Not Rated Dir: Jim Jarmusch | Criterion | 1h 29min
Willie (John Lurie) has just learned that his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) is flying into New York from Budapest, so she will need to stay with him for a while. This news displeases him to no end, as he sees his cousin as a hindrance to his shiftless lifestyle of gambling and frozen dinners. So he gives her a rather cold reception, which she returns in spades. But as time passes, the two start to get along and the ten days then end, so she heads to Cleveland. A year later, Willie and his friend Eddie (Richard Edson) plan to go on the road with some recent winnings, so Willie suggests Cleveland. The two meet up with Eva and while the stay in Cleveland is less than enjoyable, the trio soon head off for the sunny climate of Florida. There seems to be good luck in the air for the three, but will their luck hold up for long?
This is the kind of movie that is sure to divide audiences, some will be bored to near death and others will proclaim it a true masterpiece of cinema. Jim Jarmusch shot Stranger Than Paradise with minimal resources, but the kind of story told within the film has to be told with minimal resources. This is as basic and simple as film production can be, a small cast, static frames, and a focus on dialogue. Just put the actors in front of the camera and let it happen, no need for special effects, trick photography, or star power, this is as minimal as minimal can be. The end result is kind of unique, a look at the lives of three characters and how they spend their time, with no grand vision involved. I’ve had friends tell me they were inspired, others said it was a waste of their lives, but I fall in the middle. I don’t think this is a great movie, but I do think it has its moments and stands out from the crowd. Criterion has drummed up quite the package with this release, so fans should be thrilled.
Video: How does it look?
The films of Jim Jarmusch won’t ever look razor sharp and eptiomize the Blu-ray format. Especially not a for a film that was made in the mid 80’s. But Criterion has had this in their catalog and used a new transfer for this Blu-ray edition. I noticed right off how much brighter the image, so a lot more detail is visible and that makes a lot of difference. Not to say too bright, as the contrast is well balanced, but this cures the overly dark scenes found on that prior edition. The digital restoration yields a clean print, but it never looks over processed, which is good news. This is just another excellent transfer from Criterion, as expected.
Audio: How does it sound?
As expected, there wasn’t a lot of room for improvement with the mono option found on the disc . I didn’t hear any serious issues like hiss or harshness, so the vocals sound clear and the other sound effects are up to snuff. Not much else to say here, this sounds good and that’s that. As much as I’d like to prattle on and say how amazing this sounds, it’s a passable track, but fans should expect this.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A number of features found on the previously-released DVD have made the leap here, along with some new ones. Let’s dive in.
- Audio commentary – Sourced from Criteron’s old LaserDisc (and strangely not present on the DVD), Director Jim Jarmusch and actor Richard Edson collaborate on the track. Granted, the recording is now over twenty years old, but fans will most certainly enjoy this being included.
- Permanent Vacation – Jim Jarmusch’s first film is included in its entirety.
- Kino ’84: Jim Jarmusch, – A German television show that interviewed prominent cast and crew members. This show runs around forty-five minutes and has a lot of worthwhile information, so another fine inclusion.
- Some Days in January 1984 – Jim’s brother, Tom, has a short film included as well.
- Trailers – Japanese and U.S. versions are included.
- Illustrated Booklet – Critics Geoff Andrew and J. Hoberman offer some insight on the film as well as Permanent Vacation.
The Bottom Line
Jarmusch’s films won’t appeal to everyone. Most of them don’t appeal to me, though I have to say I did enjoy Dead Man, Ghost Dog and Broken Flowers. Stranger Than Paradise is a film that’s been in Criterion’s catalog for a couple of decades and will likely always remain a staple. The standard DVD that Criterion put out can’t really compete with this new edition, so if you’ve been looking for a reason to upgrade – here you go.