Coffee and Cigarettes

Jarmusch made his first “Coffee and Cigarettes” short at the behest of “Saturday Night Live” in 1986, teaming Steven Wright with Roberto Benigni (with whom Jarmusch had just worked with on “Down By Law”) in a simple story about two famous comedic actors, conveniently named Steven and Roberto, who meet in a non-descript eatery to share some coffee and have a quick chat. Three years later, while filming “Mystery Train” in Memphis, Jarmusch filmed a second short with two stars of that film, Steve Buscemi and Cinque Lee, along with the latter’s sister Joie. Thematically, the second short had little to do with the first, outside of the characters drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. While Wright and Benigni talked about dreams and dentist appointments, Buscemi (as a diner waiter) engaged the two Lees in a story about the twin brother of Elvis Presley, who was directly responsible for the downfall of the King of Rock and Roll. Shortly after completing “Night on Earth,” Jarmusch filmed three more shorts. One, featuring Tom Waits and Iggy Pop meeting in a lower-class bar somewhere in California, would win the 1993 Cannes Film Festival’s Palme D’Or for Best Short Film. Finally, in early 2003, Jarmusch decided to compile the five previously made shorts and shoot an additional half dozen to complete a feature project.

In the best short of the series, “Delirium,” GZA and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan meet up in a restaurant, where RZA espouses the goodness of alternative medicine to a surprised GZA, when Bill Murray, dressed as a waiter and hoping not to be recognized, offers the pair some coffee. RZA declines the coffee, warning Murray (who is guzzling coffee straight out of the pot) that the stuff can cause serious delirium, and additionally pointing out to the smoking film star about the use of nicotine as an insecticide.

Another standout short features English actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan meeting in an upscale Los Angeles restaurant, where Molina, perhaps a bit too excitedly for Coogan’s tastes, tries to explain the two are in fact distant cousins. Molina tries to persuade Coogan the two should work together, and perhaps even go on a holiday together, just the pair of them. Coogan attempts to oppose any continued contact with Molina, until a fateful phone call makes Coogan rethink the situation.

In fact, there is not a bad short amongst these eleven gems. Some may be some melancholy than others, and some will definitely make you think more than laugh, but all together, “Coffee and Cigarettes” is a pleasant time at the movies. Whether it’s the joy of Jack White of The White Stripes showing off his newly built Tesla coil to his bandmate Meg, or the awkward meeting between a famous star (Cate Blanchett) and her non-famous cousin (also Cate Blanchett), the film is about what we most need in this life: a human connection to another.

Rating: A