Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

R | 90 mins | Comedy-drama | 1984

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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Stuart Collier, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Vinicius Navarro as academic advisor.

Stranger Than Paradise was the second film made by director Jim Jarmusch, and his first theatrical release. According to a NYT article on 21 Oct 1984, Jarmusch worked as an assistant to director Nicholas Ray while attending New York University Film School. Ray, an NYU professor at the time, introduced Jarmusch to German director Wim Wenders, who was collaborating with Ray on Lightning Over Water (1980), a documentary about Ray’s final years in his struggle with cancer. After the European success of Jarmusch’s thesis film, Permanent Vacation (1979), Wenders gave Jarmusch forty minutes of film left over from his recent production, The State of Things (1983, see entry). In the NYT article, Jarmusch commented that this gift encouraged him to develop a story he had been discussing with friend and fellow musician, John Lurie, who had achieved recognition as the leader and saxophone player of the underground band “The Lounge Lizards.” Their intention was to make a film about two men who lived together that would defy categorization in any genre.
       Expanding the story to include a female character, “Eva,” Jarmusch shot the forty minutes of film during one weekend in Feb 1982 in a New York City apartment on Second Avenue and Fourth Street, with a budget of $8,000. While editing, Jarmusch decided to turn the short into a feature with ...

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The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Stuart Collier, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Vinicius Navarro as academic advisor.

Stranger Than Paradise was the second film made by director Jim Jarmusch, and his first theatrical release. According to a NYT article on 21 Oct 1984, Jarmusch worked as an assistant to director Nicholas Ray while attending New York University Film School. Ray, an NYU professor at the time, introduced Jarmusch to German director Wim Wenders, who was collaborating with Ray on Lightning Over Water (1980), a documentary about Ray’s final years in his struggle with cancer. After the European success of Jarmusch’s thesis film, Permanent Vacation (1979), Wenders gave Jarmusch forty minutes of film left over from his recent production, The State of Things (1983, see entry). In the NYT article, Jarmusch commented that this gift encouraged him to develop a story he had been discussing with friend and fellow musician, John Lurie, who had achieved recognition as the leader and saxophone player of the underground band “The Lounge Lizards.” Their intention was to make a film about two men who lived together that would defy categorization in any genre.
       Expanding the story to include a female character, “Eva,” Jarmusch shot the forty minutes of film during one weekend in Feb 1982 in a New York City apartment on Second Avenue and Fourth Street, with a budget of $8,000. While editing, Jarmusch decided to turn the short into a feature with three acts: “The New World,” which consisted of the original short, “One Year Later,” which reunites the three characters in Cleveland, and “Paradise,” where the characters drive to Florida. The sections are indicated by a break in the narrative, black leader and title cards. According to NYT, the completed version of the film cost $110,000, most of which was funded by German and English investors, including London’s Channel 4, as reported in a 16-22 Nov 1984 LA Weekly article. Jarmusch described in a Mar 1985 AmCin article that German producer Otto Grokenberger was willing to own half of the film while staying out of the production entirely, allowing him the autonomy needed to make an unconventional picture. According to NYT on 21 Oct 1984, shooting for the remaining two sections of the film resumed in Jan 1984.
       In AmCin, Jarmusch described the importance of shooting on location in Cleveland and Florida, despite budgetary constraints, and director of photography, Tom DiCillo, noted that the desolation of the locations were intentionally enhanced by using black and white film and a wide angle lens. Producer and production manager Sara Driver explained that it was difficult to match the film shot in Cleveland and Florida with the texture of the original footage from the New York City shoot, and this was corrected at Du Art Studios. Trying to finish production in time for submission to the Cannes Film Festival contributed to financial and time pressures during the second shoot, according to DiCillo, and production lasted continuously for two and a half weeks. Due to wide angle shots and the lack of a boom person, the sound recordings were compromised and many scenes were redubbed. According to editor Melody London, some lines in the original narrative were unsuitable, so she and Jarmusch reworked the dialogue to punctuate irony and comedy in post-production. London stated that in the first version of the film’s ending, it is clear that Eva will be leaving the country, but the scene was altered to make Eva’s choice more ambiguous.
       The Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song “I Put a Spell on You” was the foundation of the story, as stated by Jarmusch in AmCin, because he wanted Eva to be attached to an American icon. He added that the song also worked thematically because Eva inspired all of Willie and Eddie’s actions. John Lurie, who is given a music credit, intentionally juxtaposed the Hawkins song with romantic instrumental waltzes. In a 12 Dec 1984 interview in BAM, Lurie said that he had no previous experience writing charts or composing for instruments other than horns, and used a piano and saxophone to orchestrate the arrangements.
       As reported in NYT, Stranger Than Paradise was selected for the Director’s Fortnight section of Cannes by its curator, Pierre Henri Deleau, in Apr 1984, before production of the film was complete. Debuting at Cannes in May, the film won the Camera d’Or, the grand prize for the Director’s Fortnight. According to a 31 Jan 1985 DV news item, the film was acquired by the Samuel Goldwyn Company for distribution two weeks after its Jul 1984 screening at Filmex in Los Angeles. It played at the Telluride and New York Film Festivals before opening in commercial theaters at New York’s Cinema Studio 2 on 1 Oct 1984. Upon its release in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Berkeley, Stranger Than Paradise broke box-office records at small theatres. By 22 Jan 1985, after playing commercially for fifteen weeks with thirteen prints in circulation, the film had made more than $1 million.
Stranger Than Paradise also attained widespread critical success.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Mar 1985
pp. 47-52
BAM
12 Dec 1984
p. 12
California
Nov 1984
p. 65
Christian Science Monitor
21 Feb 1985
pp. 25-26
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1985
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1984
p. 3
LA Weekly
16-22 Nov 1984
p. 19, 22-24
Los Angeles Times
2 Nov 1984
p. 18
New York Times
29 Sep 1984
p. 14
New York Times
21 Oct 1984
p. 23, 33
New York Times
18 Jan 1985
---
Playboy
Jan 1985
---
Variety
23 May 1984
pp. 23-24
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Film by Jim Jarmusch
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Coprod
Das Kleine Fernsehspiel
Coprod, ZDF
WRITERS
Part One -The New World - from an idea by
Part One -The New World - from an idea by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam, Part One
Asst cam, Parts Two and Three
Asst cam, Part Three
Gaffer/Grip
FILM EDITORS
Matching
MUSIC
Mus performed by
Violin
Cello
Rec eng
SOUND
Sd, Part One
Sd, Parts Two and Three
Sd editing
Sd editing
Mix
at Magno Sound
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles shot by
PRODUCTION MISC
Production
Production
Production
Production
Production
Production
Production
And with spec help from
SOURCES
SONGS
"I Put a Spell on You," by Jay Hawkins, used by permission of CBS Unart Catalog, Inc., all rights reserved, performed by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, courtesy of CBS Records.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
1984
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival: May 1984; New York Film Festival opening: 29 Sep 1984; New York opening: 1 Oct 1984; Los Angeles opening: 2 Nov 1984
Production Date:

Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Germany, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Arriving in New York City from Budapest, Hungary, with a suitcase and a shopping bag, Eva Molnar watches a plane land at the airport. In his one-room apartment, Eva’s cousin, Willie, receives a phone call from their Aunt Lotte, who informs him she is going to be hospitalized and Eva will have to stay with him for ten days before she moves to her home in Cleveland. Irritated, Willie reluctantly agrees, but tells Aunt Lotte that he does not consider himself part of the family. Meanwhile, Eva walks the nearly deserted streets of Lower Manhattan, playing “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on her portable cassette player. When Eva arrives, Willie insists that she does not refer to him by his real name, Bela Molnar, and that she refrain from speaking Hungarian. He tells her that she will have to delay her journey to Cleveland because of Aunt Lotte’s illness. In the following days, Willie is increasingly annoyed by Eva’s presence as she answers his phone, wanders the city without consulting him, and questions the contents of his TV dinners. When Willie’s friend, Eddie, picks Willie up on his way to the horse races, he flirts with Eva and invites her along, but Willie insists that she stay in the apartment. On another occasion, Eddie explains a football game on television to Eva, and she says the game is stupid. She spends her days watching television and smoking with Willie. When Eva returns to the apartment with shoplifted food, a box of Chesterfield cigarettes and a TV dinner especially for Willie, he finally warms to ...

