Thursday, September 06, 2007

Checkered Past from a Checker Cab

Night on Earth (1991)
directed by Jim Jarmusch
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

It's strange that Jarmusch, who in Stranger Than Paradise seemed so interested in place, is attracted to taxi cabs for the sense of privacy they entail - the anonymous contract of conversation between driver and fare. The five locations on display in Night on Earth appear at their most superficial - the only tracking shot from the taxi in Los Angeles films two identical businesses in a row - without any insight into the universality of Jarmusch's ostensibly global narrative. Worse, the camera notices so little in five cities that contain so much.

The inclination is to like the movie's meandering mien, like the last shot that ends on the sentiment of "nothing's free" as the winter sun softens Helsinki. But Coffee and Cigarettes retroactively exposes the warmth in Night on Earth for an uneasy masking of having too little to say. Here, as there, Jarmusch is interested in contrivances, and not in really noticing the world. From a taxicab at night in a city like LA (or Paris or New York), that's the last thing the audience should be thinking. Cities were made for watching at night. And from a car? Forget about it. Otherwise it might as well be Meg White wasting our time in a colorless room.