Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" -- along with Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" -- was one of THE landmark independent movies of the 1980s, announcing that its director was, without a doubt, a filmmaker to watch.
The film's low budget guaranteed some serious down to earth location shooting (in New York, Cleveland and Florida), powerful performances and a distinctive visual style of starkly shot vignettes bookended by blackness.
That Jarmusch was able to follow it with such hard-hitting and engaging films as "Down By Law" (interestingly "translated" to the meaningless but phonetically close "Dounbailò" for its Italian release) and "Night On Earth" seemed incredible at the time. And, really, now that he's added others like "Ghost Dog," "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Broken Flowers," it's no less impressive.
"A poet of the fringes more than a typical American independent filmmaker, Jarmusch stands out as one of only a few original voices to emerge in American independent filmmaking in the 1980s," affirms Jon Jackson, program director of the Milwaukee International Film Festival.
"He idolized the great American auteur John Cassavetes and shared his focus on the actor, but with his first two films (he) showcased his own unique vision inspired by the music scene he was a part of, the poetry he adored and the community of artists he inhabited on the edge of society."
The Criterion Collection, which has already reissued the quirky and stellar "Down by Law" with Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and John Lurie, now reissues "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Night On Earth" on deluxe DVDs. We can hope that his other films will follow.
"Stranger Than Paradise," while being the first Jarmusch feature many of us saw, was really his second. The Criterion double-DVD set pairs "Stranger" with its predecessor, "Permanent Vacation," alongside a host of other related extra features, including location scouting photos, trailers, a behind the scenes film, a German TV show about the director and more.
If "Stranger Than Paradise" felt like a downtown New York movie, despite only being partially filmed in the city, "Permanent Vacation" -- which follows Allie Parker around the city as he encounters a range of characters -- is a Manhattan film through and through, with cobblestoned streets, graffiti and Downtown no wave jazz.
Like, "Stranger," "Night on Earth" was also built on vignettes, albeit longer ones all based on taxi drivers in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. The stories are each brilliant in their own ways, and they are linked together by Jarmusch's stark and affecting travelogue collages that open each segment.
Giancarlo Esposito and Rosie Perez are knock-down funny in the New York segment and Beatrice Dalle is stunning as a sassy blind woman in the Paris episode. Of course, the incomparable Benigni fuels the Rome section, although despite having few lines, Paolo Bonacelli is also marvelous as the rapidly fading priest Benigni picks up in a dark Roman piazza.
Like the "Stranger" set, "Night on Earth" has a fat accompanying booklet loaded with essays and there are lots of extras, although this one is a single-disc edition. There are commentaries, a Q&A with Jarmusch, a TV interview with the director and more.
These lovingly compiled editions are exactly what a director of Jarmusch's caliber deserve.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.