Coffee &

95' 2003 USA + + +

These little shorts are a slap into the hollywood cinema : it's almost a commercial for cigarettes! Famous people smoking cigarettes after cigarettes, naming trade marks, F word swearing... Not only that, some characters take an opposing stance, trying to convince the other to quit... Jim Jarmusch admitted he left the actors free to defend either side they felt more comfortable with. The point of the study is not to promote additive habits or to preach against them.

"Hey Cigarettes and Coffee, man! that's a combination!"

It's a real delight to watch these familiar stars (or less familiar... i had to check who these underseen/forgotten people were) playing with their image, walking the wild side, breaking from the P.C. rules.


In fact this is a compilation of 11 shorts he shot independently. The first one dates back from 1986 (Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright), the second from 1989 (Steve Buscemi, Cinqué Lee, Joie Lee), the third from 1993 (Tom Waits, Iggy Pop). He shot 8 more last year. From his own admittance, they were not meant to complete a big picture format idea... he realized they used the same premise (impros around coffee and cigarettes, music, cinema, career) and the same lines of dialogue.
I find it hard to believe personaly, as they look so obviously made from the same mould. The set repeats the black and white checker pattern, with 2 or 3 people meeting in a different place each time, like a pub crawl with different friends in a place with a different personality/mood.
Jarmusch decided to keep shooting these little shorts with his friends : stars, musicians... figures of the underground scene, in a free form, away from any constraints of a production executive. He collected funds from all around the world (France, Japan...) to make it possible, and save his artistic freedom. He wanted to compile them like music singles to make an album.
He intents to keep them coming in the future! So get ready for more guest stars, more coffee and more cigarettes!



1 - Strange to meet you : Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright ++++
Steve and Steve meet in a dirty bar, they are uncomfortable, don't seem to know what to talk about, yet can't express their satisfaction to be together. Instead of talking weather-type empty discussions, they go for coffe and cigarettes small talks. They compare their taste in search for common points that could connect them. They switch seats, in an attempt to be in eachother's shoes, symbolicaly, looking from the other's POV, maybe to get closer to eachother which the verbal exchange fails to achieve. This uncongruous experience is not pleasing and the homonymous (interchangeable?) Steve's go back to their original seat. One Steve (Wright)looks for an excuse to get out of these uncomfortable silence, and mentions a dentist appointment (which is the archetype of excruciating task anybody wants to avoid). In a quite surrealist mood, the other Steve offers to go for him with an unexpected enthousiasm.
You have to admit there is more than useless realist moments of daily life here! It's not a simple observation, the artist translates daily bits into a parable by introducing poetry : Both characters are named Steve, to add confusion, the interchangeability is hinted many times, the conclusion is unexpected and absurd.

2 - Twins : Steve Buscemi, Cinqué Lee (Spike Lee's siblings), Joie Lee +++
Heckle & Jeckle,

3 - Somewhere in California : Tom Waits, Iggy Pop +++
Iggy Pop meets Tom Waits at a 50ies diner. They both look up the jukebox playlist for any of their songs, like a fame reality check! that's how vain rock stars are... They are cool, but distance is tangible, as if their notoriety/status/standing/competition was a barrier peventing any spontaneous familiarity like the best friends they are. Each play himself, although we can tell the awkward affected discomfort is unatural for the purpose of this mood study. Jarmusch plays wth us and with two of his best bussies, on distanciation again. He gives us famous figures who play under their real name, while forcing upon them exagerated behaviors that might not reflect their real life image. It's quite the actors' paradoxe to be filmed in a faked slice of their own life.
The subject unfolds around the P.C. justifying smulacre of smoking-quiters who pretend it's alright to taste just one ciggie since they quit. It can't be as bad as an addicted smoker who didnt quit. The double speech to save appearances and find moraly acceptable motives to excuse publicaly bad habits frowned upon, is symptomatic of celebrity lies that help them preserve their unglorious private lives behind a smooth and glossy image.
Another recurring gimmick of these vignettes is the way they find the less embarassing excuse to get out of these vacuous head-to-head meetings without offending the guest, without letting the other believe they dislike the guest. This is a symbolic traduction of the situations when a celebrity is contractualy obliged to attend to an interview/show for promotion or just for good public relation that might serve the future prosperity of their career. This is self derision of the star-system by the stars themselves by the stars' friend, Jarmusch, for star lovers, us the audience. Irony, humor and cynism.

4 - Those shit'll kill ya : Joe Rigano, Vinny Vella (Scorsese's mafia actors), Vinny Vella Jr. +++
Joe, Vinny and Vinny Jr, 3 generations of NYC italians yell, cough, whine, argue whether it is ok or not to smoke and spur all sorts of fantasies and urban legends about health hazards caused by this guilty pleasure. Duplicity plays here under 3 simultaneous ages of man, Grand-father, father and son, who have a different relationship/exposition to coffee and cigarettes.

5 - Renée : Renée French (?), E.G. Rodriguez (drummer) +++
The only nobody of the cast, Renée is credited as the unknown girl from NYC. Ironicaly She plays the most inaccessible person. She is lonely, she has no friend to spend her coffee break with, she rests away from pressure in a quiet classy café. She's having her morning "perfect moment", one of these little whim stars have to comfirm their superior status. She wants her cup of coffee a the right temperature, the right color, the perfect balance of ingredient for the perfect taste. Sometimes life is that simple. Unfortunately this annoying waiter invade her intimacy and spoils it all at once, not only with bothering questions but by filling her cup without asking. that's it her perfect moment is gone, and we can feel her frustration. Her day is ruined now. she strives to constrain her anger inside with an admirable self control. The comic situation keeps going on like a silent movie with contemplative observation of this girl reading her magazine, her thought fading out in clouds of smoke, and the waiter showing up every now and then with more disturbing stalking behavior.

