15th 02 - 2014 | 13 comments »

Ghostbusters (1984)

Director: Ivan Reitman

Ghostbusters-Cast

By Roderick Heath

Ghostbusters is one of those quintessential films beloved by anyone who grew up in the ’80s, and now that it’s 30 years old, sure to make all of us feel old. It’s also one of those films whose cultural familiarity partly masks what a peculiar beast it is. Dozens of films since its release have mimicked and taken cues from its atypical mix of apparently disparate genres and impulses, as it practically gave birth to the “high concept,” self-aware blockbuster. What is Ghostbusters? A horror film? A screwball farce? A send-up? A blockbuster action flick? A self-reflexive, postmodern disassembly of popular moviemaking? A wild and self-mocking jaunt from a team of semi-outsider comics who found themselves armed with all the resources of powerful insiders? All of the above?

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Just whose success it is likewise remains confusing. Director Ivan Reitman handled the film well, easily standing as his best work, and the screenplay concocted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis is smart and original. But the film is more distinguished by the rare and elusive chemistry of its many constituents. Perhaps the most notable follow-up success by its participants is the Ramis-directed Groundhog Day (1992), which starred fellow Ghostbusters alumnus Bill Murray and represented a clear development on Ghostbusters’ heady side. Aykroyd’s efforts to delve into the same zone of satirical black comedy with his own debut directing effort, Nothing but Trouble (1990), is a delirious mess, whilst Reitman’s follow-ups were generally so commercially crass as to beggar belief.

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Ghostbusters is also its own success story, and in that regard, it’s still an eccentric, subversive experience, encouraging the audience to cheer the heroes whilst also mocking Ghostbusters‘ own marketing iconography, incorporated within a hall of mirrors in which art reflects life and commerce. The basic theme, a ragtag pack of shonky savants eagerly practising alternative capitalism surprise everyone not only by becoming successes but also by saving the world, is inseparable from the film’s background. It was made by veterans from corners of show business leagues removed from the halls of Hollywood power who nonetheless gave popular cinema an urgently needed shot in the arm. Reitman had started as a no-budget filmmaker in Canada making the comedy horror film Cannibal Girls in 1972 with Eugene Levy, an alumnus of the Toronto branch of Second City, now an improv dynasty that was born in Chicago. Murray, Akyroyd, and Ramis were likewise Second City veterans, with Murray and Aykroyd initially finding bigger fame on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Murray was vaulted to minor movie stardom when he ventured north of the border to work with Reitman on the raunchy farce Meatballs (1979), one of those cheap, inglorious little movies that made people very rich. Ramis joined Reitman and Murray for the hugely successful Stripes (1981). Meanwhile, many of the artists from “Saturday Night Live” and “SCTV,” a television spinoff of Second City Toronto, gained cinematic attention in Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979), and John Landis’ The Blues Brothers (1980) made Aykroyd and costar John Belushi major comedy stars. The joining of these two streams was perhaps inevitable, but it happened only after Belushi’s tragic death forced Aykroyd and Ramis to retool the script they had written for Murray to star.

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Ghostbusters harked back to traditions older than the fringe comedy scene its creators came from, however. Comedy-horror had been a hugely popular genre in the 1920s and ’30s on Broadway and in the movies, as American entertainers made light of darker European-derived fantasies. Examples include the much-filmed play The Cat and the Canary, the 1939 version of which starred comedy titan Bob Hope, who followed it up with The Ghost Breakers (1940). The suggestive similarity of that title and Ghostbusters accords with their approach to the material: taking a genre gothic chiller that unfolds in a straightforward manner with all the usual paraphernalia, but sticking a comic bumbler in the foreground to strike sparks against the material. Likewise, Akyroyd and Ramis were witty enough to take a surprisingly rich and dramatic, H.P. Lovecraftish tale and populate it with characters who are variably functional even in the real world. Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, has elements of Hope and Groucho Marx to him, whilst also belonging to a comedy type just starting to wane but that had been the backbone of American film comedy since Robert Altman’s MASH (1970): the slightly boorish, horny, bratty goofball who’s only heroic in that he hates authority and pretension, a figuration that reached its reductio ad absurdum in Belushi’s Bluto in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). The Ghostbusters are, indeed, very much like the Animal House or Meatballs characters a few years older and scarcely wiser, now growing off the body of academic culture like warts, but faced finally with sink-or-swim survival in the world of ’80s yuppiedom.

