Back in the excess-is-best 1980s, the pared-down minimalism of 1984's Stranger than Paradise played like the product of another time--or even another planet. It was so "off," i.e. offbeat and off-kilter, it was (right) on.... more » Now seen as a classic of American independent cinema, it compares favorably to other monochromatic first features, like Border Radio and Mala Noche (also lovingly restored by the movie mavens at the Criterion Collection). The acclaim was justified--except it wasn't Jarmusch's first film. That honor belongs to 1980's Permanent Vacation, making its long-awaited digital debut on this two-disc set. Shot by Tom DiCillo, Jarmusch's initial offering revolves around the name Parker: Chris Parker is Aloysious Parker, a ducktailed New Yorker with a jones for Charlie Parker. Allie's a drifter and a dime-store philosopher. "That's how thing work for me," he drawls in voice-over, "I go from this place, this person, to that place or person." And so he does. Fresh from NYU, where he assisted Nicholas Ray, Jarmusch displays an innate talent for framing and dialogue (Allie lives for "vibrating, bugged-out sound"). His touch with actors--Frankie Faison's raconteur aside--is less assured, but he learned quickly. Lounge Lizard John Lurie cameos as a sax player. DiCillo returns for Stranger than Paradise, in which he and Jarmusch trade color for black and white stock (donated by Wim Wenders). In this "semi-neorealist black comedy," as the filmmaker puts it in the production notes (included with this set), Hungarian teenager Eva (Eszter Balint) arrives in New York ("The New World") to stay with her cousin, Willie (Lurie). A drifter, like Allie, she continues on to Cleveland ("One Year Later") and Florida ("Paradise"). With nothing better to do, Willie and Eddie (Richard Edson) tag along. As opposed to the rapid-fire cutting of the day, Jarmusch uses static shots divided by black screen. He may have taken cues from Ozu and The Honeymooners--dig those porkpie hats--but the end product couldn?t be more idiosyncratic. This director-approved double-feature comes complete with a German TV documentary (Kino '84: Jim Jarmusch), behind-the-scenes footage, US and Japanese trailers, and a 44-page booklet with essays by J. Hoberman and Luc Sante. Just as Stranger than Paradise stands as one of the defining films of the 1980s, this special edition represents one of the most essential DVD releases of the 2000s. --Kathleen C. Fennessy« less
Brilliant, hilarious study of aimlessness & anomie
Lleu Christopher | Hudson Valley, NY | 12/25/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This deceptively simple movie, Jim Jarmusch's first, has been called the first modern independent film. Shot in black and white, it follows the nonadventures of three completely aimless characters, Willie, Eddie and Willie's cousin Eva. The first scenes mostly show Willie lying in bed or smoking a cigarette in his dingy Brooklyn apartment. His friend Eddie visits and they sit silently drinking beer. When Cousin Eva from Hungary arrives, the three of them sit around watching television. Not very exciting maybe, but there is a subtle genius to the way this film progresses. Eva goes to Cleveland to live with her aunt; Eddie and Willie decide to visit her. Soon the three drive down to Florida. Each landscape is portrayed as desolate and depressing. The shots look like black and white photos from the Old West, or perhaps the depression. Gradually the three interact and display emotion, though it is all within the rigid confines of their incredibly limited existence. There is quite a bit of deadpan humor, which works precisely because the actors seem unaware of it. The performances are all completely natural and understated, containing none of the self-conscious hipness of many more recent art films. This is probably the closest any film has come to portraying a pure existentialism that is both funny and tragic. These characters utterly lack any sense of purpose, ambition or connectedness to a wider world. What's more and what is a little disturbing is the way this film, if you get into the spirit of it, makes you seriously question whether anyone can truly break through these limits. On one level, we can wonder at and laugh at the apparent stupidity of these people as they sit in silence or engage in ridiculous conversations about nothing. On another level these scenes have an honesty and simple intensity that makes you (or me at least) suspect that the grandiose plans, action and meaning that fills the screen in most other films is mainly pomp and vanity. I admire the way Jarmusch allows nothing to happen much of the time. It's a refreshing contrast to mainstream films filled with mindless action, tediously hip dialogue and "meaningful" relationships. Not that all films should be like Stranger Than Paradise; but its unique style puts other films --and life--into a new and greater perspective."
Low-budget, minimalist meditation on the American Dream
Matthew Parks | DURHAM, NC USA | 12/15/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mundane and deliberately paced, yet strangely appealing, this oddball ultra-low-budget movie (made with left-over film stock given to Jarmusch by director Wim Wenders) from Jarmusch deals with three people who take an unsuccessful road trip from Detroit to Florida. The DVD reveals the limitations of the original film, both in terms of sound and picture. It's grainy thoughout, and the dialogue does not always sound clear. Luckily, both of these strike you as appropriate for this film. Jarmusch's characters stubbornly refuse to reveal much of anything about themselves, either to the audience or to each other.Many find Stranger than Paradise difficult to watch, mostly because of Jarmusch minimalist approach to this film, along with the fact that boredom, frustration, and disappointment are the primary elements of the film's subject. There's very little action. . .it's not funny, exactly. . .there's not a lot of drama. . .there's no sex. . .but somehow it still manages to succeed without all of that."
