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Blue in the Face (1995, Harvey Keitel, Lou Reed)

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Supposedly inspired by the ultra-cheap B-movies of Roger Corman – who often shot two movies back-to-back on the same set to save money – this mostly improvised movie emerged as a companion piece to Wayne Wang and Paul Auster’s Smoke .

To make Smoke , directors Wang and Auster spent time holding improvisational sessions with Harvey Keitel and the rest of the cast. The results were so entertaining, they wrangled enough money out of producer Miramax for an extra five-day shoot, in which – as the title suggests – the existing cast and a few visiting guest stars were encouraged to talk until they were ‘blue in the face’. And since they were filming in New York, quite a few local celebrities turned up to join the party.

The loose premise is that Auggie’s (Keitel) boss wants to sell the cigar store where he works to a health food company, which Auggie thinks will further ruin the character of an already changing neighbourhood. But this is simply a whimsical device to explore the nature of character through a series of apparently unrelated scenes.

These scenes include director Jim Jarmusch, explaining how he intends to smoke his last cigarette, and Mira Sorvino as a woman who has her purse stolen but refuses to report the boy responsible. Best of all is a craggy faced Lou Reed, who wryly makes a convincing case for cigarettes. ‘Yes,’ he intones, ‘I am smoking cigarettes, and some of my friends have died of them, but I am not downing a quart of scotch in 15 minutes. Looked at that way, cigarettes are actually a health tool.’

production details
USA | 83 minutes | 1995
Directors: Paul Auster, Wayne Wang
Script Format: Wayne Wang, Paul Auster (but pretty much improvised by cast)

cast
Harvey Keitel as Auggie Wren
Lou Reed as Man with Strange Glasses
Michael J. Fox as Pete Maloney
Roseanne Barr as Dot
Lily Tomlin as Waffle eater
Giancarlo Esposito as Tommy Finelli
José Zúñiga as Jerry
Madonna as Singing Telegram
Mira Sorvino as Young lady
Keith David as Jackie Robinson
Victor Argo as Vinnie
Jim Jarmusch as Bob
Jared Harris as Jimmy Rose
Mel Gorham as Violet
Malik Yoba as Watch Man
John Lurie as Saxophone player
Stephen Gevedon as Dennis
Sharif Rashed as Purse snatcher
Peggy Gormley as Sue the waitress
RuPaul as Dancer

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