After a five-year absence, downtown filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has returned with Coffee and Cigarettes, a compilation of laconic shorts that took more than seventeen years to make and that stars an eclectic swath of the celebrity spectrum: Wu-Tang’s RZA and GZA, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina. All of them play themselves while drinking coffee and smoking—and talking about everything from Tesla coils to Hollywood backstabbing. It screens May 5 at the Tribeca Film Festival.
A collection of shorts—connected rather loosely by caffeine and nicotine—seems a little pretentious.
Well, I like the idea of formal variation. And this is an exercise in variation, the same situation, just different places, different people. Variation is the foundation of everything Bach ever wrote.
Everyone’s favorite short seems to be Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina—and coincidentally enough, they’re both actors. Do you think you should use real actors, rather than, say, Jack and Meg White, more often?
No, no. Fellini once said he thought he could make a great scene with Marlon Brando and his electrician, if they both trusted him. Experience isn’t what draws me to collaborating—I’m more intuitive than calculating. It’s a nice selection of wackos, and I’m such a whore, man, I fell in love with all of them. I must really be a slut.
So, I see you’re still smoking.
Yes. My days might be numbered, but I still respect the strength of the narcotic—people don’t give it enough respect as a powerful drug.
Bloomberg seems to.
Oh, I don’t know about that. Respect? This has more to do with revenue. It’s all about the fines.
Where do you get your coffee here?
I stopped drinking coffee in 1986, but I am an English-tea fanatic—that kind of working-class tea—and I like to go to the Pink Pony on Ludlow Street, or Buffa’s Deli on Prince.
You stopped in 1986? Isn’t that when you started this movie?
Yeah, I did an experiment and stopped all kinds of things to see which would come back: Alcohol, cigarettes, any kinds of drugs, meat, sugar. Some came back, and some didn’t. I told everyone I loved, all of my friends, to stay away from me.
So, what came back?
I’ve never eaten meat since, I don’t use drugs, except psychoactive drugs once every ten years. Sugar did come back.
Did your friends come back?
Well, some of them.