shabaka Henley in PATERSON

PATERSON: inside a poet

Adam Driver in PATERSON
Adam Driver in PATERSON

In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Adam Driver plays a Paterson, New Jersey, bus driver named Paterson.  Paterson is a poet, and, when you think about it, bus driver is a perfect job for someone who eavesdrops and observes, and who needs time to rework phrases in his head. Paterson the movie is a genial, occasionally very funny, portrait of an artist’s creative process.

There’s not much overt action or conflict in Paterson. Every morning Paterson awakes between 6:09 and 6:27 AM, kisses the cheek or naked shoulder of his girlfriend Laura and heads to the kitchen for coffee and Cheerios.  While his bus is warming up, he drafts and edits poems in his notebook until his supervisor appears at his bus.  After work, he walks home past old factories and straightens his leaning mailbox.  After dinner, he walks Laura’s bulldog Marvin and stops for exactly one beer at the neighborhood tavern. The bus, the bar and Paterson’s time going to and fro constitute the platform for his art: finding material for observation and for crafting and recrafting poems.

The city of Paterson is a perfect setting for this story. Paterson is not a tourist destination, and there doesn’t seem to be much interesting in the place that boasts of its memorial to Lou Costello. But a careful, open-minded observer like Paterson can revel in the beauty of the Great Falls of the Passaic River and find interest in all the dingy places and seemingly ordinary denizens.

Paterson doesn’t share any of his poetry, except VERY occasionally to Laura; in Paterson, he even chooses to quote her a poem from someone else when she asks for one of his. Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a suitably kooky artist, is impractical and adorable, and obsessed with black and white. She seems as frivolous as Paterson is deep, but he is devoted to her, and she lightens his life and is the unrelenting cheerleader for his poetry.

Paterson is filled with sly humor, much coming from the antics of the regular folks that Paterson encounters, along with Laura’s goofiness. I particularly enjoyed the two guys on bus talking about women they think have hit on them and the knowitall college student posing as an anarchist. At my screening, wry chuckles kept erupting in the audience.

To make sure we’re paying attention (and enjoying the film on other levels), Jarmusch has filled it with patterns, with recurring themes like twins and secrets and with repeated phrases. Paterson meets three other poets – none anything like him and at the most unexpected locales.

For Paterson to work, an actor is needed who has the charisma to be interesting while acting very passively. Adam Driver is the perfect choice, and he is exceptional. I also really liked Barry Shabaka Henley as Doc, the tavern’s proprietor and bartender.

Not everyone will enjoy Paterson, but I did. A viewer needs to appreciate the juxtaposition of a routine exterior with an artist’s sometimes bursting inner dialogue. I recommend settling in and going for the ride.

Barry Shabaka Henley in PATERSON
Barry Shabaka Henley in PATERSON