Most artists don't get rich. Most won't become major pop culture phenomenons or reach millions of people. Most will create work that will be seen by a relatively small group of people, or not by anyone else at all.
This is not a lament, but a way of saying that art has value as a means of personal expression and sustenance, be it visual art, film, prose, poetry, or criticism.
This is the final edition of this column. It has been a blessing and a privilege to write about Black Hills arts communities and artists for two years. I'm going home to Chicago to cover the arts as a freelance journalist, but I wanted to leave with one last look at the impact of art on an individual. It was fortuitous timing, then, that Jim Jarmusch's "Paterson," one of last year's best films, was recently released on video on demand.
The film follows Paterson (Adam Driver), who drives the Paterson 23 bus in Paterson, N.J. He lives with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and their bulldog, Marvin. Over the course of one week, Paterson's days tend to be fairly similar: An early morning bowl of Cheerios, a day eavesdropping on passengers, lunch at the Great Falls of the Passaic River, dinner with Laura, and a late-night walk with Marvin with a stop at a bar for a beer. In between his mundane activities, Paterson writes poetry in a small notebook, sharing it only with Laura (herself a visual artist and aspiring singer/baker), who implores him to make copies and share his art with the world.
Jarmusch has never been one for heavy plot mechanics — he made his name on incident-light indie comedies like "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Down by Law," and even his genre pictures (the western "Dead Man," the crime drama "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," the vampire film "Only Lovers Left Alive") are decidedly understated. "Paterson" sees Jarmusch at his gentlest, finding humor and grace in everyday occurrences and conversations while injecting a low-key surrealism that bends the poet's world to his vision, or perhaps suggests that a poet is attuned to the confluence of the usual and the unusual.
Take, for instance, Paterson's bus rides, in which everyday Joes chat about almost, but not quite, going home with women (to Paterson's clear amusement) and teenage wannabe anarchists (played by "Moonrise Kingdom" lovers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman) talk about being the only people of their stripe in the town. These ordinary conversations bump up against Paterson inexplicably encountering dozens of twins everywhere he turns, not long after Laura dreams about giving birth to twins. Is this the poet imagining things, or is it the poet noticing for the first time the strange things that have happened on his watch for years?
Paterson is surrounded by Capital-C characters, from the chess-obsessed bar owner (Barry Shabaka Henley) to an annoyed regular (Chasten Harmon) being pursued by an overdramatic ex (William Jackson Harper). Their dialogue is laced with deadpan humor — Henley comments he's losing a chess game badly ("Who are you playing?" "Myself"), while Harper's theatrics are met with "you should be an actor" (answer: "I am an actor"). The humor is pure Jarmusch — less mocking than an acknowledgement of the everyday absurdity he, as an artist, thrives on.
Driver, known for his volatile work on "Girls," is beautifully restrained here, a man comfortable with his lot in life and with his small outlet for his own passions. He and Farahani paint a portrait of an almost perfect couple, mutually supportive of each others' interests while giving themselves time for their own.
That passion spills across the screen whenever Paterson puts the pen to paper. Jarmusch enlisted the poet Ron Padgett to write Paterson's poems, which we see written on the screen over images of our poet driving the bus. The poetry takes a page from Paterson's hero William Carlos Williams (whose famous "This is Just to Say" makes an appearance) while Jarmusch uses the words as an excuse to flood the screen with overlapping images of items brought up within the poems (matches, waterfalls, shoe boxes). It's to the film's credit that not only is the artwork quite good, but it is work, with Paterson taking several sessions to craft one poem.
But it's rewarding work, as Paterson's encounters with fellow artists shows — throughout the film, our poet meets a rehearsing rapper (Method Man), a visiting Japanese poet (Masatoshi Nagase), and a young girl (Sterling Jerins) with her own small notebook of poems. At each meeting, the artist mentions not his own work, but asks his fellow artist to share their work, encouraging them afterward. That small bit of appreciation goes a long way, but the creativity itself, or an empty page full of possibilities, is its own reward.
So, with that, thank you, Rapid City Journal readers.
"Paterson" is available to rent on video on demand services such as iTunes, YouTube and Amazon for $5.99.