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Venkman is introduced engaging in an experiment that spoofs the fuzzier end of ’60s and ’70s research, including the infamous Milgram experiment, as he nominally tests two volunteers for ESP abilities, delivering electric shocks when they get an answer wrong, except, natch, that he’s only shocking the nebbish guy (Steven Tash) and pretending that all of the gorgeous blonde’s (Jennifer Runyon, who is married to Roger Corman’s nephew Todd Corman) answers are right. Venkman works in the Dept. of Paranormal Research at Columbia University, along with the more efficacious lab rats Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Ramis). They interrupt his flirtation to drag him to the New York Public Library, where, as the pretitle sequence has shown, a mysterious entity has terrified a librarian (Alice Drummond). The trio encounter the entity, seemingly the shade of a dead librarian, but when they decide to tackle it, it morphs into a demonic grotesque that sends them running for their lives. The unexpected quality of this scene infuses the film as a whole although it never tries to top it. Venkman quips his way past supernatural manifestations (“No human being would stack books like this,” he mutters after Ray points out a pile of volumes that resemble an historically documented poltergeist incident) and then running into and then away from the spectre as something genuinely fierce and frightening, making a ploy of scaring the audience as well as the heroes, and then turning the fright into a joke.

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And yet, although it quickly nullifies the power of the uncanny as a source of fright, Ghostbusters never entirely quells it as a source of lawless power. Tim Burton may well have felt encouraged to make his even odder mixture, Beetlejuice (1988), during the brief window when real weirdness was welcome in the realms of high box-office cinema. Although met back at the university by a snotty dean (Jordan Charney) who terminates their grant and evicts them from campus, the boys find their true path, as Peter encourages Ray and Egon, who have learnt from their encounter how to trap and contain a ghost, to start a ghost-catching business. By the end of the second reel, thanks to a crushing mortgage on Ray’s ancestral home, the trio have set themselves up in an old fire station in lower Manhattan (outfitted to tackle “all your paranormal investigation and elimination needs,” as their tacky TV ad puts it) and hired a wiseacre secretary, Janine (Annie Potts). The business of commercialism as the new inescapable paradigm in the go-go ’80s is a key conceit in Ghostbusters, echoing outwards into life, as the boys’ company logo is also the film’s advertising image and the idea of paranormal battle as just another home service industry gave the film’s inimitably bouncy theme tune, by Ray Parker Jr, its refrain. It feels like Aykroyd and Ramis’ cheeky way of admitting they’ve sold out the modest, DIY spirit that fuelled the old comedy scene, but doing so in the most cunning manner possible—getting busy with the ’80s special-effects blockbuster.

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Murray’s act was tweaked to best effect in Ghostbusters as the closest of the trio to a romantic lead. Peter starts off as a cynical prick—the dean is right when he remarks that Peter regards science as “some sort of dodge or hustle”—but he grows up in the course of Ghostbusters without letting himself admit it nor disappointing the audience with corny reversals: rather, he contends with actual adult emotion and potential heartbreak with the same humour he offers to ghostly slobs and incidental aggravations. Venkman’s smart-ass smirk communicates his inability to care about the things everyone else cares about, and where Bob Hope’s heroes were hilariously craven, Venkman alternates between egocentric, on-the-make douchebaggery and an underlying attitude of careless disdain for reality, which makes him the ideal man to wade into battles with otherworldly entities, extradimensional deities, and possessed girlfriends, because they only strike him as being as weird as the petty authoritarians and “normal” people strewn in his path.

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Ray and Egon, by contrast, are more traditionally nerdy, Ray rather boyishly earnest whilst Egon, with a jutting crown of Eraserhead hair, brings a quality of haughty, Euro-tinted cyberpunk cool to the team, seemingly the most serious of the trio, but also, as Peter’s anecdote about him trying to drill a hole in his head indicates, the most bizarre. Ramis is the film’s richest alternative to Murray for throwaway humour, given to grimly hilarious exhortations (“I think that could be unbelievably dangerous.”) to too-late warnings (“Don’t cross the streams.”) to esoteric interests (“I collect spores, moulds, and fungus.”). One reason, I think, why kids liked the characters so much, even as a lot of the humour and the concepts of the film went over our heads, lay in the essential boyishness of the Ghostbusters, especially their disdain for both “parent” figures like priggish EPA snoop Walter Peck (William Atherton) and for property. Their efforts to extricate a poltergeist from a ritzy hotel causes more damage than the spirit ever could, evoking the Marx Brothers destroying a place to save it; Venkman takes his chance on the old whip-the-tablecloth-off-the-set-table stunt just for the hell of it. There’s a flavour of Aykroyd’s writing on The Blues Brothers, as he sent his asocial heroes crashing through shopping malls and annihilating great swathes of consumerist folderol.

