Working Title: The Same In Our Differences

Will Leschber looks at Anthology entertainment as he spends a “Night on Earth” with the “Trojan Women”.

Last week I was able to take in one of the myriad Olympian Festival shows. I had the pleasure to see the evening entitled “Trojan Women” which showcased eight short plays featuring the women of the Trojan War. Spurned lovers, bereaved queens, war widows: these women fill out the background of a war that is dominated by figures such as Achilles, Hector and Odysseus. The beauty of highlighting these stories is that it gives a voice to figures forgotten. Briseis, Hecuba, Laodike, Andromache, Polyxena, Cruesa, Oenone, Chryseis: this anthology of supporting women creates a rounded picture of the Trojan War and allows a perspective outside the battlefield to draw focus. Anthology stories are particularly good at providing multiple perspectives.

Anthology film while not a genre that we see everyday, it is a memorable one. The lines of definition can blur but for our purposes today we shall say Anthology films are ones that tells multiple stories independent from one another and are usually strung together by theme or subject matter. I think there is an important distinction between Hyperlink films and Anthology films. A Hyperlink film tells multiple stories that cross over or weave together by the end of the film. Magnolia (1999), Traffic (2000), Crash (2004), and Nashville (1975) are examples. However, Anthology stories remain separate while being part of larger film whole. The thematic thread in the Olympian festival evening was the supporting women of the Trojan War and the individual stories colored in the shades of life as such. Anthology films can come from a single filmmaker but often these kinds of films come about through multiple writers/multiple directors that work together to create a larger film outside their uniquely told stories. Some household Anthology films are: Sin City, Four Rooms, Grindhouse, Paris je t’aime, Kentucky Fried Movie, Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone: the Movie, Monthy Python’s The Meaning of Life.

Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch is one of the kings of the Anthology film. His 1992 effort Night on Earth is one of the best examples of the genre. Here we see five taxi cab stories that unfold at the same time in different cities around the world. The opening credits show a spinning globe which then cross fades to a wall with five newsroom clocks: Los Angeles 7:07 pm, New York 10:07 pm, Paris 4:07 am, Rome 4:07 am, Helsinki 5:07 am.

Zoom in: Los Angeles. Winona Ryder is a rough, tom-boyish cab driver who picks up the pristine casting director, as played by Gena Rowlands. The conversation is informal. Ryder smokes a lot. Differences in age are apparent and how age can alter values. We get a sense of the LA landscape at night as the cab passes monuments of everyday living: LAX, Centinela Hospital, La Brea Blvd, Astro Burgers, etc. The taxi winds up into it’s Beverly Hills destination, and finally Rowlands makes a film role proposal to Ryder. This we expect but the answer is possibly one we do not.

The Clocks roll back as the camera zooms in on the timeline of Ney York City. The Globe spins. New York flashes: A lit Empire State Building at a distance, pay phones tattooed with graffiti, a China Town neighborhood rolled up for the evening. Armin Mueller-Stahl is an east German immigrant who picks up Giancarlo Esposito in his rundown, shabby cab. Since the Mueller-Stahl’s immigrant can’t drive very well, Esposito proposes that he drive the cab to Brooklyn for them. “Its not allowed.” “Yeah, its allowed! This is New York!” They go. The city is seen through the wandering eyes of the newly arrived immigrant and something as common place as the Brooklyn Bridge to street-wise Esposito is filtered with fresh awe. Our cab driver immigrant learns how to drive, he learns how to cuss, he learns how to be a new Yorker. And so do we.

The clocks roll back to restart the half hour we’ve just spent and the globe rolls on to Paris. The moving post cards flash: The dark Metro, side street fruit shops with shades down, plentiful motorbikes parked for the night, the Seine twinkling in copper purples and neon speckled blues. In the Parisian vignette, a French-African cabby picks up a blind passenger and confronts the things about our sense of sight that narrows our field of vision. He can see and she cannot but in seeing that she is blind our French cabby is then trapped in his belief about her abilities or lack there of. Race, sex, nationality, perspective: all are touched upon through this informal smooth interaction between strangers.

Roll the clocks, spin the globe…Rome: The Colosseum, sex, religion, dark streets, old buildings. Roberto Benigni as the cab driver talks to himself in grand style and cracks a parade of jokes. He picks up a priest who needs a late night lift. Even with a passenger in the car, Benigni dominates the conversation as much as he did when alone. Soon the evening turns dark and darkly comic. Religion is sickly in the backseat while a sex-crazed, passionate people are in the drivers seat.

Time speeds back.

Clocks, Globe, Helsinki: Here we get a darker story where three drunk passengers develop a new respect for their cabby when they learn of his tragic past. It seems here in the darker and colder parts of the world, individuals bridge the gaps of connect through shared tragedy. Do we connect the same way in LA or NY? Or do the places we live highlight different aspect of our human condition?

I like to think Jarmusch is saying we are all the same in our differences. We all want to touch the movies in L.A. We are all immigrants in N.Y. We all are blind at times to others around us in Paris. We all joke and talk and focus on our sexual selves as religion remains in the backseat in Rome. And we all sing cold songs in cold times in Helsinki. Just like when we cry with Hecuba and laugh with Oenone, we are all supporting players in the Trojan War.

The SF Olympians festival continues until 11/23 and Night on Earth is available to stream on Hulu-Plus or to rent on / iTunes.