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MGM Studios DVD presents
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

"Y'know, it's funny. You come someplace new an' everything looks just the same."
- Eddie (Richard Edson)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: September 10, 2000

Stars: John Lurie, Richard Edson, Eszter Balint
Other Stars: Cecillia Stark, Danny Rosen
Director: Jim Jarmusch

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (occasional language)
Run Time: 01h:28m:56s
Release Date: September 05, 2000
UPC: 027616852878
Genre: offbeat


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BB- D

DVD Review

Jim Jarmusch made his feature film writing/directing debut with 1984's Stranger Than Paradise, a quirky film about a shiftless gambler named Willie (John Lurie), his friend and cohort Eddie (Richard Edson), and his Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint), who comes to New York for an unexpected and unwanted visit. She stays ten days in Willie's cramped, dirty apartment before moving to Cleveland to live with her (and Willie's) Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark). One year later, Willie and Eddie borrow a car and take a trip to Cleveland to visit Eva; the three then head to Florida in search of something different, something more like Paradise.

The film won the "Camera d'Or" Best First Film award at Cannes in 1984 and helped establish the vibrant independent film scene we know today. It's difficult to nail down the appeal of Stranger Than Paradise—it's funny, but not in an easily quotable way; it's truthful, though its truths are not immediately self-evident; and it's not in the least bit romantic. It's a deliberately-paced film, shot in low-budget black-and-white with conversations that run at the speed of real life; pauses and blackouts between scenes give it a Beckett-esque sense of timing. Jarmusch's camera lingers and observes with a locked-down but not quite neutral eye, using long, continuous takes; he shows us what he wants us to see but assembles it as a series of vignettes, allowing the audience to fill in some of the gaps on its own.

The film wouldn't be half as entertaining as it is without the wonderful, naturalistic character performances by all involved; one gets the feeling that Jarmusch's script was refined through improvisation, and every scene feels completely real. Musician John Lurie (who also wrote the film's score) is terrific as Willie, who starts out as a rather unlikable fellow but earns our sympathies and laughs as the movie progresses. Eszter Balint is completely credible as Eva, whose accented English belies her independence and sense of humor—she never takes Willie as seriously as he intends to be taken and knows when he's putting her on, which does a lot to soften the edges of both characters. Richard Edson's Eddie is a nice but not-too-bright guy, an appealing loser if there ever was one, and Cecillia Stark's one-and-only film appearance (she passed away shortly after this film was made) as elderly Aunt Lotte is just hilarious—she's everyone's immigrant aunt, hospitable but bewildered, grateful for her small blessings and irritated by everything else.

Stranger Than Paradise isn't for everyone—not very much actually happens, and the film devotes more energy to character study than to its three-act plot. It requires some investment and patience on the viewer's part, and some people just won't get it (you know who they are.) But it has so much to say that it's worth one's while to listen, and its interesting characters and offhanded humor keep the journey entertaining. (The film's MPAA "R" rating is occasioned only by a few bits of language; there's no salacious or violent content depicted or even discussed.)

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: MGM presents Stranger Than Paradise in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with a fine anamorphic transfer. The black-and-white film was shot on inexpensive 16mm stock, largely with natural lighting, and most shots are inherently very grainy with poor shadow detail and middling contrast. WAMO's digital transfer is solid, taken from a very clean source print, and the compression handles the film's high level of grain successfully, though a few shots are marred by smearing in complex areas of the image. The film's stark, low-budget look is well-captured by the DVD, but don't expect a crisp image.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Stranger Than Paradise features a Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic audio track (ProLogic-decoded to the center speaker) which preserves the film's low-budget soundtrack accurately. There's a lot of hiss and echo in the dialogue scenes, recorded "live" for the most part, though John Lurie's incidental music comes through nicely. Not a reference-quality audio experience by any means, but the soundtrack's spontaneous, unprocessed quality enhances the film's naturalistic tone. Any digital cleanup or surround remix would have seemed out of place somehow—kudos to MGM for preserving the track "as is."

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Behind-The-Scenes Footage
Extras Review: MGM supports Stranger Than Paradise with very little in the way of supplements. 32 chapter stops are accessible through picture menus, and French and Spanish subtitles are provided. There's no trailer or commentary track, and the only real "extra" is a seven-minute compilation of silent, 8mm color and black-and-white "behind the scenes" material shot by Jim Jarmusch's brother Tom during the production's stay in Cleveland. It's better than nothing, but without narration or explanatory titles, the net effect is like watching a stranger's home movies—there are some recognizable elements from the film, but not enough substance to make the footage meaningful or interesting.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Stranger Than Paradise is a subtly rich, naturalistic film about family, friendship and aimlessness in America. MGM's DVD features a solid transfer of this low-budget, visually austere movie. Required viewing for anyone who professes to love independent film.

 


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