Last night, as I ate a healthy (ish) dinner of Crispix, a hard boiled egg, a piece of beef jerky, and pineapple, I was struck with the idea of a new old review of Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 sleeper Coffee and Cigarettes.
I call it a sleeper because it’s a great movie that didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Even now it has a small cult following as do most of Jarmusch’s other works including; Ghost Dog (1999) Dead Man (1995) and Stranger Than Paradise (1983).
Coffee and Cigarettes is a unique film in that it is a film made up of 11 short stories. All separate but connected only by the theme of Coffee and Cigarettes. Each vignette usually has two to three people sitting in a diner somewhere smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.
Here’s the Trailer:
You’d think it would be boring, but when you’ve got the cast that C&C has, it’s really quite interesting to see. Some of the duo’s/trios are as follows;
Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, Jack and Meg White, Joie and Cinque Lee (Brother and sister of director Spike Lee) served by Steve Buscemi, Cate Blanchette in dual roles conversing with herself, Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, and my favorite scene consisted of The RZA sitting in a diner with The GZA being served by actor Bill Murray who’s doing research for a new role.
It’s normally hard to make a vignette film that doesn’t lose steam but Jarmusch has suceeded hands down. It’s a dialogue driven film but each scene never lasts more than 10 minutes so you’ve got enough of a change up that it continually seems fresh as you’re watching.
One other thing that I really enjoy about Jim Jarmusch is the fact that he worked with analogue film and it shows in his films. The picture has a grainy quality to it, and it’s presented in black and white making contrast very important. It’s not a glossed over film like all the HD movies that come out anymore, it’s gritty and causes the viewer to listen to the dialogue even more because you aren’t distracted by something in the background.
Coffee and Cigarettes doesn’t rely on fancy sets or camera work either, most of the time the scenes are viewed from maybe three or four different angles, this makes the filming process easy and enjoyable for the actors and the director alike. I think that really shines through with this film.
The interesting thing about Coffee and Cigarettes is the fact that it was a work in progress for 17 years before the feature film was released. Jarmusch started the Coffee and Cigarettes series as three shorts, the first released in 1986, the second in 89, and the third in 95. In 2003 he finished his project which combined the first three shorts with 8 new ones. The impressive thing about this is that you can’t really tell which three are the old ones. They fit together with such precision that you are led to believe they were all shot in 2003.
I highly recommend Coffee and Cigarettes to anyone who’s a fan of well written dialogue that feels natural. Natural and awkward all at the same time. Just the way a cup of coffee and a cigarette should be.
The only thing I regret is the fact that this film could not be made today, every cafe that these scenes take place in are now smoke free. I would love to go into a small cafe like many of these duos and just have a long conversation with someone over a pack of cigarettes and four or five pots of coffee, and I’m not even a smoker.