FILM

The necessity of undramatic humanity in Coffee and Cigarettes by Jim Jarmusch

Coffee and Cigarettes by PatoStudio @ Etsy
Coffee and Cigarettes by PatoStudio @ Etsy

A set of 11 short stories collected in the film Coffee and Cigarettes depicts the nostalgic era every older smoker might remember: the magical times when smoking in coffee shops was allowed. Film director Jim Jarmusch finally implemented his idea to combine unexpected choices of actors and let them talk over coffee and cigarettes by using both improvisations and prepared dialogues. 

Being a musician himself, Jarmusch often attracts people from the trade itself for his films, and this black-and-white feature boats an outstanding team including Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, The White Stripes, and RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. The exquisite soundtrack reflects this diversity by featuring a wide range of genres, from Baroque to post-punk, emphasizing the historical importance that has been put on the ritual of caffeine consumption and tobacco smoking throughout the ages.

It took Jarmusch nearly 20 years to finish the anthology, with the first short released in 1986 and the final compilation put out in 2003 to excellent reviews. Although each vignette can be viewed as a stand-alone, some plot connections still can be traced throughout, but the entire narrative only gains from this form, welcoming artists to offer something genuine in the respectful discussions of their worldviews during coffee breaks.

A special place in the film is held by Iggy Pop, who plays himself in one of the scenes and he is also the only actor who is represented on the soundtrack. 

In the 1993 episode Somewhere in California, Iggy Pop meets Tom Waits (who also plays himself) in a diner where they drink coffee and state that they both quit smoking. Iggy, however, reports that since they quit, they can now smoke one cigarette each. Being alternative musicians, the guys don't miss the chance to troll each other over the lack of their songs in the diner's jukebox.

Listen to Down On The Street by The Stooges:

Down on the Street is later played in the background of the short starring Jack and Meg White of the band The White Stripes who also enjoy some coffee and cigarettes. They play themselves, although the scene seems to perpetuate the band's former pretense that they are indeed siblings.

Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil that he says he built himself and waxes intellectual on the achievements of Nikola Tesla.

Another sketch shows hip-hop cousins GZA and RZA drinking caffeine-free herbal tea and having a conversation with the waiter, Bill Murray, about the dangers of caffeine and nicotine. 

Murray requests that the guys keep his identity secret, while GZA and RZA inform Murray about traditional home remedy methods to relieve him of his nicotine addiction.

The classical works featured on the soundtrack are Henry Purcell's violin fantasy and Gustav Mahler's song which perfectly complements the absurdist atmosphere of the film starring outstanding actors Roberto Benigni, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, and Cate Blanchett.

Although during the production, artists and staff most likely had consumed tons of coffee and maybe even more cigarettes, Jim Jarmusch stated:

"The subject is not coffee and cigarettes — that’s just a pretext for showing the undramatic part of your day, when you take a break and use these drugs, or whatever. It’s a pretext for getting characters together to talk in the sort of throwaway period of their day."

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