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Dialogue / Paradise

(Excerpt from John Pierson's Book Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes)


KEVIN SMITH: You watch Stranger, you think "I could really make a movie."

JOHN PIERSON: So it's been having that impact for ten years now. What was it in particular that gave you that confident feeling?

KS: First thing, the camera doesn't move. Jarmusch sets it up and things happen. His really sparse dialogue is not my forte, but visually he's it--at least for the first film. If I'm going to do a movie, I'm going to do it like this and just add dialogue.

JP: Did you know the budget?

KS: I don't know exactly what the budget is on Stranger, but I know I'm gonna go for that price if I can do it for that.

JP: The whole idea of $110,000 in 1984 was bargain basement, nearly unimaginable. It's funny now to have $20 to $30,000 be the ballpark for low budgets,

HS: So I go on to see his other films and read whatever I can about him,

JP: What do you do when he says, "Hey, Jacques Rivette was a major influence?"

KS: I'm a student of American independent cinema. and I'm not the best student in the world, but I was good enough to do what I eventually did. I don't feel that I have to go back and view European or other foreign films because I feel like these guys, have already done it for me, and I'm getting filtered through them. That ethic works for me.

JP: So Mystery Train [Jarmusch's third feature] for you is like Rashomon for me in terms of a cultural reference point?

KS: You mean the fact that it covers three different stories from different points of view?

JP: Yeah, anytime somebody in my generation had a multiple point of view story, even Spike in She's Gotta Have It, it would be described as "Rashomon-like."

KS: And now a Mystery Train reference is too obscure?

JP: Rashomon has a general cultural currency. It could be in an editorial in The New York Times or it could be cross referenced in a review in Entertainment Weekly. There's a certain part of film culture that's the equivalent of the library shelf of the Fifty Great Books. These would be the standard texts if you dealt with film classics.

KS: That's the way my dad feels about Navy Seals.

JP: What else did you pick up from Jarmusch's later films?

KS: The one shot that really got me every time I watched Mystery Train is when the Japanese couple walks with the suitcase on the stick and the camera is moving for one of the first times in a Jarmusch film other than the car shot at the beginning of Down by Law. Wow, a moving camera, but still it seems utterly attainable. I'm sitting there watching before I'm "film knowledgeably whizzy," as Flavor Flav would say. I'm watching saying, "All right, it's gotta be maybe some tracks and a dolly--something I could do. If you have to move the camera, you could do it like that."


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