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Nov 17, 2017

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Cold Duck and Cigarettes
by Christopher Sawyer
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.6

“I don’t take it very seriously,” he said.
“I hope you don’t either.”

Director/writer/actor Jim Jarmusch is rather obvious. Tall, long thin face, strong bone structure, sideburns and spiky white hair that can be best described as Cresta Blanca - the white top at the crest of a mountain.

With more than 25 years of film directing under his belt, Jarmusch has gained a following of indie film buffs who dig his off-kilter movies. His characters aren’t necessarily people you’d want to befriend - they’re more like silver screen case studies. Cold Duck instead of Champagne.

While Jarmuschian films are often quite amusing, they also have a touch of darkness, an edginess that’s helped him establish his own film noir niche. Performers like Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, Gabriel Byrne, Bill Murray and Steve Buscemi don’t think twice when Jarmusch calls with a new script.

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) is the latest Jarmusch film to be released on DVD. Like many of his other films, it’s shot in black and white, and features seedy coffee bars and gritty little roadhouses. However, the film is an interesting departure from many of his other movies. This time around, instead of developing more wild and crazy characters, the director simply lets the actors play themselves.

Factoid: Coffee and Cigarettes took 17 years to create! The film’s a compilation of 11 separate vignettes. The first, which features a highly caffeinated conversation between Italian comedy actor Roberto Benigni and comedian Steven Wright, was filmed in 1987. Five years later, Jarmusch filmed the second vignette - a tete-a-tete over music, booze and cigarettes between seasoned musicians Tom Waits and Iggy Pop - which earned him the Palme d’Or award for short films at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. The remaining scenes were completed over the last decade.

What binds this movie together is the energy and wildness of the actors. It’s as if Jarmusch fed them potent doses of wine and spirits, thick, sludgy coffee and high-nic cigarettes, and then yelled “Action!” In most cases, the improvisational behavior is hysterical and brilliant.

Each vignette revolves around some odd topic of discussion. In the case of Jack White and Meg White of The White Stripes, it’s about messing around with patented Tesla coils (no, not the big hair band). For Bill Murray and Wu Tang Clan members RZA and Genius/GZA, it’s about trippin’ out on herbal and medical phenomena. And for Cate Blanchett, it’s all about the awkwardness of meeting up with her jittery, punk rock sister Shelly (played by herself) in a sophisticated salon.

While every teaming has its fans, it’s hard to deny that the casting of Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan is genius. Essentially, you’re presented with two extremely gifted actors discussing which one is Tinseltown’s mack daddy. The dialog’s similar to that of Tim Robbins and his Hollywood adversaries in the Robert Altman classic The Player - except that Molina and Coogan aren’t ruthless. They’re just over-caffeinated.

Jarmusch, who attended the U.S. debut of the film at the 2004 San Francisco International Film Festival, explained that he intended the film to be a bit crazy and off-the-hook.

If you’re looking for a wine that’ll stand up to the spicy dialog in Coffee and Cigarettes, try the Sterling 2002 Vintner’s Collection Shiraz ($12), an affordable and widely available fruit-driven wine. If you’re watching the film with a group of friends, concentrate on a collage of tempting wines produced by boutique wineries in California’s Sierra Foothills. Check out: the succulent and sexy Vino Noceto 2002 Sangiovese (Amador County, $15); the juicy, spicy Karly 2002 Warrior Fires Zinfandel (Amador County, $24); the vivaciously bold Twisted Oak 2002 Tempranillo (Calaveras County, $22); and the Clos Saron 2000 Black Pearl (Sierra Foothills, $35), a delectable, mouth-watering blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot and sangiovese. Like a good indie flick, these are harder to find but well worth the effort!

(and wines to sip while watching)

Stranger Than Paradise (1983)
Wine: Royal Tokaji 1996 Blue Label, 5 Puttonyos ($40/500 ml.)

Down By Law (1986)
Wine: Villa Banfi Centine 2002 Rosso di Toscana IGT, Italy ($11)

Mystery Train (1989)
Wine: Roshambo 2001 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley ($21)

Night On Earth (1991)
Wine: Quinta de Roriz 2001 DOC Reserva ($24)

Dead Man (1995)
Wine: Rosenblum Cellars 2002 Petite Sirah, Rockpile Road Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley ($34)

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
Wine: Sokol Blosser Evolution, 8th Edition ($15)

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