Culture Your Ass: “Coffee and Cigarettes”

Written by Barfoot July 13, 2011

The director Jim Jarmusch entered Columbia University with the intention of becoming a poet. In fact his cultural wanderings not only covered literature and art history — through his incomplete baccalaureate struggles — but also the counter-culture of the mid to late 1970s New York, known as the punk or new wave movement. During this time Jim rubbed shoulders with bands such as The Ramones, Misfits and Talking Heads. Fittingly,  Jim’s film career would tie closely to musicians. “Stranger Than Paradise”, his second film, stars jazz musician John Lurie and former Sonic Youth drummer Richard Edson. Coffee and Cigarettes”, Jim Jarmusch’s collection of short vignettes about… well…coffee and cigarettes, includes  about as many musicians as a fully booked music festivals.

What’s most interesting about “Coffee and Cigarettes” is not only its cast, but the tet et tet pairings Jarmusch doctors up.  Jim introduces an eclectic mix of Hollywood, indie, foreign and music: the mono-toned New York comic Steven Wright and the famed Italian actor Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful”); the two siblings of Spike Lee, Joie and Cinque; Cate Blanchette and Cate Blanchette; Iggy Pop and Tom Waits; and Meg and Jack White of the late White Stripes.

Jarmusch actually made three of the total 11 shorts much earlier than the 2003 release date of “Coffee and Cigarettes”. One of these early shorts, “Somewhere in California” staring an awkwardly gregarious Iggy Pop and a shamefully sensitive Tom Waits, won the  Short Film Palme d’Or at Canne in 1993.

I recommend you watch this movie. It’s a great introduction to the works of Jim Jarmusch. You will never see a cast so diverse and iconic. And, it showcases humanity’s idiosyncrasies at their most ironic and selfish.

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