Saturday, 5 February 2011



Maybe it's not something to admit to, but I've only ever seen one other Jim Jarmusch movie. I never saw Down By Law or Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train or Broken Flowers, possibly because in the gaps between SF, fantasy, horror and weirdness, when I have a go at Proper Art Films, I tend to get scared off by things like Godard's intolerable Weekend or the beautiful but tiresome Last Year In Marienbad, and immediately scurry back to the more straightforward pleasures of slashers, Jess Franco, 70s blaxploitation and kungfu thudfests. Call me a philistine, but given a choice between Isaac Hayes knocking heads together in Truck Turner or some noodly minimalism from a darling of the independent auteur sector, I'll usually go for the film with the better car chases.

Usually, but not always. And I did go to Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai in the full knowledge that it wasn't going to be a swords and bloodshed film, and I liked it a lot. Coffee And Cigarettes, however, I didn't really care for - obviously it isn't a swords and bloodshed film, more of a caffeine and nicotine film, and more accurately it's not a film at all. Rather it's a series of short and unconnected vignettes in which people meet up, talk, and imbibe the titular stimulants. Some are in roadside diners, some in outdoor street cafes, but none of them have anything to do with each other: big names like Cate Blanchett (probably the best sequence, in which she acts against herself as her own cousin), Alfred Molina, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits and Bill Murray come on, do their little scene and then disappear.

It's beautifully shot, in lovely black-and-white, by a variety of cinmeatographers including Tim DiCillo and Rubby Muller, and you can, literally, almost smell the coffee and smoke. But we are watching largely improvised encounters that have no big laughs, no sudden twists, no surprises. You can't condemn a movie for that, of course: it's like slagging off The Remains Of The Day for not having enough knob jokes. But the result is like watching real conversations between real people, except that they're played by famous people, some of them actually appearing as themselves. With no punchlines, no structure, they're just overheard chat, and the flickers of humour of them aren't so much deadpan as just dead.

This isn't to suggest it's a total bore - but the isolated verbal and visual pleasures simply aren't enough to persuade me to rent a whole stack of Jarmusch's other films. Like Godard, I might give another one or two a go but if I'm still not swayed, reluctantly conclude that Jarmusch is simply someone whose work I just don't get, like Bob Marley or Ricky Gervais - people who are/were great at what they do/did, but it's just not to my tastes and preferences. And Ghost Dog was the odd one out. Two or three of the segments had already appeared as short films over the years, which were dropped into this feature-length compilation.


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