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"Blue in the Face"
April 3, 2014 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Back in 1995, Wayne Wang directed a film called "Smoke", which starred Harvey Keitel and William Hurt and whose story largely centered on a Brooklyn Cigar shop on the corner of 16th Street and Prospect Park West. The movie was very well received by critics and stands as one of the great films of the 1990's... but that's not the whole story.

Wang finished the film early and found himself in control of the storefront for another week. So Wang, like any respectable film geek would, decided to make another film. He was inspired by the improvising Keitel was doing before takes and asked him to hang around and play his character Augie Wren for another week, which he did (Giancarlo Esposito and Jared Harris also stuck around). They soon got company with appearances by Mira Sorvino, Jim Jarmusch, Madonna, Lily Tomlin and the late Lou Reed. Though there is a plot (concerning Victor Argo's character selling the store and leaving town), the film was mostly improvisations combined with footage shot in the area. The film's core, however, is as a love letter to Brooklyn.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (34 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
wonder if that's where Coffee and Cigarettes was hatched?
posted by edgeways at 3:22 PM on April 3


I loved Smoke. Blue in the Face -- not so much. Of course, I was also in a total "Paul Auster" phase at the time, so maybe that had something to do with it.
posted by Slothrup at 3:23 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Blue in the Face was definitely a slightly more wobbly film, but for something created in a week out of improv work, it is entirely passable. Smoke is exceptionally watchable, notwithstanding the puzzling choice of casting Forest Whitaker (b. 1961) and Harold Perrineau (b. 1963) as father and son.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:29 PM on April 3


Yep. There's that bag.
posted by Jick at 3:32 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


And Lou Reed said in a film, Blue In the Face
That compared to New York City Sweden was a scary place
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:41 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Jarmusch's bit (in the "Jarmusch" link, starting about halfway in)--about movie characters who toss aside empty handguns like disposable cigarette lighters--is priceless and something I quote fairly regularly.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:41 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Oh, man. The soundtrack for that movie is like a time capsule of my mid-90s feels. (Spotify link)
posted by elmer benson at 3:45 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Holy crud, I have been trying to remember the title of Smoke for the last week.
It did not help that my remembered description of it is something like "that movie that's really like three movies and the guy who runs a gas station or something in upstate New York and his girlfriend Ruby and a black kid looking for his dad. I think there's shooting in it."
Yeah, this is so much better than googling that!
You're the best!
posted by Adridne at 3:49 PM on April 3


My only regret with this post is that I couldn't find a video of the scene between Giancarlo Esposito and Michael J Fox because, man, that is hilarious.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:49 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I love both Smoke and Blue in the Face. The Inner Life of Martin Frost is also well worth watching, especially if you've read Book of Illusions.
posted by Kattullus at 4:37 PM on April 3


I love both films. Blue in the Face is clearly improv, virtually every line, and not all of it works. My friends and I still quote the line "Oh, because I'm a black man, I can't be Italian!"
posted by zardoz at 4:51 PM on April 3


I saw Smoke in the theater when it was first released, and I just re-watched it for the first time since, about six weeks ago. Upon re-viewing, I was surprised at how wooden Harvey Keitel's acting is in it. He is clearly Harvey Keitel playing a roleā€”just a guy reciting lines. I didn't mind, terribly, but it is a sour note in what is otherwise a lovely little film.
posted by waldo at 4:55 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I loved Blue In The Face, in large part because it wasn't at all like Smoke. Smoke seemed literary in the worst way---schematic, stiff, self-conscious. Blue In The Face was jazzy, fun, unpredictable---it felt like an Altman movie, and that's high praise.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:00 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]




I'm with ThatFuzzyBastard.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:21 PM on April 3


I. LOVE. THESE MOVIES.

I came upon Smoke totally by accident - it was a hot-as-balls summer Saturday in New York, and I'd fled my airconditioner-less apartment on the Lower East Side and was thinking I'd go see a movie, because hell, they have air conditioning. I figured I'd just go to the Angelika and just pick anything, because the Angelika generally had good taste so I'd probably like whatever I ended up with; Smoke just happened to be the one that I randomly picked. It was my first exposure to Jim Jarmusch, to Tom Waits, and to Paul Auster all in one fell swoop.

