Night on Earth
Five cities. Five taxicabs. A multitude of strangers in the night. Jim Jarmusch assembled an extraordinary international cast of actors (including Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Beatrice Dalle, and Roberto Benigni) for this hilarious quintet of tales of urban displacement and existential angst, spanning time zones, continents, and languages. Jarmusch’s lovingly askew view of humanity from the passenger seat makes for one of his most charming and beloved films
The Criterion Collection presents Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth on DVD in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The high-definition restoration comes from a scan of a 35mm interpositive.
This was a great looking standard-definition presentation at the time and it holds up well now, even when upscaled. The film is a rather dark one, featuring what are primarily nighttime sequences, but it still delivers a sharp looking image with some gorgeous pops of colour (pinks and reds are rendered especially well). Grain is present, but it has been managed a bit to stop it from coming off noisy, doing so without impacting the image’s detail levels. Crushing is unfortunately a bit of an issue, despite some rich blacks, and this leads to a flatter looking picture overall since most of the film does take place at night.
Damage is still present, but limited to a few minor marks and such, and nothing truly noteworthy ever pops up. The new Blu-ray is technically better as it handles compression better and does deliver more details (most notable in long shots) but for the format, this DVD’s presentation is a stand-out.
The Dolby Surround soundtrack doesn’t show off much, but it’s still nicely mixed and, more importantly, clean. There is no damage to speak of and all dialogue is sharp and clear. Range is wide, with the music sounding particularly good and does get pushed to the rears. Most of the sound is focused to the fronts, though, with some activity going to the back.
Criterion has given the film a nice little special edition, providing a few features, starting of with a select-scene audio commentary featuring director of photography Frederick Elmes and sound mixer Drew Kunin. Despite some lengthy gaps I really do enjoy this track as the two (recorded together) talk about their tasks around the production. The film was shot on location, creating all sorts of tasks for the two to deal with. The most interesting aspects, though, are probably around filming in the cars and how the cars in the European locations (where the cars are smaller) created all sorts of issues when it came to mounting the camera. The two also talk about general production issues, especially when it came to filming in different countries, getting different crews (they explain how it was like starting the film all over again). Though it’s listed as a “select scene commentary” and only provides indexes for the beginning of each segment, the track still does cover a good chunk of the film and when there is going to be a gap a voice does pop on to indicate the next chapter where the track picks up again.
Criterion next provides a Q&A with Jim Jarmusch. Criterion had fans write in questions for the director and for this hour-long audio-only feature, Jarmusch goes through a number of them (this has become a fairly standard feature on Criterion’s releases for his film since). The questions vary from general ones about his career (like what Nicholas Ray taught him) to specific questions about segments in this film (inspiration for the film, significance of a character with a band-aid, etcetera). I do love how laid back he is, and he always comes off genuine (and funny). There are also a few surprises, like his mention of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy being one of the best films he saw that year. These are always a lot of fun and this one is no different.
The disc then closes with a 6-minute interview with Jarmusch, recorded in 1992 for Belgian television. Appearing to be promoting the film (and recording the interview in a cab) he talks a little about the film (exploring these loose and brief relationships) and what it was like making a film with different languages (which he gets into a bit in the Q&A). I was also pleased to hear he is a true film nerd, owning multi-region VHS players so he can buy films from other countries. It’s a brief but excellent interview.
No trailer or anything else appears here. Criterion does provide a 40-page booklet with five essays, each one focusing on a segment in the film, with a specific focus on a certain subject or theme. Things start off with an essay by Thom Andersen covering the film with a focus on the first segment (with the bonus of being a former cab driver in L.A.) followed by another by Paul Auster looking at the poetic nature of Jarmusch’s films. Bernard Eisenschitz then provides an essay about the dialogue/language in Jarmusch’s films, starting off that he had actually been called up while the film was in production to help in translating a pun that appears in the film (he ended up not doing it, but this had stuck with him). Goffredo Rofi then provides an essay expressing some thoughts on Jarmusch (calling him a “frontier director”), and then the essays conclude with one by Peter von Bagh on the final sequence and how Jarmusch is a master of the “episode film.” Criterion also reprints the lyrics to the songs that appear in the film. It’s a wonderful booklet and I’m happy they saw fit to port it over.
Not a souped-up edition by any means but the material is solid and I can’t say there is an ounce of fat on it.
Still a solid special edition all these years later, with the supplements (despite not being plentiful) covering the film splendidly, and the standard-definition presentation being a stand-out for what it is. Though I would still point those to the new Blu-ray this release is still excellent.