Jarmusch’s Love Letter To Paterson

25 years ago, the Ohio filmmaker fell in love with Silk City. His latest film "Paterson" pays tribute to the city's history and looks toward its future.

Adam Driver as the bus driver in Paterson.
Adam Driver as the bus driver in Paterson.
Photo by Mary Cybulski/Amazon Studios and Bleeker Street

The new movie Paterson, in theaters December 28, is a two-hour paean to that city from director Jim Jarmusch. The Ohio-born indie filmmaker (Stranger Than Paradise; Broken Flowers) fell for the city by the Passaic River 25 years ago. “I went to Paterson on a day trip, because it’s kind of close to New York and because I’m very interested in William Carlos Williams,” says Jarmusch, referring to the poet and physician who called Paterson home.

“I sat by the falls,” Jarmusch recalls, “and I walked down Main Street with all the industrial buildings, and I said, ‘Man, what a fascinating place. It’s got so much history and such diversity.’ Then I did a treatment about a bus driver, a working-class guy who is a poet and lives in Paterson.”

The treatment sat in a drawer for 24 years.  Finally, in 2015, the film was shot, in Paterson but also in Yonkers and Queens “because of tax-credit issues,” Jarmusch says. Adam Driver plays the Paterson bus driver, whose name happens to be Paterson.

The low-key, graceful movie follows a week in the driver’s life. Each day follows the same pattern. Paterson wakes up, snuggles with his wife, played by the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, then heads to the bus depot, walking past the warehouses and factories that remind us of Paterson’s past. The day rambles on.

Interest in the city of Paterson has been revived by Broadway’s Hamilton, which has raised awareness of Alexander Hamilton’s industrial vision for the city. The Jarmusch film could further stir curiosity about Paterson. “I hope people go there and celebrate its history and see how cool it is,” Jarmusch says. “Almost everything you look at there is kind of a combination of contradictory things. You see despair and hope, rejuvenation and deterioration.”

All of that is captured in the film. “Everywhere you look,” Jarmusch says, “that’s in the frame.”

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