Coffee and Cigarettes

I went to see Jim Jarmusch’s latest, Coffee and Cigarettes (IMDB), Saturday night but haven’t really had time to blog about it. The premise of the film is in keeping with Jarmusch’s minimalist style: essentially Coffee is composed of eleven conversations over coffee and cigarettes, usually with musicians and actors playing some version of themselves. One of the difficulties of such a premise is that it’s easy to see the scenes as unconnected, a series of slight fragments, without any real connection. In addition, the segments in teh film were shot over a seventeen year period, adding to the perception of the film as a slight distraction, but Jarmusch carefully weaves a meditation on celebrity and fame, as Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review illustrates.

Perhaps the most powerful example would be the Cate Blanchett segment, in which “Cate,” a famous Hollywood actress doing publicity for one of her films, meets her punk rock cousin (also played by Blanchett) at a fancy hotel bar. Here the high-key lighting accentuates “Cate’s” celebrity as the two struggle through a conversation with Cate’s fame preventing them from any mutual understanding. A similar segment starring Tom Waits and Iggy Pop also works well. Two of the coolest musicians on the planet meet for coffee, and again, they fail to connect because of perceived slights (Iggy points out that the juke box doesn’t have any Tom Waits songs, for example). Because of the “naturalistic” style of these scenes, it’s easy to see them as unplanned or acidental, but given the careful plotting, I do think there are some clear resonances at work.

The segments are also linked visually through the setting, usually “dive” coffeehouses (the Cate Blanchett segment, “Cousins,” is one exception) where customers can still smoke, rather than trendy Starbucks-style coffeehouses. The overhead shots of checkerboard-pattern tablecloths covered with coffeecups and ashtrays accentuate these connections, and the black-and-white cinematography (by several cinematographers including Tom DiCillo and Robby Müller) beautifully captures the film’s mood (I’m now convinced that the decline in black-and-white cinematography can be directly linked to the decline in tolerance for cigarette smoking in public).

I’ll refrain from describing other segments in detail, but it’s a fun film, on course with Jarmusch’s Night on Earth in structure and style.

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