Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic… Jim Jarmusch, “The Golden Rules of Filming”
By J.S. Porter
How do you make a film like Paterson?
You take away a lot of things. No car chases, no violence, no sex, no big explosions, no big dramatic events. You add poetry with your slow, lingering camera—a young girl’s smile, a wife’s vivacity, a husband’s seriousness.
You add simple things: A husband (Adam Driver) who is a bus driver and a poet lying in bed with his wife (Golshifteh Farahani), kissing her before he goes off to work. A dog tied to a post. A rapper practising his craft. An overburdened supervisor. A young girl sharing her poetry. A Japanese tourist who gives the bus driver- poet an unexpected gift. A wife who bakes cupcakes and designs black-and-white dresses with large oval patterns.
You see the bus driver on his route through the city, listening to conversations on the bus, daydreaming, composing poems in his head, the words of which you see on the screen. (The words are those of the American poet Ron Padgett.) Simple words, evocative and pictorial. For instance, “Poem:”
I’m in the house
It’s nice out
Sun on cold snow
First day of spring
Or last day of winter
My legs run up the stairs
And out the door
My top half here writing
The driver-poet comes home, eats his dinner quietly with his wife, takes his dog for a walk, ties him to a post outside the neighbourhood tavern where he drinks a single beer and then comes home. He repeats these rituals every weekday, Monday through Friday.
The wife encourages the husband to keep writing his poems in a notebook because she says that the world needs to see them.
A fairytale? The wife never seems to raise her voice or express frustration. The husband seems unfailingly caring and interested in his wife’s day. They don’t seem to fight. It’s like no marriage I’ve ever seen and yet the relationship seems right for the film in its sweetness and charm.
Paterson is out on DVD now. I didn’t see it on the big screen when it first came out in 2016. Since the movie scenes are mostly of the cityscape and interiors, you don’t miss much with a smaller screen, except maybe the grandeur of the Paterson waterfalls where the bus driver-poet goes to contemplate and write poems in his notebook.
And yes, the city is Paterson, New Jersey and the main character is also Paterson and, to add to the twining, there is a famous book of poetry by the Paterson poet-doctor William Carolos Williams called Paterson, a long epic poem published in five volumes. Director Jim Jarmusch likes twining things, chiming one thing with another. He likes resonances, echoes, layering.
Jim Jarmusch generally pays as much attention to sound in his films as he pays to image. The only thing I miss in this quiet film about love and poetry is a killer soundtrack, usually, a Jarmusch staple— like Dead Man with Neil Young, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan in Ghost Dog and the mix of classical music with heavy metal in Only Lovers Left Alive. The poetry of Padgett, who wrote four poems specifically for the film— that Jarmusch puts on the screen so lovingly—more than compensates for the lack of memorable music.
Jarmusch, a critic once noted, looks at America as if he were a foreigner in it, a stranger to it. He is ever-alert to the small things of enormous significance.
“What I love about film is it has all the other forms inside of it. It has composition, music, time, language, everything,” Jarmusch says. “It’s the closest thing humans make to dreaming.” Paterson for me is a very beautiful dream. If you didn’t love the poetry of relationships, the poetry of words and the poetry of pauses and silence before the movie, you’ll love them afterwards.
P.S. I only know Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars and only know Golshifteh Farahani from Body of Lies. They’re both superb in Paterson. I’m eager to see more of both actors.