Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nothing Happens... And Yet

Most movies, particularly American, make a lot of noise if not in decibels than in the commotion around plot. You can hear the twists, the levers and squeaky doors opening and closing. Denouements have a way of knocking over furniture with contrivances. The more preposterous the louder the thud.

This could be why I welcome the quiet movie, usually low budget, where very little happens. All the tell-tale signs go nowhere. The gun, in close-up, is not fired and if it is it squirts water. The headache does not mean a brain tumor is coming. Much as I love that movie cliché where all the suspects are gathered in the library of the manor house and the chief inspector exposes the lies in everyone’s alibis to reveal the killer, tension is ratcheted followed by the clatter of spilled beans. Give me the hushed movie where seemingly nothing happens with no crescendo of a resolution.  

Of course much is happening when nothing happens. It may be implied or discovered between the words or in the way the character walks or holds a cup of coffee. In the new film, Paterson, we follow a bus driver in his routines from morning alarm clock to an evening with his wife at the movies during which time the dog eats his notebook. His unremarkable daily patterns seem like stanzas of a poem with their own internal rhyme scheme.

The title of the film is both the protagonist’s and the city’s name as well as the name of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams. In fact the great doctor-poet shadows the narrative as if his own work might have been derived from the same mundane material in plain language. The English bulldog, the waterfall, home-made designer cupcakes, the local bar are all characters in their repetitive ways. Patterson doesn’t say a lot but he listens well or rather overhears passengers in the front of the bus or from his bar stool. We see him dwell on a match box which turns into a love poem. He jots lines on his pad during spaces in his workday much as I used to write poetry in the pharmacy in between labels. This is not the stuff of grandiose Whitman in mid-19th century who hears America singing. This a contemporary voice of small epiphanies, an egoless, Zen voice who shrugs when his art is destroyed as if he knows anything done is done forever. The end is the beginning with a book of blank pages.
The poems composed during the film were written by Ron Padgett, he of the so-called New York school of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch et al. Here are a few lines from a Padgett poem not in this movie which seem to me emblematic of the story. Take care of things close to home first. / Straighten up your room before you save the world. / Then save the world.  
Paterson is one of several recent films featuring working stiffs. The 
 brothers in Hell and High Water shoot their way for a piece of the rock. Fences peels the layers off the character of a garbage man struggling clumsily for empowerment and Manchester gives us a handyman carrying the world on his back. We see the face of loud and quiet desperation. Yet Paterson strikes another key with a man heroic in the way he is both caught in a scheduled life and at the same time has found access to the floating world through his imagination. I know the feeling. It took me years before I found my way as a pharmacist, beyond counting and pouring, to get closer to patients, to their troubles and small triumphs and, by extension, my own resources.

This sort of movie slows the senses even as it wakens them just as the blockbuster ones numb the mind as they rattle it with razzle-dazzle. Finding a portal to the inner life of a character requires a sure hand and the presumption that there is an audience out there eager to have some demands made upon them. It is particularly needed now in these days when our sensibilities have been shredded by special effects and our brains twittered to narcosis.

1 comment:

  1. I love John Jarmash(sorry on the spelling )can't wait to see this movie