PatersonJim Jarmusch (USA 2016)Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahaniviewed: Tyneside Cinema 7th Dec 2016: ticket £9.25
Kup Cake Land
Paterson is a New Jersey town, a half hour drive from New York City that was at the heart of the industrialisation of the USA.Important developments in mechanical looms, industrial lathes and guns were made here.The industrial legacy has been omitted from the film which focuses on how the baking of celebrity kup-cakes is replacing poetry by way of celebrating the existence of Paterson.
‘Paterson’, fronted by its eponymous lead character Paterson (Adam Driver), is Jamusch’s paean to William Carlos Williams, poet and doctor who lived and practiced in Paterson. Williams’ work, one book of which is called Paterson is often about Paterson. Williams maps out the contours of the ordinary and everyday in a manner that in part takes a lead from Japanese poetry, in particular the form of the haiku, short poetic pieces energised by surprise in antithesis.
Viewing Jarmusch’s ‘Paterson’ raises the question as to whether the verbal imagery and signage of poetry can be meaningfully transposed to the graphic image of film.
Jarmusch seems to attempt this both in structure of the movie and in the composition of some of his shots.In relation to the latter, Jarmusch uses some shots to try and render something of the sort of casual intense observation characterising Williams’ work.As when the camera at the end of a shot or a sequence comes to rest at or points at a pile of black trash bags or looks down from the point of view of Paterson, into the glass of a half drunk beer.The issue with these shots is that they come across as arbitrary rather than meaningful,denoting a script that struggles to rise aboveformulaic cinematic translation.
Jarmusch structures ‘Paterson’ in a manner that is sympathetic to the way in which Williams sees the world, building in repetitions of the everyday as a poetic motif.After the opening sequences Jarmusch establishes ‘Paterson’ as a diurnal structure, subtitles burning in the day of the week.The film takes us from one Monday morning through to the following Monday morning with the action taking place within the unfolding of everyday: the getting up, the eating breakfast, the walk to work, the work place, the bus driving.
I think that what a poet like William Carlos Williams sees is in a critical respect, under the surface of the image.His thought, a teasing attuned intelligence, uncovers aspects in life.What Jarmusch as the film maker sees, is on the surface.Williams mannered deliberated expression works as it fuses insight and image.Jarmusch’s mannered deliberate film making stays on the surface of life; unable to penetrate substance,‘Paterson’ becomes an exercise in the stylised rendering of the material.Anod and genuflection in Williams’ direction.
I think this is exemplified by the first poem used in the film.The words are spoken and superimposed over the picture of it being written by Paterson as he waits to take his bus out of the depot.The first line is:“We have plenty of matches in our house…”The poem describes a brand of matches and connects them to the love of his life. The problem is that no one in the movie, certainly not Laura or Paterson, uses matches.For Willaim Carlos Williams they would have been part of the fabric of life. And, for this reason matches might have given him pause. In ‘Paterson’ no one smokes, no one lights candles, the hobs don’t need candles.No one uses matches.Matches are not part of life.They are consigned to a past. The suspicion is that they are subject of Paterson’s poetry because they have a ‘cute’ value as a stylistic appropriation.
The misfit between style and content becomes the more manifest as Jarmusch develops the character and role of Laura, who increasingly takes centre stage in the action.Laura, a character perhaps inspired by 1950’s TV sitcom, ‘I Love Lucy’, or a sort of updated Annie Hall type, increasingly dominates the movie,transforming ‘Paterson’ into an aesthetic stylised expression of suburban life.Introduced first on the conjugal bed in an overhead shot, as a sensually posed (Japanese style) composition of black flowing hair, patterned fabric and skin.From here, Laura slowly expands into ‘Paterson’.With her obsession for black and white motifs, her energy finally colonises the movie.By the time we arrive at the Kup Cake bake her stylised aesthetic has crowded out all the other strands of the movie.‘Paterson’ recedes further into the grey as the world of the everyday is overwhelmed by Laura’s cult of can-do celebrity. The social forces retreat against the onslaught of unbridled individuality. William Carlos Williams is Kup-Caked.And in the kup-cakes, ‘Paterson’ becomes a celebration of pure contemporary Americana, a celebration of the vacuousness of individuation.
So Jarmusch’s ‘Paterson’ turns out as allegory of these times of Trump. Old style poetry and seeing the truefade out and the venal mendacity of reality TV increases its vice grip on the psyche of America.She who shouts loudest wins.