Quotes from the Stranger Than Paradise 1996 Commentary w/ Jim Jarmusch and Richard Edson

“You’d go to Benny Bond and there’d be Arto Lindsay, and John and Evan Lurie, and James Chance from The Contortions, and maybe Eric Mitchell, or Amos Poe or, you know, just other musicians from other bands, from Sonic Youth, from whoever. And, you know, it was just interesting and kind of like a… exciting because people were doing things because they believed in them or because they had something they wanted to express rather than because they were virtuoso musicians or painters or the whole idea that the spirit of those times was not that you had to know all the techniques of whatever medium you wanted to use, but instead that you had something you wanted to express through them.” 

– Jarmusch

“I remember walking into the room and seeing this black eye because the lens is basically black. And it was like, wow, I can do anything I want. I mean, I knew what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t have to do anything the way it was supposed to be done, and which was great because that gave me a real sense of freedom that as long as I was responsible to the scene itself, then within the moments of the scene, I could do anything I wanted to do and the camera would be very generous by noting that. It would also know whatever you did badly, but I didn’t find that an impediment to doing that stuff.”

– Edson

“…and the fact that Stranger is a very hard film to place in a time period, in a time frame, like it could be the 50s, 60s, 70s, the 80s; it’s not clear. I think that’s part of our suburban sensibility is that everything becomes flattened and kind of equal; there’s no real… in terms of art and aesthetics, it’s like everything becomes available for you, and I think Stranger was one of the first movies that kind of expressed that sensibility, and I think it’s… I don’t know, it’s nothing we ever talked about, but I think the four of us, especially… and probably all the people involved had that kind of sensibility at that time in 1982, ‘83, ‘84… when we were doing it, we kind of rejected a kind of progressive sensibility that everything, you know, everything keeps developing, everything keeps growing, everything keeps getting better and better. And instead, it was like, well now everything has stopped getting better, everything has stopped growing, and now it’s what you can appropriate, it’s what you can use from what has already been… done and established.”

– Edson

“One of the most important things that I learned from Nick Ray was that when you make a film, you should think about each scene in and of itself while you’re shooting. You can shoot out of sequence, you can shoot the film backwards; it won’t hurt the film as long as you, the writer-director or director knows what the intention of each scene is supposed to be, and while you’re making… while you’re filming that scene, you should think only about that scene, and that, in a way — and this only occurred to me thinking about it recently —, I think that advice or that thing that I learned from Nick that I still use today while working, maybe gave birth to the idea of making each single scene… each scene a single shot, you know, a single set-up because that way it is one single thing.”

– Jarmusch

“I don’t like it when people say oh they’re just playing themselves cause they… first of all, Eszter had been an actor since the age of like eight or something and certainly there’s part of her personality in there, but that’s true of any actor, any… you know, you don’t see Al Pacino playing a character that has no corresponding qualities to himself. I mean, an actor chooses, you know, elements of a character they play, they suppress certain qualities of themselves that that character does not have and maybe elevate or accentuate elements of their own personality that the character does have.”

– Jarmusch 

“I don’t manipulate the actors or try to trick them. I do often speak to each actor about the scene alone. The meaning of the scene for each character is different; they’re not the same person. So I don’t like to talk in front of them all about one of their character’s motivation or feelings or performance; you know, that’s wrong for me, so I try to keep it a personal one-on-one collaboration.”

– Jarmusch

“One interesting thing that I like about the style of Stranger is that there are no reaction shots, or… you are not cued in as to what specifically to watch during a scene, so you can often… you have the choice of watching not the person speaking but the person who’s reacting or you are allowed to kind of choose, and it doesn’t… somehow the film doesn’t impose the perspective that some kinds of films and stories need, but this one deliberately did not want to tell you what to think, who to watch, what to watch, you know, what’s dramatic, what’s you know… it’s just not that kind of a film, intentionally so.”

– Jarmusch 

“I like to be very open to things that you can’t control, and I think it’s very good to try to use limitations as strengths, and so I’m very open to like a shooting schedule that’s out of order or things that prevent you from doing it in a more, maybe more logical way, and so I remain open to those kind of things, and I remember that day, you know, waking up and realizing, wow, it is going to be a blizzard all day and that didn’t faze any of us; it was like, well, that’s what we’re gonna shoot in.”

– Jarmusch

“After Cannes, I did get a lot of offers from Hollywood. Some of them surprised me because it made me very aware that they had not seen my film. You know, they were coming of age, teenage sex comedies and stuff like that, and I was really confused, like, ‘wow, man. Why would they want me to do this?’ Maybe they should look at my film, you know. But I wasn’t, in any way, lured toward that because as they say in New Orleans, I might have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night, and I know that I… whatever they’re going to offer me is like power, status, money; the holy trinity of Hollywood is just not my religion.” 

– Jarmusch

“I don’t know what it means anymore: independent films. I don’t know, I don’t like categories, I don’t like to be categorized, and I don’t really know what… categories are usually for commercial purposes only because we live in a society that repackages and sells its own waste products, you know, so anything that is counter-cultural can suddenly be marketed, and then you have terms like hippies, and punks, and beatniks, and those are applied to sell products only. So, you know, I’m very mistrustful of any kind of group activities or categories or, you know. That kind of thing I have a real aversion to. So I don’t know what it means anymore. I only like things that are subjectively, that speak to me somehow, that move me, whether it’s a painting, or a film, or a piece of music, and it still is subjective because Duke Ellington said, you know, they ask him what is good music? And he said, ‘well, if it sounds good, it is good.’”

– Jarmusch

Click Here to Read My Original Article on Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

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