6 - Pas de Problème / No Problem : Alex Descas, Isaac De Bankolé (also in Ghost Dog) ++++
The title is a notorious moto from the french creole (carabbean) "Pani pwoblem", overused in daily conversation reflecting the easy going "laid back" attitude in the tropical islands. The two french actors (who met on L'Arbalète in 1984) represent two sides of the black culture from both side of the atlantic. Alex (Trouble Every Day, Lumumba, Irma Vep) is from the Antilles (french carabbean) personifies the "No Problem" attitude. Isaac (Ghost Dog, Night on Earth, Chocolat) is from Ivory Coast, and seem to totally miss this "No Problem" attitude, shows a paranoid nevrosis, refusing to understand that his friend didn't need any particular reason to enjoy his company. Despite Alex repeating endlessly he's fine, Isaac believes it's only politeness or shyness about sharing his problems with him, thus leaves the table offended by this obvious lack of trust and confidence. Jarmusch explores here, the self-reflective attitude of the stars, although these characters could be any one of us. It seems impossible for them to meet just for the fun (like Iggy and Tom Waits tried in the first vignette), like if it was a waste of time of their busy schedule! Isaac is outraged that Alex has not a single little problem to share with him, which would give a meaning to his friendship and justify his existance in a way by making him feel important (to somebody close), and maybe he looked for someone more desperate than him to comfort his own misery. This exagerrated situation emphasize on a futile blatent misunderstanding that can degenerate into useless fight spoiling this innocent coffee break Jarmusch wants to describe as the universal smallest moment of joy in life.

7 - Cousins : Cate Blanchett vs. Cate Blanchett ++++
Again the theme of interchangeability/duplicity, a degree deeper, the two cousines are played by the same actress! Here we can see a famous actress playing herself on screen, taking some derision at her inaccessible status of movie star as she meets her broke, ill-mannered cousin, standing for the average audience profile, pushed to an extreme to emphasis the gap between hollywood stars and normal people. Yet the irony plays on the fact Cate performs this "normal girl from the crowd" and serves herself some snide attacks at her snobish attitude, and her perfect life. So we are given simultaneous views of the same person from two contradictory behavior. The point here is not to hide the fact the same actress plays both roles, under excessive make up, in order for us to remain fuly aware that Cate talks to Cate, like Good vs. Evil sides, successful vs. loser. the "good" Cate's face decomposes, and worries for her reputation, when the "bad" Cate mentions she is occasionaly mistaken for the star. Boring talks about what it's like to be a celebrity and falsely modest denial from the star. Again the point is not the content of these empty small talks, but the reaction of each character to them, the evolution of the situation, the sensible tension build up, the irony of this decalage coming from this artificial/improbable setup. This sketch is full of cynic phrases to discredit the glamour surface of stardom like : "Isn't it funny how when you can't afford something it costs a fortune, but suddenly when you can afford it it's just, like, free?"

8 - Jack shows to Meg his Tesla coil : Meg White, Jack White (The White Stripes) +++

9 - Cousins? : Alfred Molina (PTA actor), Steve Coogan (from 24H party people) ++++

10 - Delirium : GZA, RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), Bill Murray +++
This short was supposed to feature the 3 members of the Wu-Tang Clan, but Ghostface Killah never showed up, which prompts in their impros a hint at their buddy being always late. GZA and RZA were extatic to meet Bill Murray and kept on saying Bill fucking Murray!!! The impro translates a spontaneous reaction, words that were felt. Here we have several levels of irony interweaving in this artificial situation. Bill Murray who is a famous hollywood actor (although probably before his latest success with Lost in Translation) ends up at the lowest possible position of a wannabe actor in Hollywood : waiter in a bad diner. This is an intentionaly provocative clash of two contradictory realities, since Bill plays himself and not a beguinner. We can also interpretate Bill's job as the desperate situation of a has-been actor who lost the glory and wealth of fame, this might personify the haunting nightmare of all stars. GZA and RZA behave like groupies seeing for the first time in flesh their favorite movie star, quoting famous lines of his films... which annoys Bill. They play themselves, but act like the next fanboy in town, that's the relativity intriduced by Jarmusch, saying that any star is the fan of another star just like you and me. Behind these ridiculizing situations putting stars under their less flatering angle, he wants to break the common stereotypes about stardom and fandom, using absurd demonstrations.

11 - Champagne : Bill Rice, Taylor Mead (mythic stars of the 70ies underground cinema, Warhol's Factory) +++
I don't know these actors and didn't get the references mentionned in this piece so I'm admit my perception of thisone is uneducated. I welcome a walkthrough if anyone wants. I found the atmosphere very artificial and the lines too cliché and not really perfomed by the characters, the content was average and uneventful, but this is without all the potential subtext i missed.


2003 - Jim Jarmusch - USA

Directing : Jim Jarmusch
Scenario : Jim Jarmusch
Photo : Frederick Elmes, Robby Müller, Tom DiCillo, Ellen Kuras

Cast : Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Bill Murray, Kate Blanchett, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan



Content : + +
Playwright : +
Mise en scene : + + +
Craft : + + + +
Inspiration : + + + +


2004 © SCREENVILLE * HarryTuttle