A collection of b-sides

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Bill Murray plays at being a waiter in one of the vignettes in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, just released on DVD.

Jim Jarmusch reflects on the DVD release of 'Coffee and Cigarettes'

Indie filmmaking legend Jim Jarmusch wouldn't be shocked that his latest film, Coffee and Cigarettes, went largely unseen in central Texas. He told me this spring that he was a little surprised it was being released theatrically at all. He had envisioned a DVD release for this collection of deadpan vignettes, shot at intervals over nearly 20 years, and now that release has come, thanks to MGM Home Video. Here's a little of what he had to say at SXSW2004, where the film was shown to eager fans.

John DeFore: This movie looked like fun.

Jim Jarmusch: Yeah, it was fun. That's really why we did it. I needed a break between other things, and to somehow keep shooting, you know? I'm kind of slow, each feature film takes me at least two years. And then I sometimes need time in between to get new ideas. So sometimes it's three, four years between projects - which hopefully is going to speed up because now I have two planned out for the future. So it sort of saved my sanity, and it's just fun to figure out odd people you could put together, or interesting people you could work with. They were all shot in one day, except for Cate Blanchett, which took two days `because it required special-effects work`, and they're very free. All the camera set-ups, the style of shooting is the same for all of them, so you don't have to think about that. You just think about the light, and the characters, and the dialogue - and play with them. There's always a script, but I encourage them to improvise if they like to. Sometimes they didn't very much, and other times they did wildly.

JD: I wanted to talk about what seems to be a sort of micro-genre, very sparsely populated, of "celebrity fiction," where you've got someone on camera who's playing someone with their name, but in many cases not at all their real personality.

JJ: Well, they're abstractions. They're playing themselves, but they're having fun abstracting themselves. I mean they're obviously not true portraits, but they are certain qualities of them. People like playing themselves and sort of making fun of themselves, I find. It's sort of a relief for them. Like one example is: Cate, one of the lines she added the night before was, her cousin says, "Oh, I saw you in one of those awful tabloids," and Cate goes, "Oh, how awful" (that was in the script), and Cate wanted to add, "What was I wearing?"

So she was making fun, literally, of herself.

JD: Did you ever have the idea that you would just do one or two and leave them as shorts?

JJ: Yeah. Well, it started because this guy from Saturday Night Live called me up in '86 and said, "Do you want to make a five-minute film for us? It has to be funny and five minutes long. We'll pay for it, and you can own it. We just want to have the rights to have it in the show, and if the show's ever repeated it goes with the show, but otherwise you can have it." After or during the second one was when I thought, "I'm just going to keep making these, and try to make them accumulate eventually." That's when I started realizing I needed to kind of repeat little motifs or pieces of dialogue, or have some things kind of recur and thread through. So I guess even back then I had this idea.

I don't want the audience to take this too seriously. It's just for a few laughs, and maybe for a few insights into human nature. That's all I expect from it. I don't think of it as any big thing, seriously. I don't want them to think `in pompous voice`, "This is what I've been laboring over for four years to bring to you." 'Cause it's not, you know.

JD: You could say it's like a B-sides record, where your favorite band collects the little things that didn't fit on the actual albums.

JJ: Yeah, that's good. It is.

By John DeFore

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