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Arriving in New York City from Budapest, Hungary, with a suitcase and a shopping bag, Eva Molnar watches a plane land at the airport. In his one-room apartment, Eva’s cousin, Willie, receives a phone call from their Aunt Lotte, who informs him she is going to be hospitalized and Eva will have to stay with him for ten days before she moves to her home in Cleveland. Irritated, Willie reluctantly agrees, but tells Aunt Lotte that he does not consider himself part of the family. Meanwhile, Eva walks the nearly deserted streets of Lower Manhattan, playing “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on her portable cassette player. When Eva arrives, Willie insists that she does not refer to him by his real name, Bela Molnar, and that she refrain from speaking Hungarian. He tells her that she will have to delay her journey to Cleveland because of Aunt Lotte’s illness. In the following days, Willie is increasingly annoyed by Eva’s presence as she answers his phone, wanders the city without consulting him, and questions the contents of his TV dinners. When Willie’s friend, Eddie, picks Willie up on his way to the horse races, he flirts with Eva and invites her along, but Willie insists that she stay in the apartment. On another occasion, Eddie explains a football game on television to Eva, and she says the game is stupid. She spends her days watching television and smoking with Willie. When Eva returns to the apartment with shoplifted food, a box of Chesterfield cigarettes and a TV dinner especially for Willie, he finally warms to her company. Later, Willie switches off Eva’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins tape, saying he hates that kind of music, and presents her with a dress. She says it’s ugly, but Willie encourages her to dress like an American. On the day of her departure, Eva wears the dress, but discards it on the way to the train station. As she changes back into her pants, Eddie approaches her on the street corner, but she tells him she’s on her way to Cleveland and says good-bye. One year later, Willie and Eddie are caught cheating at poker and leave quickly before a conflict escalates. Willie wants to leave town for a few days and asks Eddie if his brother-in-law, Max, will let them borrow his car. On their trip to Cleveland, Eddie asks Willie if they can stay with Eva and Aunt Lotte and tells him that they are rich men, with nearly $600. Later, Eddie says that before he met Eva, he had no idea that Willie was from Hungary, but Willie argues that he is as American as Eddie. After arriving at Aunt Lotte’s house in snow-covered Cleveland, they learn that Eva is working at a hotdog stand and surprise her with a visit. On her way to the car, Eva is asked on a date by her co-worker, Billy. As she prepares to meet him later, however, Aunt Lotte objects and Willie and Eddie offer to accompany Eva. In the movie theater, Eddie sits between Billy and Eva, eating his popcorn. Willie and Eddie soon become tired of Cleveland, and Eddie remarks that even though they have come to a new place, everything looks the same. Later, Eva tells Willie that she wants to get out of Cleveland and complains about Aunt Lotte’s stubbornness. On the evening before Willie and Eddie leave, they visit Lake Erie with Eva, but the snow makes it indiscernible from its desolate surroundings. Upon saying goodbye, Eva tells Willie and Eddie that if they win a lot of money at the races, they should come back and kidnap her. On their way to New York, Willie and Eddie realize they still have $550 and decide to return for Eva and head to Florida. At a remote Florida motel, Willie sneaks Eva in to avoid paying for an extra person, and Eddie suggests they go to the dog races the following day. Eva wakes to find them gone, spends the day alone and reprimands them when they return. Willie and Eddie argue about their losses at the racetrack, but after a stroll on the beach, Willie decides to risk their last fifty dollars at the horse track to win back their losses. Despite Eva’s protests, Willie orders Eva to stay at the motel. Miserable, Eva buys a hat at a local gift shop and wanders the surrounding area. She is mistaken for a drug dealer and handed an envelope of cash. Returning to the motel, Eva writes a note for Willie and Eddie and leaves them some cash. When Willie and Eddie return, celebrating their success, Willie reads Eva’s note, learns that she has left for the airport, and checks out of the motel to go after her. At the airport, Eva asks about flights to Europe and finds that the only plane leaving that day is bound for Budapest. Willie later inquires about Eva with the travel agent who assisted her. Assuming that she has boarded the Budapest flight, he purchases a ticket so he can retrieve her from the plane. As Eddie waits by the car, he sees a plane take off and realizes that Willie is on his way to Budapest. Meanwhile, Eva returns to the motel room, finds that she is alone again, and leans back in a chair.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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