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The Criterion Collection presents
"You know, it's funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same."
DVD ReviewThe following is Dale Dobson’s original review of a prior DVD release:
“Jim Jarmusch made his feature film writing/directing debut with 1984's Stranger Than Paradise, a quirky film about a shiftless gambler named Willie (John Lurie), his friend and cohort Eddie (Richard Edson), and his Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint), who comes to New York for an unexpected and unwanted visit. She stays ten days in Willie's cramped, dirty apartment before moving to Cleveland to live with her (and Willie's) Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark). One year later, Willie and Eddie borrow a car and take a trip to Cleveland to visit Eva; the three then head to Florida in search of something different, something more like Paradise.
The film won the "Camera d'Or" Best First Film award at Cannes in 1984 and helped establish the vibrant independent film scene we know today. It's difficult to nail down the appeal of Stranger Than Paradise—it's funny, but not in an easily quotable way; it's truthful, though its truths are not immediately self-evident; and it's not in the least bit romantic. It's a deliberately paced film, shot in low-budget black-and-white with conversations that run at the speed of real life; pauses and blackouts between scenes give it a Beckett-esque sense of timing. Jarmusch's camera lingers and observes with a locked-down but not quite neutral eye, using long, continuous takes; he shows us what he wants us to see but assembles it as a series of vignettes, allowing the audience to fill in some of the gaps on its own.
The film wouldn't be half as entertaining as it is without the wonderful, naturalistic character performances by all involved; one gets the feeling that Jarmusch's script was refined through improvisation, and every scene feels completely real. Musician John Lurie (who also wrote the film's score) is terrific as Willie, who starts out as a rather unlikable fellow but earns our sympathies and laughs as the movie progresses. Eszter Balint is completely credible as Eva, whose accented English belies her independence and sense of humor—she never takes Willie as seriously as he intends to be taken and knows when he's putting her on, which does a lot to soften the edges of both characters. Richard Edson's Eddie is a nice but not-too-bright guy, an appealing loser if there ever was one, and Cecillia Stark's one-and-only film appearance (she passed away shortly after this film was made) as elderly Aunt Lotte is just hilarious—she's everyone's immigrant aunt, hospitable but bewildered, grateful for her small blessings and irritated by everything else.
Stranger Than Paradise isn't for everyone—not very much actually happens, and the film devotes more energy to character study than to its three-act plot. It requires some investment and patience on the viewer's part, and some people just won't get it (you know who they are.) But it has so much to say that it's worth one's while to listen, and its interesting characters and offhanded humor keep the journey entertaining. (The film's MPAA "R" rating is occasioned only by a few bits of language; there's no salacious or violent content depicted or even discussed.)”
I can’t really disagree with any of Dale’s opinions, though I do grade this picture slightly below his assessment. Jarmusch’s droll, meandering story will probably alienate viewers accustomed to quick cuts and rapid-fire dialogue. However, the unique style grows on you and makes the film surprisingly engaging. The black-and-white photography from Tom DiCillo delivers numerous memorable shots, particularly of the bleak snowscapes in Cleveland. The cinematographer went on to direct acclaimed movies like Box of Moonlight and Living in Oblivion, and his talent is highly evident in this picture. The sharp images and understated acting make Stranger Than Paradise a good choice if you’re searching for an original independent film.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Stranger Than Paradise is presented in a new high-definition, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that improves considerably over the previous DVD release. Much of the grain has been removed, and the result is a much-clearer picture. I wouldn't call this a pristine transfer, as it still includes some minor flaws due to its low-budget origins. However, the overall quality is much better and provides some remarkable images.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This release uses a remastered version of the original 1.0-channel mono transfer presented in Dolby Digital. The audio stays pretty centralized and isn't anything special, but it does provide a crisper sound than the original DVD version. It still maintains that low-budget feel, with natural audio and rough-edged music. It's nearly impossible to get the fiery roar of Screamin' Jay Hawkins out of your head long after you've seen the film.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
This release's highlight is Kino 84: Jim Jarmusch—Martina Muller's documentary for West German television that interviews the director and cast about his work up to that point. There are some lengthy film clips that could have been shortened, but the feature remains interesting throughout the 48-minute running time. One distressing moment involves a trip to Chris Parker's house to see what the actor is doing. His mutterings about being an artist and working with an uncomfortable Jarmusch are unfortunate. This piece splits the time evenly between the two films and offers good information about the director's style. Another great feature is the text booklet, which includes Jarmusch's notes, an essay by Geoff Andrew, and J. Hoberman's 1984 Village Voice review. There's also an article by Luc Sante about Permanent Vacation and details on the remastered transfers.
The remaining supplements include home-video footage, location scouting photos, and two theatrical trailers. Some Days in January 1984 is 14 minutes of silent footage of the cast and crew shooting in Cleveland. Little happens and no information appears, so we gain little from watching this short film. The location photos all come from the Florida segment and depict some key sites. We also see shots of Kennedy Space Center and some motel postcards. The U.S. trailer contains the entire “TV dinner” scene and a quick shot of Aunt Lottie berating the trio. The preview focuses on the film's offbeat tone, which is a wise move. The Japanese version of the trailer is pretty similar but does have a few more scenes. The other obvious difference is the Japanese title cards and subtitles.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsStranger Than Paradise might not suit all tastes, but its inventive style and uncommon characters make it worthwhile. Criterion delivers with enhanced audio and video transfers and the inclusion of Jim Jarmusch's debut film, Permanent Vacation. This two-disc release is recommended for lovers of independent film and anyone looking for something different from the standard multiplex fare.
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