Excerpted from “Some Notes on STRANGER THAN PARADISE” by director Jim Jarmusch, 1984.
I wanted the film to be very realistic in its style of acting and the details of its locations, without drawing much attention to the fact that the story takes place in the present.
The form is very simple: a story told in fragments, with each scene contained within a single shot, and each separated by a short period of black screen.
(This form was originally ‘inspired’ by financial limitations, and limitations in our shooting schedule--but these were known before the script was written, and we wanted to turn these limitations into strengths.)
Carl Dreyer, in one of his essays, wrote about the effect of simplification, saying that if you remove all superfluous objects from a room, the few remaining objects can somehow become ”psychological evidence of the occupant’s personality”. Instead of applying this idea just to physical objects in STRANGER THAN PARADISE, it is applied to the formal way the story is told.
Simple scenes are presented, in chronological order, but often independent from one another. Only selected moments are presented, eliminating, for the most part, points of ‘dramatic action’. Films must find new ways of describing real emotions and real lives without manipulating the audience in the familiar, maudlin ways, and without the recently fashionable elimination of all emotion.
Given this style, the acting becomes even more critical. In this form, every shot is a master shot. Cutting cannot improve the performances through selection or elimination. If mistakes are made by the actors, the scene must be completely reshot.
[Actors must be] able to create realistic characters, hopefully without ever calling attention to themselves as ‘actors’. Nick Ray used to insist that if you even stop to think about the ability of a given actor in a film, then you have lost the character being portrayed, and the acting is useless.