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The hotel manager sniffs at paying the ridiculous bill Venkman hands him for their services, but, of course, the threat of releasing the monster again is all it takes to gain submission. The boys’ victory here is their first, though the hotel only represents their second client, after concert cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who reports the startling appearance of demons uttering the name of an ancient Sumerian god in her refrigerator. Dana’s intrusion into the lives of the Ghostbusters prods Venkman to mature, albeit it unwillingly and with customary insouciance, as he tries to impress a woman not at all impressed by his smug shtick (“You seem more like a game show host,” she says in comparing him to other scientists) but who enjoys his energy and ironic charm. Unbeknownst to all, Dana and her neighbour in the building, accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), have, because of their addresses, been chosen by mysterious forces to become the “Gatekeeper” and “Keymaster.” The sexual innuendo isn’t subtle and yet the layering of the humour is, as the film signals understanding of the erotic underpinnings of much symbolism in the horror genre, but doesn’t overplay this epiphany. Instead, it’s married to a style of comedy practiced by most of the cast in other venues, one based on well-observed social types. The garrulous, dorky, socially malformed Louis, who is Dana’s excessively attentive neighbour (and also constantly locks himself out of his own apartment) finds his ticket to getting it on with Dana as the Keymaster, albeit after being possessed by a dog-monster.

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Louis’ party, to which he invites Dana, is one of the film’s quieter comic coups, as he raves to the gathered about throwing the bash “for clients instead of friends” so he can claim it as a business expense, shouts out the details of his guest’s financial problems, hurls coats carelessly out onto the balcony, and dances to disco (in that grey zone between when it was cool and when it became retro hip) with a buxom blonde, before the demon sent to claim him crashes in through the window. The film’s half-cynical, half-affectionate feel for New York emerges properly in the following scenes, as Louis flees the monster, only to be caught by it before a restaurant full of snooty diners, who momentarily pay attention to his desperate cries for help before turning back to their meals. Then the now-possessed Louis screams incoherently about obscure apocalypses before being picked up by the cops and taken to be interviewed by a cautiously fascinated Egon, where he unleashes an enthusiastic monologue about the grim fates that befell previous worlds that became victims of his overlord Gozer. Whereas Louis’ possession is played for comedy, Dana’s returns to a note of genuine weirdness, as, preparing for a date with Peter, she sees something terrible straining at the door to her kitchen. Monstrous arms sprout out of her chair to grip her and drag her to the beast.

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One element of Ghostbusters I particularly admire today is the way it creates its own detailed, enriching, peculiarly straight-faced mythology and tropes (e.g., the eternally intriguing “Tobin’s Spirit Guide”), and plays the character-based comedy out against that background, only combining the two occasionally for judicious effect, particularly in the finale in the eventual form Gozer takes. There’s youthful indulgence and cleverness to the details of their Ghostbusting business, from the fire pole they slide down to leap into action, to their jazzed-up station wagon dubbed Ecto 1, like a down-market, second-hand Batmobile. The script profitably avoids mere supernaturalism as it takes the boys’ pseudo-science interests literally, presenting the ghostly outbreak as the result of an “interdimensional cross-rip.” The fantastic dimensions then breaks into the “real” world via a portal created for it by the mythical, insane architect and surgeon Ivor Sandor, a wonderfully Lovecraftian detail. It also reconfigures the basic plot of the stultifyingly bad The Sentinel (1976) and capitalises much more successfully than that film did on the notion of uptown glamour colliding with infernal underworlds; as with Cristina Raines’ heroine there, Dana is the quintessential classy lady confronted with eruptions of the uncontrollable and terrifying. The possessed Dana is transformed into a randy, transgender minx swathed in gossamer red, like the girl in a dance club you most regret going home with, levitating and finally driving Venkman to the most unusually disturbed and unguarded request to “please come down.” Weaver, hitherto best known for Alien (1979), got to revise her image and her career here.

