Apparently there are a total of 67 shots in Stranger Than Paradise. The titles that punctuate the film’s transitional moments underscore the thematic material of the movie (ie. “The New World”) and others simply glide us a year ahead in time. But there’s no excess here, no fancy editing tricks or slick effects. It is the nothingness of the movie that is so rich and enchanting. The story world is one of immigrants searching for America, out of reach although it surrounds them. In a way, they cannot find it because it is not their’s to find – it is always someone else’s America, someone else’s life that is going on while theirs just seems to stand still. 

The irony of the interludes of black in the presentation of the film, is that by refusing to adopt conventional styles of film editing, the black draws attention to the fact that you are watching a movie because people are accustomed to being relieved of this burden,  while an “invisible style” of Hollywood editing attempts to hide itself, it is actually more artificial because it is eliminating its own reality as a movie in an attempt to pass as real life.

This distinction is highlighted by the differences between the techniques utilized in Stranger Than Paradise and Delicatessen. In the latter, the use of highly stylized visual techniques, (as in the climax montage) ,brings together the various worlds of the characters in an orhcestrated visual conflation, by useing fast editing of image and sound of each disparate story line into a rhythmic symphony, which all culminate in some kind of comic release. The fact that we are unaware of the seemless transition from world to world shows the very technique and illusion of seemlessness. Black spaces would be more realistic – but this appears more realistic to some because you don’t have to take yourself out of the storyworld. 

Delicatessen is the kind of movie that entertains me, but leaves me cold. By the end I feel exhausted by the barrage, and yet I’m left with only a neatly tied up shiny hollogram which fades when the lights come up. Stranger than Paradise provides the discomforting brilliance I crave in a movie. It makes me pay attention, it frustrates me, it captivates me. 

If movies teach you how to watch them, then the teaching methods are very different. Movies like Delicatessen teach you how to watch them, but they use the same smoke and mirrors to tell their story. Stranger Than Paradise unteaches you how to watch a movie, and by way of this, shows you everything you need to know. 

 

“Stranger Than Paradise is a story about America, as seen through the eyes of “strangers.” It’s a story about exile (both from one’s country and oneself), and about connections that are just barely missed.” 
—Jim Jarmusch, Some Notes on Stranger Than Paradise

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