Is it just me, or is it becoming increasingly more difficult to find worthwhile movies to watch, either in the theater, or—in this COVID-19 ERA—on television. If you had told me years ago that I would have more than 100 TV stations plus Netflix™, YouTube™, and Amazon Prime™ to choose from when selecting a source for films, I’d have thought you were crazy. Yet, here we are in that very same world, where more is definitely less.
Case in point, last night I searched my “sources” for nearly a half hour until I finally settled on a film called Paterson. At first, I thought the title referred to the central character portrayed by up-and-coming actor, Adam Driver (Marriage Story, Star Wars: Episodes VII, VIII, and IX). Well, it did. However, I soon learned that the title referred also to the city in New Jersey, and more relevantly to poet William Carlos Williams, who immortalized said city in his epic poem by the same name (to be fair, I am not a huge lover of poetry, but I won’t even go there).
(SPOILER ALERT) Here is a capsulized plot of Paterson: The film spans a week in the life of Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. Each day, Paterson gets up early and goes to work, where he listens to passengers talking and, during pauses, writes poetry in a notebook he carries with him. After work he walks Marvin, his wife Laura’s dog, and stops for a beer at Shades Bar, where he interacts with the other patrons and the owner, Doc.
Laura is a stay-at-home dolt, who dreams of becoming a country western singer, or a famous baker (her specialty is cupcakes). She loves her husband’s poems and has long urged him to publish them, or at least make copies. Eventually, he half-heartedly agrees, but never gets the chance, thanks to Marvin. When they come home from a movie on Saturday night, they find that their English bulldog has shredded Paterson’s notebook, destroying the aspiring author’s abominable poems.
The next day, a dejected Paterson goes for a walk and sits down at his favorite site, the Great Falls of the Passaic River. There, a Japanese tourist takes a seat beside him, and begins a conversation about poetry, after Paterson notices the man is reading the book-length poem, Paterson, by William Carlos Williams. The man seems to sense that Paterson himself is a poet even though he denies it, and hands him a gift, an empty notebook. The film ends with Paterson writing a poem in his new notebook.
Had enough? There’s more. During the film, we see Paterson’s poetry appear on the screen in white lettering, as he thinks the words and commits them to paper. The one poem that stuck out in my mind concerned a brand of wooden matches kept in Paterson’s home. I’m not joking. A box of wooden matches. Well, after I suffered through the movie, I wanted to see what kind of reception the film had received from critics, so I read a review from the New York Times. There I learned that the poems that Paterson appears to write in the film are actual poems by the American poet Ron Padgett, in particular, “Love Poem,” about the aforementioned matches. The reviewer goes on to “wax poetically” about the film, which obviously meant a lot more to him then it did to movie goers. The film grossed just over $10,000,000, which means it most likely lost money. Gee, I wonder why.
If, after reading this, you still feel compelled to watch this hour-and-fifty-eight-minute-long passion play, be my guest. It’s on Amazon Prime. It’s your funeral. Who knew that Shakespeare was so prescient?
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