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Reitman’s sense of style is also unusually sleek, especially during the superbly composed sequence in which the Ghostbusters’ ghostly horde, released by Peck in his determination to establish the pecking order, floods out of their building in a thunderous light show and terrorises the city. The streams of ectoplasmic energy all converge on Dana’s building to the strains of Mick Smiley’s marvellously odd synth-pop epic “Magic,” as if the whole affair is some extraordinary new-wave art installation gone horribly right. Similarly good is an earlier montage sequence that portrays the Ghostbusters riding to fame and success whilst plying their trade, extending the film’s jokey, but incisive incorporation of modern celebrity as a reality unto itself. The boys’ adventures are reported by Larry King and Casey Kasem, and their images are plastered all over magazines, Egon’s ingenious, but dangerous proton-accelerating, ghost-busting packs shown off in the same fashion as the latest model iPhone.

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Much of the film’s visual strength might be laid at the door of the high-class contributions of cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs and special-effects maestro Richard Edlund. Kovacs’ look for the film, sleek yet richly grained and filled with earthy hues, manages to combine a sense of urban grit with groves of romance and bizarreness, seeking out signs of an antique, even fantastic world coexisting with the decay and bustle. Emblematic of this approach are the stone lions outside the public library that prefigure the gargoyles in which Gozer’s demons slumber and the atmosphere of an older New York, represented by old quipsters lurking in hotel lobbies, encoded in the old panelling of the hotel and the art deco interior of Dana’s building.

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The grounded feel in a time and place, as well as humour and characterisation, holds the movie together as it charges into zones of special-effects spectacle and informs its final, celebratory air as a hymn to rowdy all-American energy. The Ghostbusters have since gained an extra recruit, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), a blue-collar black dude who is no PhD, but gives the team their link to the ordinary world around them with his adaptable good-humour (in response to a series of woolly-minded questions on the application questionnaire, like “Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?”, he replies, “As long as there’s a steady pay cheque in it, I believe anything you say.”) and workaday attitude to utter insanity. Winston’s addition exacerbates the Ghostbusters as a gallery of types and increases their Dumas-esque cache as the three musketeers become four. He also provides the film with one of its most textured moments, the kind of moment that lifts the film to a much higher level than it might have, as he prods Ray about religious beliefs; he is the first to make the link between the exploding demand for their services with an oncoming event of “biblical proportions.” Although Atherton’s performance is effective (to an extent that made him a go-to guy for playing slick creeps), the conflict with Peck is easily the film’s most canned element. It bespeaks an irritatingly regulation ’80s contempt for bureaucrats in general and the EPA in specific, and exists chiefly to justify a plot point—the release of the captive ghosts, and a little pay-off for the guys when the Mayor (David Margulies), forced to rely on the Ghostbusters to save his city, has him bundled off, a pivot from their early humiliations.

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The finale of Ghostbusters is almost unique in managing to proffer big, special-effects-enabled showmanship whilst maintaining its style of humour, refusing to devolve or divert tonally even as Zuul and Gozer finally arrive, whilst sustaining a self-mocking approach to its own blockbuster pretensions. The crowds hail the team’s arrival at the site of battle just like the viewing audience, and then Reitman cuts to the boys laboriously climbing up the stairs within Sandor’s building. Aptly, Zuul manifests as the most alien and threatening thing a team of ’80s working stiffs could imagine—an imperiously cocaine-chic, Eurotrash fashion model. Seeming to have stepped out of some particularly wacky Vanity Fair cover shoot, she asks the team if they’re gods, which, of course, they patently are not, not even by mere New York standards. She then tries to kill them with bolts of lightning, sparking Winston’s most inimitable advice, “If somebody asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!” Zuul’s otherworldly palace is a glorious Bauhaus hallucination of the swank nightspot you’re not cool enough or rich enough to get into. Gozer, smartly, is a total reversal, as the boys are bidden to choose the form their destroyer will take, and Ray, unable to make his mind a blank to avoid making a choice, chooses the most harmless, childish emblem he can, resulting in a 200-foot-tall advertising mascot, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, stomping his way in Godzilla-like glory down Broadway. This touch could have tilted the film towards silliness, and yet it works perfectly, as it both combines and crowns the twinned streams of plot and comedy.

