Stranger than Paradise

The Limits of Control

As many successful American filmmakers who get their start in independent filmmaking quickly find themselves comfortable in Hollywood studios, Jim Jarmusch feels like the anachronism that the economics of filmmaking rarely find room for but the culture of cinema certainly needs. After making the No Wave-era Permanent Vacation on the seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape of a crumbling late-70s New York, Jarmusch made waves at the then-young Sundance film festival with Stranger Than Paradise, a bare bones indie that exhibited the director’s penchant for deliberate pacing, wry humor, an insistent soundtrack and a canted examination of Americana. Jarmusch’s productions are few and far between, partly due to the fact that he is ever in want of funding and seeks final cut on all his films. The process may be difficult, but it’s worth it: thirty years after Paradise, Jarmusch crafted Only Lovers Left Alive (recently released on disc and digital), a film that surprised me as both a sideways look at high-cult consumption and one of the most genuinely romantic films of this year. It is, in short, well worth the seven years of frustration that it took to get the film made and into theaters. It’s hard to imagine the same film coming from a filmmaker willing to touch studio funding. And it’s an intoxicating glimpse of what could be if more independent filmmakers were as unimpressed by studio dollars as Jarmusch. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a Son of Lee Marvin.

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Criterion Files

The Criterion Collection is full of great movies, all carefully tabulated and accounted for with spine numbers and easily made accessible through various search means on their website. But besides the 600+ titles (out of print and not) included in The Collection, the extensive variety of special features attended in Criterion discs occasionally incorporate other feature-length and short films not officially enumerated as part of the collection itself. However, several of these films, while “hidden” in special features sections and second discs and placed subserviently to the ostensibly more “significant” featured title, are absolute gems arguably worthy of their own releases. Of course, short films are by no means uncommon in Criterion discs. You can see David Cronenberg’s contemplative short piece Camera (2000) in the annals of Videodrome, or the original short-form Bottle Rocket in Criterion’s release of Wes Anderson’s first feature. But Criterion (a company that has sometimes released short films on their own) also has several notable short and feature-length films in their special features that stand alone as cinematic accomplishments, and serve more a interesting and important purpose than as a supplement of a director’s other, briefer work. Here are four solid films hidden in the supplements of Criterion’s titles…

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Flashback to the spring of 1998 — yours truly is living in Philadelphia and desperately looking for another city to call my home. I am not ashamed to admit that I plan on basing a significant part of this decision on the quality of programming at movie theaters in each city. Austin is the clear favorite in this category. I fondly remember falling in love with the Alamo Drafthouse during SXSW 1998 (beer! food! movies!), but it is my virginal foray into the Paramount Theatre that remains emblazoned upon my mind. Despite earning a masters degree in cinema studies, I never had access to a repertory cinema before. Sure, I studied the history of cinema but I watched all of the films on television. Now, I am finally experiencing those films in the way that they were intended to be seen! It might be hard to believe, but up until that fateful summer, I had never seen a film released prior to 1975 on the big screen. Flashforward 14 years — I find myself at the Hideout Cafe sitting across the table from the Paramount’s film programmer, Jesse Trussell, on the eve of the official release of the 2012 Summer Classic Film series schedule.  Trussell hands a photocopy of the schedule to me. I scan it quickly. My jaw drops.

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