“Stranger Than Paradise” in One Shot

Written for MUBI Notebook on May 11, 2020. — J.R.

“Stranger Than Paradise” in One Shot

“We can bet that this film will be a flop,” blurbed Jean Eustache about his fellow post-New-Wave underachiever and pal Luc Moullet’s Anatomy of a Relationship (1975), an early exercise in self-scrutiny coauthored by Moullet’s partner Antoinetta Pizzorno. “That’s the best for me: I’ll plunder it more easily.” In comparable fashion, a 1964 commercial flop made by one of the masters of both Eustache and Moullet, Jean-Luc Godard — who incidentally had helped to launch the careers of both of these disciples — was successfully plundered by Jim Jarmusch twenty years later in Stranger Than Paradise. More specifically, Jarmusch appropriated a black-on-white principle exploited by Godard mostly in interiors to depict a deadbeat trio of two male lowlifes secretly smitten by a foreign female while planning their inept capers in drab surroundings — Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey, and Anna Karina (a Dane in France) in Band of Outsiders; John Lurie, Richard Edson, and Eszter Balint (a Hungarian in the U.S.) in Stranger Than Paradise. The white void seen here by Jarmusch’s trio in a suburban Ohio snowscape, subsequently replicated by a white void in a suburban Florida seascape, is mostly physical — unlike the metaphysical void faced by Godard’s trio in a Paris suburb, who have only movie clichés to fill their plans and imaginations. Ironically, although Band of Outsiders failed abjectly at the box office it eventually became such a cult touchstone in the mainstream that Quentin Tarantino named his own production company A Band Apart after its original French title, Bande à part. It seems that nothing succeeds as much as failure. And Godard seemingly had a personal investment in the failed movie dreams of his own trio, because he named his own heroine (played by Karina, his wife at the time) Odile, after his mother.

Stranger Than Paradise





This entry was posted in Featured Texts. Bookmark the permalink.