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Of course, even faced with imminent apocalypse, the boys’ ingenuity isn’t exhausted, and they step up to the challenge of shutting Gozer’s portal at the near-inevitable cost of their lives with a last show of stoic grace that’s quite moving in an almost throwaway fashion without losing the qualities that define them: “I love this plan, and I’m excited to be a part of it!” Peter cries with both genuine bravado and purest sarcasm. And that’s the deepest, most admirable quality of Ghostbusters, that it keeps its wit and humanity in focus even in the most absurd and extreme of circumstances.


6th 04 - 2007 | no comment »

God Said, “Ha!” (1998)

Director/Writer/Star: Julia Sweeney

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

The 1980s will be remembered for many things—most of them bad—but one positive development of that go-go decade was the blossoming of comic monologues. Spalding Gray gave us Swimming to Cambodia, Lily Tomlin revealed the depth of her talents in The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, and Billy Crystal created one memorable character after another in a variety of works.
I was dismayed when I caught the latest in this line of monologists, Sarah Silverman, in her filmed concert performance Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2006). Silverman, like Tomlin and Crystal, creates a character, an uber-prejudiced, self-involved Jewish American Princess named Sarah Silverman. She is clearly a very gifted individual, but her act is so one-note that it loses its flavor after about 15 minutes. However, nasty sells these days, and her popularity is assured because she is a pretty woman who talks dirty.

After this painful experience, I needed something to cleanse my soul, and that brings me to former Saturday Night Live star Julia Sweeney and her warm and courageous monologue God Said, “Ha!” Over the course of 90 minutes, Sweeney tells us about 1994-1995, the worst year of her life.

She tells us that the year started very hopefully for her. Although she had just come off a divorce and her bomb of a movie It’s Pat, based on her gender-ambiguous character from SNL, her divorce was amicable and she looked forward to moving from New York to Los Angeles and into her newly purchased bungalow for one. Her idealized vision for her life was one of a sophisticated, strong, single woman and happy about it! Her fears come out, however, as she envisions being one of the active elderly, involved and admired by her neighbors for her independence—in other words, alone forever.

No sooner does she start her brave new life than her brother Mike is diagnosed with lymphoma. She moves him into her bungalow, and her parents come down from their home in Spokane and move in to help care for Mike. Julia has a lot of hand-me-down furniture from her parents. Thus, the experience is akin to moving back home. To Julia’s plans, “God said, ‘ha’!”

In the midst of this nightmare, Julia relates the comedy of family life in affectionate caricatures of her parents. For example, Mrs. Sweeney interrupts Julia’s work in the coach house behind the main house to ask her where her “mixes” are. Julia is baffled about this term. “You know,” she says in a nasal imitation of her mother, “your boxes of Hamburger Helper.” Pasta becomes noodles; marinara sauce becomes red topping. The 1950s live again for Julia, the would-be sophisticate.

The arrangement has its unforeseen benefits, however. When Julia begins a romance with Carl, a outdoorsy type from Idaho, she finds she has to sneak around her own place to have sex with him when he comes to Los Angeles for a visit. She finds herself saying things like, “My parents are so weird. Come on, let’s go neck in the coach house!” The unexpected titillation of the fear of discovery becomes a sweetly humorous memory when she finds that her parents purposely leave the house empty so Julia and Carl can have some privacy. Her apparently clueless parents are, in fact, adults, and that comes perhaps as no surprise to Julia.

The horrors of dealing with a very sick person aren’t glossed over, but the focus is on what Mike has to go through, not very much on her reactions or those of her family. I liked how she recognized that it is the patient who really does all the heavy lifting, and Mike’s procedures (chemo every other day through a spinal tap; a shunt placed directly into his skull) are gruesome to contemplate. Her life-goes-on approach is refreshing and hopeful for all of us who will one day face taking care of a dying loved one.

As Mike continues his downward slide, Julia discovers that she has a rare form of cervical cancer and must have a hysterectomy. The odds of this much pain coming in this short a time to one family is mind-boggling. That Julia can joke about a misplaced ovary and Mike can accuse her of trying to steal the cancer spotlight from him is testament to the beauty that can accompany our darkest moments.

