Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stranger Than Paradise / Night On Earth

Posted on Thu, Sep 13, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Stranger Than Paradise / Night On Earth
Studio: Criterion
WorkNameSort: Stranger Than Paradise / Night On Earth
The arrival of Jim Jarmusch's groundbreaking masterpiece Stranger Than Paradise in a crisp new Criterion transfer isn't a big deal ' the film has been readily available on a quality MGM disc for some time. What is a reason to own this two-disc release is the bonus movie: Criterion has been kind enough to include Permanent Vacation, Jarmusch's obscure 1980 student film.

As writer Luc Sante says in his included essay on the film, Permanent Vacation was released in America to such little consequence that The New York Times 'didn't bother to review it,â?� but it's been celebrated in Europe. The meandering movie is about a hip and disaffected youth (Chris Parker) who encounters one eccentric crazy after another on New York streets that have never looked so desolate. It's not a lot of fun, but it casts a languorous spell. This is thanks in part to the atonal no-wave soundtrack and the nonplussed, Bresson-like blankness of Parker, its protagonist-cipher. But Jarmusch takes risks here that go beyond dissonantly scored distancing effects ' how often do you get to see a character read a book on screen? The collection of talent from the other arts ' director Jarmusch had been a musician, cinematographer Tom DiCillo an actor and jittery actor Parker a painter ' instills Vacation with a kind of artistic fusion that is far removed from story-bound movie entertainment.

The main attraction, Stranger Than Paradise, is even better and funnier than I remembered it. The plot is almost as threadbare as its predecessor's; the Hungarian cousin (singer Eszter Balint) of a New York hipster (John Lurie) arrives in his home for an unexpectedly long visit. A year later, Lurie and his slow-witted gambling buddy (Richard Edson) meet up with Balint in Ohio and take her on a road trip to Florida. Jarmusch wasn't the first director to photograph drab inaction so elegantly, but he's certainly responsible for making it cool.

Criterion has also released Jarmusch's Night on Earth for the first time on DVD. A conceptual piece, it plays out as a linked series of shorts, each taking place in a taxicab. The stories progress from Los Angeles to New York to Paris to Rome to Helsinki. An uneven work, it does include perhaps the finest 23 minutes in the Jarmusch oeuvre, the brilliant New York sketch in which a frustrated firecracker (Giancarlo Esposito) takes a ride with a former East German circus clown who has no idea how to drive a car with an automatic transmission. Unfortunately, you also have to sit through the Rome sketch, with Roberto Benigni's cabbie making a taxicab confession to a priest about his history of fornicating with a pumpkin and a sheep. Benigni plus bestiality should equal funny, but for some reason it completely misses the mark. The absorbing special features include a lengthy audio Q&A session, with Jarmusch fielding questions about the film by fans from around the world. Some of the most entertaining questions have nothing to do with Night on Earth; if you always wondered if Jarmusch prefers Elvis Presley to Carl Perkins, watch and find out.

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