Adam Driver as Paterson, in a new film from Jim Jarmusch.
More and more movies of late have been based on comic books and graphic novels; and that's even if we discount the entire (and entirely vapid) Marvel universe. Think: Ghost World (2001); A History of Violence (2005); and V for Vendetta (2005). A successful graphic novel comes with a built-in audience, and is itself a ready-made story-board: no wonder Hollywood sees the genre as a motherlode to be mined.
But there are also movies which, as you watch them you think: "This would make a great graphic novel." It's something about their simplicity, I think, with everything pared down to an essence: simplified landscapes, and relationships devoid of prickly emotional complications. Jim Jarmusch's new film Paterson is one of those.
Jim Jarmusch's version of Paterson, New Jersey, exists in a parallel universe to our own; the Paterson in Paterson could be just down the road from Archie Andrews' Riverdale. People are friendly to each other in this alternate Paterson, and love—though not always requited—is uncomplicated, sexless, and apparently eternal. A young woman in the alternate Paterson can reasonably dream of becoming a country music star: perhaps the next Patsy Cline—though she might, instead, end up as Paterson's "Cupcake Queen." A bus driver in Paterson can walk to work each day carrying his metal lunch-box, into which he sometimes places a postcard of Dante Alighieri—as inspiration (since his avocation is that of a poet: he writes poems into a secret notebook before each shift).
In the real Paterson, only phillumenists will have heard of Ohio Blue Tip Matches; in Jarmusch's Paterson, the legendary Blue Tip matches still exist, and a small box of them could inspire a bus driver's love poem, with their "one and a half inch soft pine stem capped / by a grainy dark purple head, so sober and furious / and stubbornly ready to burst into flame."
The closest thing to urban crime that you'll encounter in Jarmusch's Paterson is a single solitary car at night, with four young black men who play their music a trifle loudly, and comment that your English bulldog "could get dog-jacked." A would-be rapper in the alternate Paterson practices his raps while doing a load of wash in the local laundromat; and it comes as no surprise to discover that his rap includes a classic William Carlos Williams line: "No ideas but in things." Young girls in Paterson are quite likely to know the poetry of Emily Dickenson—and they write surprisingly good poetry of their own.
There is some overlap between these parallel universes: both versions of Paterson include among their famous sons the poets William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, and the comic actor Lou Costello (of Abbott and Costello fame). Of the two versions, I think I'd rather visit the Jarmusch Paterson than our own.
Paterson stars Adam Driver as Paterson, the poetry-writing bus driver, with Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as Laura, his love interest (yes: as in Petrarch's Laura). There's one more VIFF screening of Paterson at 6:00 p.m. on October 14th, 2016, at the Rio Theatre. You can watch a trailer for Paterson here.
PS: I discovered via the film's credits that Paterson's poetry was actually written by poet Ron Padgett, a member (along with Frank O'Hara) of the New York School. Padgett's Collected Poems runs to 810 pages, so if you like the samples used in Paterson, there's plenty more where they came from.