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I feel like I should come clean about one thing before I begin this post: I love Stranger Than Paradise and I think that Jim Jarmusch is one of the great directors living today. One of the things that I love most about Stranger Than Paradise is how Jarmusch recognized a serious impediment to making a traditional film (a lack of money) and used that impediment to his advantage by adhering to a very strict set of creative restrictions (self contained scenes, consisting of a single shot from a stationary camera), thus making the film seem rather experimental, especially considering the norms of American filmmaking at the time, which seemed to be stuck in this somewhat awkward period between the end of the New Hollywood and the bombast of the Bruckheimer/Simpson films that were to come in a few years.

One of the simple strokes of genius of Jarmusch and Stranger Than Paradise is how much back story is told through mise-en-scene. We touched on this briefly in class, but I think it is an aspect of the film that is worth revisiting because so much is said about Willie, Eva, and Eddie simply by things like the furniture in the apartment, the brand of cigarettes they smoke, the clothes they wear, etc. The reason the mise-en-scene is important and able to give off so much information has to do with the long takes that Jarmusch was “forced” to use. The pace of the film is such that the audience is able to take in all of these details and infer, perhaps not consciously but infer none the less, about the lives and back story of the characters. Jarmusch’s style of storytelling¬†in general, but in this film especially, doesn’t pay much mind to the back story of characters. He seems to prefer to simply allow them to exist on-screen and allow the audience to infer what they are like when the audience isn’t directly interacting with the characters.

I use the word ‘interacting’ deliberately because Stranger Than Paradise really forces the audience to interact with the characters on-screen. The audience is forced to create this back story using the mise-en-scene as their guide. The audience is forced to infer what happens to the characters when Jarmusch cuts to black after every scene. In a way, Jarmusch provides the audience with such a limited narrative they are forced to create a ‘narrative’ for themselves. In writing about it, I think that is where the film’s majesty comes from, in forcing the audience to do so much work you create a relationship with the characters that really are at the film’s core. You cannot be a passive viewer, or if you are you miss out on the subtleties of one of the pillars of independent film.

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