Tuesday, December 13, 2016

William Carlos Williams and Paterson of Paterson in Jim Jarmusch's New Film - Paterson

by Drew Martin
Last night I saw a special screening of Paterson that was introduced by its writer and director Jim Jarmusch at the Williams Center for the Arts in Rutherford, New Jersey. The Center honors the great poet and physician William Carlos Williams, or as joked in the film Carlo Williams Carlos, who was born, practiced, and died in Rutherford.

The City of Paterson is close to my heart and home. I go there for runs by its beautiful waterfall and up in the hill-top park of Garret Mountain. I bring my kids there to show them the falls - the largest east of Niagara, and I talk about it to everyone I meet. Paterson is one of the most historic cities in the country and has a wealth of culture. If you have read On The Road, it is where Jack Kerouac begins his quest, and returns to visit his aunt. More famously, it was the inspiration behind Williams' epic poem Paterson.

Jarmusch’s Paterson is an ode to Williams through the uneventful life of a NJ Transit bus driver/poet in Paterson, named Paterson (played by Adam Driver) whose more eccentric wife, Laura (played by Golshifteh Farahani)
 has a thing for black and white patterns, which she uses to adorn their small home, dog, and cupcakes.

The main theme in Paterson is duplication and once you start thinking about how ubiquitous it is in the film, you feel like it is the underlying structure of the universe. We start with the repetition of words in the poetry-narrative by Paterson conceiving and then writing down his thoughts. And it is in the dialogue: in one of the first scenes Paterson and Laura discuss having kids - twins. “One for you, and one for me” Paterson offers in a tone and manner that does not expand the conversation but rather neatly wraps it up. This is how he approaches his life through poetry – packaging ideas in tidy, economic lines.

Twins of all ages and walks of life serve as a double-take visual motif throughout the film, and the theme of duplication gets played out even more in the repetition of things people say to him. At one point his bus breaks down and he asks everyone to get off. An elderly twin bus passenger asks him if the electrical problem that stopped them might cause the bus to burst into a ball of fire. This dramatic question is later repeated by his wife, and then his bartender.

Duplication in inherent in the name William Carlos Williams, as it is with Paterson (of Paterson). And for that matter within the name Paterson – pater-son or father-son; and New Jersey, a copy of Jersey. It also gives more meaning to the repetition of life: waking up to his wife, eating Cheerios out of a glass, walking to and from the bus depot, talking with the dispatcher, walking the dog, and visiting a local pub at night. By showing these repeated events, the details that deviate from the norm stand out that much more - both in what is introduced as well as what is absent.

In contrast to the theme of duplication is the idea of one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable originals. Paterson keeps all of his poems in a “secret” notebook, which his wife urges him to photocopy. He never gets around to it and this leads to a great loss in the end. But through this we understand that creativity flows like water over the waterfall and what is not lost is the repetitive urge to write. 

I have not seen all of Jarmusch’s films but one scene that stands out in my mind from his Broken Flowers is a fragment of a conversation between teenage girls on a bus. It is just part of a discussion but it is a microcosm. I think this shows off Jarmusch's greatest skill - he lets you listen. In Paterson we get much more of this as Paterson overhears his passengers' conversations as he drives the bus. A discussion about anarchism is even kicked back and forth by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman who played opposite each other as young, platonic lovers in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Here we see them grown up, riding the bus in Paterson.

The most endearing scene is when Paterson meets a young girl by the old mills who reads him her poem Water Falls and discusses poetry with him. There is also a series of mini scenes of a leaning mailbox that Paterson uprights each time he comes home from work, which functions like the broken newel cap of the staircase in It’s a Wonderful Life. It is a source of frustration but also comments on the human attention needed to maintain a home/relationship. In Paterson it plays out for one of the biggest laughs when we find out his dog is behind the gag. 

The City of Paterson is more than a set for Jarmusch. It is a city and land that yields the poems. You see this in the scenes of Paterson at the falls, where he writes at lunchtime, and also in a late night laundromat that he passes where he hears a local rapper working on his bars. Also with a reference to Fetty Wap, Jarmusch nods to a new generation of word craft.

I met Jim Jarmusch last night. I had not planned to. In fact, I was nicely asked to not approach him as press but he came over to me and somehow I got engulfed in a conversation about Paterson. So I asked him why Paterson, and he said that he started thinking about doing a film there 27 years ago. He had moved out from Ohio (he says escaped) and settled down in New York City. He said he had heard a lot about other cities and was surprised to discover all the great history about Paterson. 

You could tell it was important for Jarmusch to screen this film so close to where it was filmed and have our local support, in Williams' home town. There was a great turnout at the Williams Center for the Arts and Jarmusch said a very nice introduction to the film. Even though the movie can be shown over and over again, the effort to organize the evening that gathered an enthusiastic audience and Jarmusch’s youthful presence certainly made it a one-of-a-kind event.