Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
September 28, 2015 3:49 AM - Subscribe

Willie (John Lurie), his pal Eddie (Richard Edson), and visiting sixteen-year-old cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) always manage to make the least of any situation, whether aimlessly traversing the drab interiors and environs of New York City, Cleveland, or an anonymous Florida suburb. With its delicate humor and dramatic nonchalance, Jim Jarmusch’s one-of-a-kind minimalist masterpiece transformed the landscape of American independent cinema.

Part of the Criterion On Hulu film club.

"You know, it's funny... you come to someplace new, an'... and everything looks just the same."
"No kiddin', Eddie."
posted by Ian A.T. (16 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Eszter Balint was the Hungarian violinist that Louie fell in love with on Louie. I never made the connection until just now.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:14 AM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Along the same lines: Richard Edson, who's so perfectly cast here as the friend, was (among many other things) a member of Sonic Youth in the early days and played one of the garage attendants who take Mr. Frye's Ferrari on a joyride in Ferris Beuller's Day Off.
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:41 AM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't even finished it yet (apparently my MO with this club is I start the movie Sunday evening and fall asleep at about the 1 hour point, having to finish it up later in the week), but I still have COMMENTS:

- Opening shot: Everything about this scene is ancient! Security-free access to an airport! PanAm! Suitcases without wheels!

- Look how fucking dirty NYC is!

- "Hey Willie, Does Cleveland look a little like Budapest?" "Shut up, Eddie"

- Was Frances Ha made in deliberate aesthetic homage, complete with the roommate in Frances Ha dressing like Willie/Bela?
posted by latkes at 7:24 AM on September 28, 2015

Watching the end now. [I wonder if some time we could do a live watch of something and comment as we go - would be interested in other folks' off-the-cuff responses]. I notice when they walk into the hotel in Florida, Eva says, "This looks familiar", which I guess is a theme.

I'm interested in people's reads of Eva as a character. She seems very much out of a feminism and female-powered punk aesthetic that existed in the 70s. I can't image her in existing in any American made movie now (and even in this she seems very European, which, obviously, she actually is...)

Also, I just want to say, the soundtrack is outstanding, and this movie is funny.
posted by latkes at 7:47 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

OK one more thing about Eva. I think she's like, the anti-manic-pixie. Because she is the foil to transform Willie the dickish loser into Willie the adventurer or maybe Willie the chivalrous. But she doesn't do that. He stays kind of a dick, until the end, and then has his kind of potentially transformative moment - but it's also kind of in character for a risk taker with poor decision making skills. And meanwhile, Eva gets to still have needs and her own character trajectory that isn't just about transforming the men around her. She has tastes (the dress is ugly and her boyfriend is irrelevant) and she's wily and knows when to grab an opportunity and sometimes makes dumb decisions, and otherwise has a real personality.

She's pretty great.
posted by latkes at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I saw this film, but I think her character on Louie and her character here are very similar in some ways. They're both kind of cynical and no-bullshit. Not cruel, but it's like they've both been through a lot and they are way past the point of pretense. Both fascinate the men in their lives, and in both cases you get the feeling these women kind of enjoy that but also feel like it's kind of a pain in the ass.

Is Eva Willie's first cousin? It's been long enough that I can't remember. If so, that gives the film a weird edge. It's not like he declares his love or they even kiss or anything, but I remember thinking that his feelings for her seemed romantic.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:50 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I read them as first cousins, although it's not spelled out either way. I liked the uncomfortable frission of the shifting dynamic from irritated big brother to desire or... something inbetween? Ultimately, the failure to turn this movie into any kind of conventional romance is part of what is so so amazing about it, for me. On some basic level, it's incredibly refreshing to see women and men interacting as friends onscreen period.
posted by latkes at 3:15 PM on September 29, 2015

My current desktop background.

latkes, thanks for recommending this! I'm pretty sure I saw it in college, but I guess it didn't make nearly the impression on me that it did this weekend. I really loved much so that any comments I have are just boring variations on "Remember that one part? That was cool." So just a few things then:
  • I hope Willie didn't take all the money on the plane with him. Poor Eddie!
  • Eddie is such a perfectly realized character. He's a cool guy, but not as cool as his friend, and he's a little try-hard and a little too willing to get steamrolled. I've known so many Eddies.
  • I loved the black screens between each scene. Pauline Kael said that they work "like the pauses in Samuel Beckett" and I don't know about all that, but they did work as making the film a series of vignettes (and tempering expectations for a traditional narrative).
  • I'm sure I'm not the only person who was blown back by the hot wind of nostalgia while watching this. Maybe not for that specific time and place, but for the aggressive aimlessness of youth. I can't get over how great it was that this was a film about being young, but it wasn't about a specific youth culture and there were no real 1984 cultural signifiers to put Willie and Eddie into context. They weren't really punks, they weren't really rockabilly, they weren't really Downtown burnouts...but they weren't necessarily NOT any of those things either.
  • I really liked the scene where Willie is being a dick to the factory worker at the bus stop and Eddie calls him out on it. It teases at a class distinction that I thought was interesting: Willie and Eddie might be broke, but they're not really poor. I'm not saying they're trust fund kids or anything like that—they're almost surely "out on their own"—but I feel like they have a small safety net in the form of their families that this guy doesn't have.
I don't think that's all I have to say, but that's all I can think of for now.
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:01 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

- Opening shot: Everything about this scene is ancient! Security-free access to an airport! PanAm! Suitcases without wheels!

