Based on the revelation in that post the other day that Jim Jarmusch's first film, "Permanent Vacation" from 1981,was available on the Criterion Collection edition of the "Stranger Than Paradise" DVD, I recently sprang for that two-disc set and treated myself to a proper viewing of the rarified flick, as well as another trip down memory lane with "Stranger Than Paradise."
In all honesty, while still noteworthy for its gritty depictions of early 80's Manhattan (SoHo and TriBeCa, mostly), there is something kind of excruciating about "Permanent Vacation." Protagonist Allie, portrayed somewhat cloyingly by Chris Parker, isn't exactly that sympathetic a character. Coupled with his adenoidal voice and indefinable accent, by the middle of the film, I found myself truly rooting against the guy. The film plays very much like someone's first effort -- the plot is thin, the pacing is erratic and the acting is spectacularly abysmal. In terms of cinema, it makes comparable films of the era like Glen O'Brien's "Downtown 81" and Amos Poe's "The Foreigner" practically seem like big budget action flicks. But, I'm glad I saw it.
The real treat, though, was watching "Stranger Than Paradise" again. Jarmusch was honing his style by this point, and the film holds together with much more cohesion than its predecessor. While also very far from a slick, conventionally-constructed movie, "Stranger Than Paradise" exudes that familiar haunting quality that marked many of Jarmusch's later films like "Mystery Train" and "Dead Man."
Unsurprisingly, I thrilled once again to the atmospheric footage of grim downtown Manhattan when Ava first walks the Bowery in search of her cousin's Lower East Side apartment. The streets she slowly traverses are barely recognizable today. For the sake of illustration, I took my kids out for a stroll today in an ersatz homage to that segment of the film. Compare and contrast the location of where Bleecker meets Bowery below. 1984 and 2012, respectively. Talk about strange.