ACS Night 2: "Paterson," "The Force Awakens," and Adam Driver | Rock Candy

Saturday, August 26, 2017

ACS Night 2: "Paterson," "The Force Awakens," and Adam Driver

Posted By on Sat, Aug 26, 2017 at 8:48 AM

click to enlarge Adam Driver, as Kylo-Ren in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
  • Adam Driver, as Kylo-Ren in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Before both shows on Friday, Jeff Nichols, the acclaimed director who brought the Arkansas Cinema Society into existence with fellow filmmaker and Central High graduate Kathryn Tucker, talked about "demystifying a little bit" the process of filmmaking. He said he imagined himself a kid, loving movies, and sitting in the audience of ACS, yearning to learn how to make films.

I was actually beside a high school student one of the times he said that. The kid's eyes were popping out of his head.

So, already before the movie, to a certain degree: mission accomplished.

As Nichols even admitted, the room being full at 2 p.m. on a Friday for the first screening — of Jim Jarmusch's "Paterson" — was a success in itself.

"It helps when Adam Driver is around," he added.

For all intents and purposes, each day's films are a mini-event within the larger ACS festival. Everyone has their own day.

On Thursday, during the kick-off, it was the time of Noah Stahl, the producer behind "Patti Cake$." On Saturday, we move to the directing, writing and editing of David Lowery with "Pete's Dragon" and "A Ghost Story." And last night, it was the acting of Adam Driver with two screenings: "Paterson" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

You can see the goal of education slyly tucked into the spine of the weekend: each day focusing on one person's role in the sprawling movie industry. It was not three directors or two actors scheduled, or Nichols screening his own work. Instead, ACS is bringing people who have varied roles in making a movie — producer, actor, director, writer, editor — screening their work and then putting them in conversation with Nichols (who is a writer, director and producer).

So, how did ACS's Adam Driver day go?

First up was "Paterson," a film directed by Jim Jarmusch — the well loved if not always well-known indie director of "Stranger Than Paradise," "Mystery Train" and "Coffee and Cigarettes."

Driver plays the titular Paterson, a bus driver in the town of Paterson, N.J. and a secret poet. If this all sounds "important" and "slow" to you, well, it is. "Paterson" does not move quickly. It is, as Nichols said afterward, "zen."

But, the outward appearance of "Paterson" — acclaimed indie director, humble provincial setting, poetry as a subject — belie a deeply funny movie. I cannot think of a time I have heard an audience laugh out loud so many times. A few weeks ago, I'd watched "Paterson" by myself (it's streaming on Amazon) and laughed not even half as much. I missed tons of jokes! That is the beauty of ACS putting it up in Ron Robinson.

Also, it's worth noting that the jokes are not digs at suburban life. You can imagine a movie like "Paterson" being funny, in part, by eviscerating the nonmetropolitan. But, the film never moves towards the pompous in its comedy or in an unnecessary loftiness when dealing with ideas. It reflects, much better than you would imagine, its subject matter: the poetry of William Carlos Williams.

Many consider poetry in the same light — it's good, even important, but not how I want to actually spend my time. Yet, Williams had a way of writing so tenderly that it became funny, warm and human. Williams wrote an epic, and not completed, poem "Paterson" about his home of N.J., where he was a doctor. This is a direct influence, if not template, for the film. But, if you're looking to not have to read an epic poem to get a taste of the film, a shorter summation is "This Is Just To Say," which Paterson reads in the movie.

Driver is spectacular in this role. But, also, you can imagine him being great in this role. It's an actor's dream — or at least a certain kind of actor's dream — to be the star of a film directed by a legend like Jarmusch.

That is why, after seeing Jarmusch in the afternoon, it was almost more impressive to see the brooding, well-played and much-more-interesting-than-necessary Kylo Ren that Driver plays in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

I do not have much to say about the movie overall. I am making the bold assumption you do not want a review of Star Wars months after it already came out. But, I will just drop in: Driver's Kylo Ren is still a standout. Months after the hype of simply having more Star Wars has dissipated to the lingering worry of "Are they going to make too much Star Wars?" I was glad Driver got a crack at the sulking abuser of the force.

After both screenings there was a conversation between Driver and Nichols.

Nichols is a self-admitted not great interviewer. He's a director (so trained to tells his own story) and sometimes slides into his personal anecdotes. Driver had this unbelievable ability to win the audience over (again and again) despite it being a bit of an odd experience. He has an incredible presence, in this way.

Here's a few things that were mentioned:

- Driver discussed how his process for selecting films was still "director driven." You can see this in who he has worked with: Jarmusch, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam (in his new, and finally actually happening, movie based on Don Quixote), Noah Baumbach, Steven Soderbergh and (of course) Nichols.

- But, Driver tries to not come to these sets with rigidity. Some people, like Soderbergh, want to do one take, which can be good. Others, like Baumbach, want to do 40. The one take method helps because often it does not allow Driver to overthink. But, he comes from a theater background in which "your life inevitably works its way into what you're saying," so doing many takes can help with that side of acting.

- I liked this breakdown of Jarmusch by Driver who said that he enjoyed the director's ability to "trust that the power of thought is enough" by asking "how can it be stripped down its bare essential?"

- Driver discussed his nonprofit, which helps deliver artistic performance to those in the military. Driver was himself in the military. I found this to be, actually, one of the more moving parts of the conversation. Driver seemed genuinely passionate about bringing quality, and less dumbed down, art to those serving in the military.

- The most Arkansas-relevant bit: Driver has spent about two weeks in the Natural State since, he said, "about the age of 12." Some members of his family live here. He remembered being about 12 and going to the Walmart, walking the aisles and adding to his movie collection.

- I include this only because it was strange. Some guy screamed down from the balcony, during the second Q&A which allowed open questions, that he had a question. (Mostly little kids had been asking about Star Wars.) He then talked for a minute or so about how Driver's hands were used in his acting. And, how his "gestures" added to his performance. Driver kindly thanked him. People laughed a bit. There still was not a question and he kept talking about Driver's hands. Then the question: Do you play a musical instrument? The audience, again, laughed. Driver said he played the piano. And, then, Driver sort of made a face, and a gesture with his hands, as if to say, "What do you want me to say?" Ah, a man of the physical performance!

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