Coffee And Cigarettes

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner18/10/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 96 mins

Beautifully photographed but very uneven film - the stronger sketches make up for the weaker ones, but the overall effect doesn’t quite work.

If you’re a) a Jim Jarmusch fan or b) the sort of person who seeks out short films then it’s entirely possible that you’ll have seen some of Coffee and Cigarettes already.

The project started life as a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1986, featuring Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright, in which the two men have a bizarre chat over coffee and cigarettes. Jarmusch then made two other similar short films: one with Steve Buscemi in 1989 and one starring Tom Waits and Iggy Pop.

He then filmed the remaining seven segments in 2003 and edited all eleven films into a feature length compendium, with each segment linked by cigarettes, coffee and conversation.

Tom Waits And Iggy Pop Play One-Upmanship

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strongest sections are the ones that were already short films. The best of them features Tom Waits and Iggy Pop meeting in a diner and subtly trying to one-up each other over the number of their songs on the jukebox. They also compare notes on having given up smoking (whilst smoking) and discuss topics such as “roadside surgery”.

The 1989 short (filmed while Jarmusch was making Mystery Train) is equally good and features Steve Buscemi explaining to Cinque and Joie Lee (Spike Lee’s brother and sister) how Elvis was replaced by his Evil Twin.

Of the remaining films, the highlights include: “Cousins” (an impressive dual performance by Cate Blanchett, who plays both herself and her white trash cousin); “Cousins?” (in which Alfred Molina tries to convince a disinterested Steve Coogan that they might be related); and “Delerium”, in which the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA swap notes on herbal remedies with Bill Murray.

There’s also a bizarre section featuring The White Stripes, called “Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil”. Unfortunately, the other four films are much weaker and generally forgettable. (It’s tempting to say that the effect is rather like alternating cups of good coffee and bad coffee, but that’s not strictly true).

More Than Meets The Eye

Although coffee and cigarettes are the obvious link between the films, there are other themes that occasionally crop up - for example, there’s an undercurrent of envy running through the sketches with Coogan, Blanchett and Tom Waits. The Coogan / Molina sketch in particular is superb at suggesting the jealousy involved in the Hollywood hierarchy. (One wonders if Coogan can bear to watch this now, after Around the World in 80 Days flopped so badly).

As well as the thematic links, Jarmusch links the films by including overhead shots of the various tables, several of which have chessboard patterns on them. In addition, the black and white photography is gorgeous throughout – Jarmusch used a total of four separate cinematographers over the years, including Tom DiCillo, Robby Muller and Frederick Elmes.

In short, though the film doesn’t quite hang together as a feature, it is still worth seeing, particularly if you’re a Jarmusch fan. Be warned though: this is not a film to see if you are trying to give up smoking. Or coffee, for that matter.

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Coffee And Cigarettes
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Content updated: 14/11/2019 00:54

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