Few voices in independent American cinema are quite as distinct as Jim Jarmusch, the auteur behind Stranger Than Paradise, Broken Flowers and Only Lovers Left Alive. For the release of his latest film, Paterson, in which Adam Driver plays a poetry-writing bus driver, we got a chance to sit down at a roundtable with the man himself and talk about some of the key ideas in the movie, as well his thoughts on the recent American election.
It’s a pretty dumb thing I admit. A lot of dumb things in the movie. The dog eats his poetry – that’s ridiculous. Stupid. The biggest drama is the bus breaks down. It’s kind of a ridiculous movie plot-wise, I agree. Or I’m aware.
I wasn’t calling it ridiculous.
Well, OK. I am. When I first 20 some years ago I went to Paterson on a day trip from New York City because of the poems of William Carlos Williams and the fact that Paterson is very close to New York and nobody ever talks about it. So I thought well I’m just gonna go see what it’s like. And I went there and I sat by the falls in the same place that Paterson sits in the movie and I walked around the factories and I read the beginning of the poem Paterson by William Carlos Williams. Very long poem – I don’t understand a lot of it, I must admit – but the beginning of the poem is about the waterfalls and it makes a metaphor of Paterson the city being a man because it describes the rock formation of a reclining man and this metaphor just stuck with me. I thought that’s a beautiful thing that the city is a man and of course I translated that into a ridiculous thing of “OK, his name will be Paterson” and it’ll be a running joke in the film. And Paterson’s a fairly common name and there are people in Paterson named Paterson, so… I don’t know, that’s as much as there is behind it.
Neither. It’s just a portrait of a character I imagined. I’m not analytical about “where did it come from? why did you do this?” I have no idea.
We were told it was your self-portrait?
Yes, I know. But I made a film some years ago called Broken Flowers and then they say “ah this is a portrait, his most personal”. Then I make a film, Only Lovers Left Alive, “obviously his most personal film, in a way a self-portrait.” And with Paterson I read the same thing. I don’t know. All my films have me in them in some way. They come from my imagination and they have my DNA in a way, but more like your children have your DNA, but they’re not you – they are themselves. So I think of my films that way.
You have made a lot of films about outsiders in your career. Do you consider this couple of outsiders as a tribute to normal life and normal happiness?
In the past I made films about outsiders who are butting against conformity. These people are not, they’re going with the grain. They’re working class people. They’re within a system, but they’re very creative. All people are interesting, you just don’t know it. You don’t know if you bus driver might be a painter. Never judge what people are. The world has infinite mysteries and strange things. Be open to them and not closed or judgemental.
Is that a mistake that Hillary Clinton made?
I would put that low on the list Hillary Clinton has made. I’m not a fan. I think she’s an arms-dealing corporate mouthpiece for lots of things. Although she’s not as bad as Donald Trump.
You were more of a Bernie man?
I’m a Bernie man.
It’s interesting. We were talking about the movie and it struck me that it’s very much a Bernie movie, because you have a working class man who’s also a creative. There’s a duality to it.
Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how to infuse political analysis into my films, but personally, yes, I think we had a chance the first politician who was taking corporate money and he speaks what he feels and he’s imperfect – he’s a politician. But he is a compassionate person and I think he would have beat Donald Trump. But our system is broken. Hillary was decided as the candidate not by the people, but by these selected delegates that we don’t choose and they decided before we even voted Hillary or Bernie. In the same way that Hillary Clinton got the popular vote but the electoral college, which is something that was designed to protect slave holders and we still use is absurd. Maybe a positive thing of this horrifying thing of Donald Trump is maybe people will finally say “Man, f*ck this system. Why can’t you have one vote, one person. I thought this was a democracy.” When Obama was elected nobody complained about the Electoral College, but I’ve been complaining about it all my life. I don’t understand it.
Trump also. He complained about it for ages.
Well Trump complains about everything. If he doesn’t win an award for his stupid TV show he says it was rigged. I mean, everything’s rigged for Trump.
Do you dread the future?
I dread the next four years. I do dread them. But I’m an American too so f*ck him – I say Iggy Pop for president. I’m scared because of the people surrounding him and all the things he going to undo and that neither he or Hillary, in all the debates, never once mentioned climate change, because their corporate overlords want you to either deny it, or ignore it.
It’s not your cup of tea, but in this situation like to make a more political film in the near future?
No, I’m just not comfortable being didactic. I think my feelings are inside of what I make. I think as stupid as the plot of Paterson is with the dog, it does say to me, as the Japanese man says, “Look, here’s a blank notebook – don’t give up.” You can start anything again right now, so that’s the message. And it’s not a message movie. I’m not trying to teach anybody anything. I don’t know anything. I’m just an observer and I’m very grateful as a creature, as an animal that I have a consciousness and that we’re here talking and seeing each other’s eyes. What a miraculous thing on this little planet in the universe and life on it is like so brief and who knows – we could get hit by an asteroid tomorrow and we’re all gone. I don’t know, but there’s such happiness in here, being here, and sadness and tragedy, and that we feel it all is so miraculous, so when I get really depressed, I just take a breath and think “well we’re here, what a strange thing to be cognisant.”
Rounding things off, Adam Driver became big in the public consciousness with Star Wars.
What’s that, Star Wars? Is it some kind of serial? [laughs] I know – Kylo Ren and… lightsaber.
I’m asking about the impact of him being so big, did that change how this film was perceived? Would it have been perceived differently if it had come before that film?
I have no idea, but he wasn’t cast in Star Wars when we cast him in the film. I had no knowledge of that. My first thing, I saw him in a tiny thing he did the Coen brother’s film Inside Llewyn Davis and I liked that guy’s face, and then I saw him in Frances Ha. I love that he was in the marines and he studied at Juilliard and I was like, wow, and he has this working class and artist’s thing and I’m making a character like that. I just wanted to meet him and I just fell in love with him being this guy. But I didn’t know about the Star Wars thing – I’m not sure it was announced when we cast him. As for how it affects how people view it, that I can’t I answer. I don’t know how people view anything. They just elected Donald Trump. What are they thinking, I have no idea.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is out in the UK on the 25th of November, read our glowing review here.