Jim Jarmusch on “Paterson”
Fly On The Wall
Feb 10, 2017 Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary Photography by Sara Driver
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In Jim Jarmusch's new film, Paterson, Adam Driver plays the titular Paterson in the titular town of Paterson, New Jersey. He is a bus driver and a poet, two things that may not coalesce in the minds of snap judgments or assumptions. Every day, Paterson sits in his bus writing notes and lines he will eventually use in a poem. There is often a stilted narration providing a glimpse into his work and thought process. Later, a new narration kicks in and the poem is delivered with more confidence and polish.
Paterson's life is very regimented and routine-driven. He gets up at roughly the same time every day and drives his route the same way. He goes home at night and greets his wife, has dinner, walks his dog, stops at his local pub for a pint, and goes home for it all to start over yet again. Jarmusch, the filmmaker behind Down by Law, Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai, and Only Lovers Left Alive, is not the same kind of creative entity as Paterson in the film.
"He likes to have that kind of regimented life, that character, because it allows him to drift and receive things for his creative part," Jarmusch says. "For me, I don't like regimentation. My motto has always been 'it's hard to get lost if you don't know where you're going' and 'the best plan is no plan.' I'm the happiest and most productive when I'm generating ideas when I wake up and I don't have anything I'm supposed to do and I get a lot done."
Even in the course of making a film, something that is formed so rigidly, he says he looks for ways to keep the process loose and open.
"Of course, when you're making a film every hour is money and it's very regimented. But even within that, I like freedom. I never storyboard a film, I don't even write shot lists, so me and the DP will have an idea of how we're going to shoot a scene in advance, but we don't distribute it to the crew and say 'here's how many set ups we'll be doing today.'"
This loose feel comes through in the film, as well. Several scenes place Paterson as the fly on the wall, driving his bus, listening to conversations among his patrons. It's a practice Jarmusch himself employs.
"I love that. I like it on the subway, I like it in restaurants. I'm always kind of eavesdropping. The two guys talking about girls [in Paterson] is almost verbatim something I heard in a diner about 10 years ago. It was hilarious."
It's a sequence where two men on the bus are bragging about their sexual conquests, though it is revealed that they both backed away when the moment came because they were tired. Another time, Jarmusch was walking in New York City late at night and he came across a pair of men he believed to be addicts, leaning over, about ready to pass out.
"As I pass one guy says, 'No man, I ain't talking about the films Dennis Hopper's in as an actor, I'm talking about the films he directed,'" Jarmusch recalls. "That's what I heard. And I learned, too, you should never ever judge anyone by their appearance or anything. You could see a little, old Chinese lady who could kick your ass, or she could be a nuclear physicist. I've learned in my life, don't assume anything about anyone based on their outward appearance or condition, so I love listening to the things people say."
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]
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