And based on that I saw Blue In The Face later when it was released and loved it too, for entirely different reasons; I loved telling people the story about how it got made, how Lou Reed was originally supposed to be the Belgian Waffle guy but returned his phone call too late so they just asked him to come in and just free-associate; how when they cast Lily Tomlin as the Belgian Waffle guy they said that "of course we'll make it a Belgian Waffle Lady" and she said "why?" and did it in drag; how Rosanne was so persuasive in her character's cameo that she ended up completely changing the plot of her scene and Paul Auster had to rewrite the whole last ten minutes of the movie; everything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:43 PM on April 3 [6 favorites]


(PS - Elmer, something is really weird with that spotify link, because I have a spotify account and it still keeps asking me to log in.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


As a former cigar smoker, I don't think that I can watch this movie.
posted by goethean at 5:49 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


1990's indie cinema was pretty good. Just thinking about this movie makes me nostalgic for my student days, when I hung around in indie and art-house cinemas in Victoria and Vancouver.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:50 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


And based on that I saw Blue In The Face later when it was released and loved it too, for entirely different reasons; I loved telling people the story about how it got made, how Lou Reed was originally supposed to be the Belgian Waffle guy but returned his phone call too late so they just asked him to come in and just free-associate; how when they cast Lily Tomlin as the Belgian Waffle guy they said that "of course we'll make it a Belgian Waffle Lady" and she said "why?" and did it in drag; how Rosanne was so persuasive in her character's cameo that she ended up completely changing the plot of her scene and Paul Auster had to rewrite the whole last ten minutes of the movie; everything.

This is culture at work.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


Oh boo, the Wall Street Journal link is requiring a login.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:58 PM on April 3


waldo: " Upon re-viewing, I was surprised at how wooden Harvey Keitel's acting is in it."

Stiff delivery is Harvey Keitel's calling card (when he's not freaking out in some way). I still kind of like him, though.

I haven't seen these since they first came out, I'd love to see them again. I do remember Blue in the Face as being weaker but still endearing.
posted by Red Loop at 6:43 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I have loved both movies since they first came out, like others for entirely different sets of reasons. Thanks for the post!
posted by trip and a half at 6:45 PM on April 3


Oh boo, the Wall Street Journal link is requiring a login.

Oops. Cached.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:51 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


toekneesan, the ending of the film is pretty much my favorite thing ever. The lead up to that, where it's just Harvey Keitel telling the story, just sitting in a restaurant, telling a story, is just about a close second. Also, the scene where they go through Augie's photo albums. Damn. I need to rewatch this.

The movie is lumpy in places, and yeah, some of the acting comes off odd at times, but it's a fantastic film. It's bizarre, in that I absolutely loathe smoking, yet the stories in the film are just so, so perfect.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:52 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I have never heard of Smoke or Blue in the Face but they are relevant to my interests.
posted by sweetkid at 7:04 PM on April 3


I loved Harvey Keitel in Clockers. Thanks for this.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:43 PM on April 3


much love to both movies for introducing me to Brooklyn shortly before I moved here. I know sip a beer in the beloved Brooklyn Inn, which was featured in Smoke.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:47 PM on April 3


Loved both films, particularly smoke, mainly for the Forrest Whittaker line about how he could never get the hang of money. I so know how he feels.
posted by marienbad at 1:06 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I bought this again last week.

Its an uneven treat : the video bits with Brooklynites is pretty good; the Latino girlfriend bit doesnt work at all; Madonna proves when it comes to acting, she has a nice ass; Jim Jarmusch is super interesting; Roseanne's good at improv as is Michael J., and Harvey Keitel is as Harvey Keitel as he can be (in the opening scene Harvey does this gesture of annoyance and exclaims "This is New York !" It is the New Yorkest moment ever.)

The black hustler guy looks like the best performer in the whole thing, yet that is the only piece of acting I saw him do. I wonder what happened to him ?
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:26 AM on April 4


The black hustler guy looks like the best performer in the whole thing, yet that is the only piece of acting I saw him do. I wonder what happened to him ?

Malik Yoba, who seems to mostly do TV work these days and who I most of all remember from "New York Undercover".
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:12 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Malik Yoba, who seems to mostly do TV work these days and who I most of all remember from "New York Undercover".

I suspect some some mefites might know him best as Ice, the hitman/caterer from Arrested Development. Looking at his IMDB profile, I am baffled that he is in both Smoke and Blue in the Face, apparently as two different characters.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:40 AM on April 4


I've been on a Paul Auster kick for the past two years and I still haven't seen this. Clearly I need to get on it.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:41 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I read Auster's Moon Palace and Hand to Mouth back to back (along with the Lawrence Watt-Evans short story Why I Left Harry's All Night Hamburgers) when I was seventeen and it made me want to be a writer. They say you should never meet your heroes but I had dinner with Paul Auster once and he was incredibly nice. So they, like they so often are, were wrong in this case.
posted by Kattullus at 6:38 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


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