Mike succumbs to cancer, though he has to have a psychologist brought in to help him let go of life. Julia survives to this day, still a single woman, an adoptive mother, stronger and in greater awe of the wonderful foundation of her family. I hope she’ll see fit to bring us an update on the Sweeney clan. The world needs some gentle and wise comic monologists today to give us hope and a good laugh. l


30th 04 - 2006 | no comment »

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

Director: Jim Jarmusch

By Marilyn Ferdinand

I often think of Jim Jarmusch as the short-story director. Among his short-story “collections” are Night on Earth and Mystery Train. Even his more unified (and better) films, such as Dead Man and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, have stories within the larger story that can be enjoyed in and of themselves. As writers know, short stories are hugely challenging, requiring extremely careful selection of details to sketch the entire mood and motivation of the action and actors. An episodic film also requires discipline and fortuitous choices, something that Jarmusch excels at when he’s on. He misses, too, sometimes badly, as with the hopeless Night on Earth.

Coffee and Cigarettes is an episodic film shot over 17 years in which the vignettes are visually—not thematically—linked by having characters sitting in bars and restaurants smoking and drinking coffee (or, in two cases, tea). It is done in the best tradition of sketch comedy but with an actorly emphasis, and reminded me of an evening of one-act plays I saw at the Actors Studio. The atmosphere of an actors’ showcase and scene-study classes pervaded that evening, and pervades this film as well. This is not to condemn either event. I thoroughly enjoyed both my evening at the Actors Studio and even more thoroughly enjoyed Coffee and Cigarettes. I just make this note to prevent viewers from feeling the need to conduct a rather tortured formalist film analysis of the sort Jonathan Rosenbaum felt compelled to perform on this film in Chicago’s The Reader newspaper.

The film grew out of a request by Saturday Night Live to have Jarmusch make a short film for the show. The first episode, introduced (as all the subsequent short films in C&C are) with a title card, features SNL regular Steven Wright and Jarmusch regular Roberto Benigni speedy on espresso and barely able to understand their own conversation. It’s got art-house silly written all over it, a perfect parody of a show like SNL by Jarmusch. Subsequent segments of the film feature duets by musicians (Iggy Pop/Tom Waits; DZA/RZA of Wu-tang Clan), relatives (Cate Blanchett/”Cousin Shelly,” Blanchett, in a dual role; Alfred Molina/Steve Coogan [I know, I know, just watch the film]; Jack White and Meg White playing brother and sister; Joie Lee and Cinque Lee) and frequently paired actors (William Rice/Taylor Mead, Joe Rigano/Vinny Vella). The basic thematic link seems to focus on rivalries that eventually melt into camaraderie, but that’s as far as I wish to go in trying to find a unified field theory of this film.

What Coffee and Cigarettes does best is make audiences laugh their asses off. Watching Bill Murray drink coffee directly from a coffee carafe is pure sight gag. The exchange between Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan is the most polished and most hilarious of the segments; it cracks open the sycophantic and emotionally needy actor stereotypes. Jarmusch gives the black-and-white cinematography he favors a bit of a goose when The Whites put on old-fashioned pilot goggles and watch a homemade Tesla coil crackle in an homage to the special effects used in Frankenstein. Blanchett is her usual brilliant self as a too-good-to-be-true version of herself and as her envious, neurotic cousin. Tom Waits apologizes to Iggy (“Call me Jim. Call me Iggy. Well, my friends call me Jim. Or Iggy.”) for being late to meet him because he had to perform roadside surgery. “You’re a doctor?” Iggy asks incredulously. “Oh yes. Music and medicine go together.” It’s priceless pretension.

The film’s monochromatic cinematography emphasizes the checkerboard table tops of many of the cafes in which shooting took place and reminds one of The Seventh Seal, as though something of great importance MUST be going on here. The film is a visual in-joke for film buffs, particularly those familiar with Jarmusch’s previous work. You’ll see a painting of Lee Marvin in one segment (the two marshalls in Dead Man are called Lee and Marvin in tribute to Jarmusch’s hero), a cap embroidered with Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai in another. But you don’t have to be a film buff to get it. Have a cup of java and see for yourself.


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