Plot: What’s it about?
Willie (John Lurie) has just learned that his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) is flying into New York from Budapest, so she will need to stay with him for a while. This news displeases him to no end, as he sees his cousin as a hindrance to his shiftless lifestyle of gambling and frozen dinners. So he gives her a rather cold reception, which she returns in spades. But as time passes, the two start to get along and the ten days then end, so she heads to Cleveland. A year later, Willie and his friend Eddie (Richard Edson) plan to go on the road with some recent winnings, so Willie suggests Cleveland. The two meet up with Eva and while the stay in Cleveland is less than enjoyable, the trio soon head off for the sunny climate of Florida. There seems to be good luck in the air for the three, but will their luck hold up for long?
This is the kind of movie that is sure to divide audiences, some will be bored to near death and others will proclaim it a true masterpiece of cinema. Jim Jarmusch shot Stranger Than Paradise with minimal resources, but the kind of story told within the film has to be told with minimal resources. This is as basic and simple as film production can be, a small cast, static frames, and a focus on dialogue. Just put the actors in front of the camera and let it happen, no need for special effects, trick photography, or star power, this is as minimal as minimal can be. The end result is kind of unique, a look at the lives of three characters and how they spend their time, with no grand vision involved. I’ve had friends tell me they were inspired, others said it was a waste of their lives, but I fall in the middle. I don’t think this is a great movie, but I do think it has its moments and stands out from the crowd. Criterion has drummed up quite the package with this release, so fans should be thrilled.
Video: How does it look?
Stranger Than Paradise is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. I’ve seen the previous MGM release and while it looked passable, this new transfer is a marked improvement. I noticed right off how much brighter the image, so a lot more detail is visible and that makes a lot of difference. Not to say too bright, as the contrast is well balanced, but this cures the overly dark scenes found on that prior edition. The digital restoration yields a clean print, but it never looks over processed, which is good news. This is just another excellent transfer from Criterion, as expected.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a basic audio experience, just dialogue and some minor background noise. So the mono option found here is more than capable of adequate performance. I didn’t hear any serious issues like hiss or harshness, so the vocals sound clear and the other sound effects are up to snuff. Not much else to say here, this sounds good and that’s that. This release also includes English subtitles, both for this and the bonus film, Permanent Vacation.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As far as supplements are concerned, you can’t ask for a much better one that Jim Jarmusch’s debut film, Permanent Vacation, which is found here. Not always an easy film to track down, now fans can see it whenever they like and with a solid transfer to boot, so that adds a lot of value to this release. I’d imagine Permanent Vacation would sell some copies as a solo release, so to include it here is a real treat for fans of Jarmusch. Another substantial extra is Kino ’84: Jim Jarmusch, a German television show that interviewed prominent cast and crew members. This show runs around forty-five minutes and has a lot of worthwhile information, so another fine inclusion. This release also includes a short film by Jarmusch’s brother, a selection of location scouting photos, and two of the film’s theatrical trailers.