Movies that were made while I was already an adult shouldn't look as old as this. The phones, the TV, newspapers, smoking (Chesterfields!), TV dinners, skinny people, no internet, no mobile phones.
posted by octothorpe at 5:03 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Although I think the movie plays like it could be almost any year between, say, 1975-1995. In the 70s Willie and Eddie would've had big sideburns, maybe. But otherwise the movie has a kind of New York skuzz that was around for a long time. Fashion-wise, the fedora and leather coat thing makes the boys look more like extra from Mean Streets than 1984 hipsters.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned those long, excruciating but hilarious pauses at the end of scenes, when nothing happens but the camera just doesn't cut away. I haven't seen many of Jamusch's other films. Does he do that thing in any of his other movies or was it a one-off?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:52 PM on September 29, 2015

Of his films, I've only seen Mystery Train and Broken Flowers but I don't remember either of those having those pauses. They're all paced much slower than most other director's films though.

It was fascinating to see a film with a complete lack of normal editing. It takes some balls to film everything in such long continuous segments since that makes it impossible to do much fixing in the editing room. If one actor has a good take but the other actor flubs a line, you can't just grab a better take for the second actor. There's not much opportunity to change the pacing either since there are so few cuts.
posted by octothorpe at 5:00 AM on September 30, 2015

Jarmusch's notes on the film are pretty interesting and really show how much more complicated and carefully choreographed this film is than it initially appears.
posted by octothorpe at 7:27 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't really think there's a romantic interest between Willie and Eva. She is as far as I know his first cousin. But I'm thinking maybe we get so acclimated to seeing women are romantic interests, it's like you're primed to look around for sexual tension. But she doesn't even come across as sexy. She's just cool. She's cooler than Willie, for whom coolness seems to be a defining characteristic. I think he just admires her, really.

I really love how Willie sets it up as though his little cousin, some hapless kid from Hungary, is going to come around and cramp his style for a while, and she so quickly disabuses him. When he starts with that paternalistic kind of speech about where she can go and where she can't, she just blows him off with the non sequitur, "No. I am going alone." When he gets her that dress so she can dress like a normal person, and she thanks him, but says, "I think it is pretty ugly. Don't you?" And then when she gets those groceries (including a TV dinner for him) with no money. She's polite about it, mostly, but she doesn't let anyone else tell her what to do.

Jarmusch's ability to portray female characters not strictly from the male gaze is sadly rare. I mean, he can and has had 'sexy ladies' in his movies, but he knows how to write female characters that are cool and interesting and intriguing and not primarily as perceived by men.

And oh, man, I love Aunt Lotte so much.

Jarmusch just seems to have a natural ability and clear tendency to actually treat women like people. To the point that you might even think that was a theme of the film, but that's actually more the default way that Jarmusch approaches his female characters. Which makes it all the weirder that his movies are usually about 80% dudes.

I'm pretty sure Willie doesn't have anything on him when he gets on that plane. He even hands his coat to Eddie before he goes, so I think he's going to show up in Budapest and be pretty much in the situation that Eva was when she got to New York. There is a theme of alienation throughout that is punctuated by all three of them being separated like that at the end.

Peripheral stuff:

I was still (barely) a teenager when this came out, and I fixated on it pretty hard, as teenagers do. I saw it I think 7 times in its initial run, and I ended up following a bunch of things because of it, including pretty much everyone involved in it (Jarmusch, Lurie, Balint, and Edson are all musicians), as well as the No Wave movement in general, which this movie is peripheral to.

And John Lurie is a real Renaissance man. He's a painter and musician and actor and a director, too. His series Fishing with John, which is streaming now, is IIRC the only TV show selected for the Criterion Collection. I can't right now find anything explicitly confirming or refuting this, but I know I heard it somewhere. And someone, whom I suspect to be Santa Claus, just put up the first episode on Fanfare just now.

He's still not as cool as Eszter Balint, but nobody is, so.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:51 AM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

But I'm thinking maybe we get so acclimated to seeing women are romantic interests, it's like you're primed to look around for sexual tension.

Yeah, I think you're right on on this.
posted by latkes at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2015

(and everything else)
posted by latkes at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2015

The camera of this thread doesn't cut away at the end of the discussion. A month later, Ian wanders back into frame as though no time has passed.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned those long, excruciating but hilarious pauses at the end of scenes, when nothing happens but the camera just doesn't cut away. I haven't seen many of Jamusch's other films. Does he do that thing in any of his other movies or was it a one-off?

I don't know if that's his trademark going forward, but here it's an homage to Ozu, specifically Tokyo Story, which gets name-checked here and whose structure this film very very loosely follows. Ozu's directing style can be described as "put the camera on the floor and make sure it doesn't move."
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:14 AM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

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