Engrossing Film By Jarmusch
Reviewer | 11/16/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An excellent example of why independent films are so invaluable, "Stranger Than Paradise," written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, is a bare-bones production that never would have found the light of day in the mainstream. Essentially a character study, the story is a glimpse into the lives of three people: Willie (John Lurie); his cousin, Eva (Eszter Balint), recently arrived in New York from Hungary; and Willie's friend, Eddie (Richard Edson). After a couple of weeks in the Big Apple with Willie, Eva moves to Cleveland to live with their Aunt; a year later, Willie and Eddie are off to visit her. One thing leads to another, and the trio wind up in Florida (the designated paradise of the title). Watching this film is like spending time with some people you know; the characters are real people, so much so that watching them becomes almost voyeuristic, the camera somehow intrusive, exposing as it does the private lives of these individuals. It succinctly captures their lack of ambition, the ambiguity with which they approach life, and the fact that they seemingly have no prospects for the future beyond whatever a lucky day at the track affords them. The action, such as it is, is no more than what you would find in the average day of someone's life. The dialogue is what drives the film, though frankly, nothing they have to say is very interesting. And yet, this is an absolutely engrossing film; sometimes amusing, at times hilarious, but mesmerizing throughout. The performances are entirely credible, and again, you never have the sense that these are actors, but rather real people who happen to have had some moments from their lives filmed and presented to the audience for perusal. Jarmusch has an innate sense of capturing the essence of the everyday and transforming the most simplistic and mundane events into refreshingly documented, worthwhile viewing. It's an inspired piece of film making, helped to some extent by the stark black&white photography that adds to the realism of the overall proceedings. The use of brief blackouts during transitions works effectively, as well as providing the film with a unique signature. Original music is by Lurie, but the highlight is the use of the song "I Put A Spell On You," by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, used recurringly throughout the movie, and which exemplifies that special touch Jarmusch brings to his projects. And there's a superb bit of irony at the end that really makes this gem sparkle. The supporting cast includes Cecillia Stark (Aunt Lotte), Danny Rosen (Billy), Tom DiCillo (Airline Agent), Richard Boes (Factory Worker) and Rockets Redglare, Harvey Perr and Brian J. Burchill (as the Poker players). "Stranger Than Paradise" may not be to everyone's liking, but to those seeking an alternative to the typical Hollywood big-budget fare available, it just may fit the bill and provide a satisfying, entertaining experience."
Hello? Is any body out there?
S. brabson | Los Angeles, CA United States | 11/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm laughing at some of these reviews. Nothing happens? There really is no message? Boring? No character depth?
People, it's not hard to get an education in this country. Maybe some you should look into enrolling somewhere. There are immensly tantilzing themes in this movie which are dramatized so beautifully it's almost painful. Not one person touched on the startling power of a young man who falls in love with his own cousin. Talk about immposible love. Or the slow, almost invisible build of their friendship told exclusively through subtext revealed through a bare minimum of words.No theme? The scene of three young people looking out into the white fog over a winter lake not obvious enough? This image perfectly captures the frustration of looking for an illusive, promised paradise in the land of milk and honey.
These aren't three boring people with boring lives. This is us. Get it?"
The Honeymooners by way of Ozu
Cubist | United States | 09/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Stranger Than Paradise not only announced the arrival of an original filmmaker with Jim Jarmusch, but also signaled the arrival of a new wave of American independent cinema along with the Coen brothers' Blood Simple and Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It. Jarmusch's film came as a response to the impersonal commercial filmmaking of the Hollywood studios. His film was originally nothing more than a 30-minute short film shot from 40 minutes of extraneous film stock donated by German filmmaker Wim Wenders. Eventually, Jarmusch came into a small sum of money -- $120,000 worth -- and was able to complete the film.
Described by Jarmusch as The Honeymooners by way of Ozu, Stranger introduced his trademark style: minimal sets and long, uninterrupted takes with very little camera movement that are punctuated by the occasional fade to black. It is a funky mix of deadpanned American humour and a European visual sensibility. Stranger was made during the dawn of MTV and its success seems rather odd considering that it was the antithesis of most films being made in America at the time. The rather slow, meandering pace of Stranger did not conform to the quick cut, music video style that was fashionable at the time. His characters also lacked any sort of real ambition which was a world apart from most mainstream films. His approach seems downright revolutionary now as people's collective attention spans have gotten considerably shorter.
Stranger Than Paradise won the Camera d'or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and was soon heralded by many critics as a watershed film in American independent cinema. Much has been written about the film's outsider view of America and to be fair, the sparse visuals and down-on-their-luck hipsters that populate this film certainly flies in the face of the materialism of the 1980s, making it just as unique and significant today as it was back then.
Fans of this film can finally toss the crappy, bare bones MGM DVD as Criterion has given Jarmusch's film their deluxe treatment.
Perhaps the most substantial extra is the inclusion of Jarmusch's feature film debut, Permanent Vacation (1980). It's about the story of Ally Parker (Chris Parker), the prototypical Jarmusch protagonist - an alienated outsider. Jarmusch's stylistic approach is intact but with an even more non-sensical narrative that seems avant garde in nature.
"Kino '84: Jim Jarmusch" was produced for German television in 1984 and features interviews with some of the cast and crew from Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise. They all look so young and were just starting out. It's a nice snapshot of the times with the normally media-shy Sara Driver (Jarmusch's significant other) recounting filming anecdotes.
"Some Days in January 1984" is a 14-minute, Super 8 behind-the-scenes silent film shot by Tom Jarmusch. It looks like home movies as we see cast and crew freezing in Cleveland.
"Location Scouting" is a collection of black and white photographs taken while Jarmusch was checking out locations to use in the film. Sadly, they don't say where in Florida they were but these stills do look excellent.
Finally, there are U.S. and Japanese trailers for the film."