O my goodness, this film features one of THE most beautiful actresses of all time, and as exciting a discovery as this was to make, it is matched in complete and absolute equal measure by the irritation of realising this is pretty much the only film she actually appears in! Aaaargh! Was it a drug-fuelled mirage on my part (I had consumed quite a large amount of caffeine before the viewing – it seemed appropriate), or did some horrible fate befall her after filming, like marriage?? Her name is Renee French (possibly a stage name) should anyone out there posses the answer, and she features on the headline picture above. Her character appears in one of the eleven vignettes that together make up this film, as she sits sultrily flicking through a guns catalogue, a harsh juxtaposition with her elegant looks – think of Jennifer Aniston when she looked her very best, in one of the early seasons of friends before sun blasted emaciation became the fashion of the day, but then crank up the sex factor another notch.
Happily, the film itself is also quite good – each scene is shot with classy black and white cinematography and is linked in some way to the theme of coffee and cigarettes, though writer and director, Jim Jarmusch, is at pains to show he’s not necessarily pro-smoking. Every section has a vein of comedy, and at times contemplation, with a long list of actors and musicians involved; Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop, Steve Coogan, to name but a few, and some had an input on the script as well. It was shot over a time span of two decades, and some of the scenes appeared as previously released short films before being collated into the final piece.
The two elements of the film’s title present a perfect ambivalence for The Red Dragon, loving one and abhorring the other. No matter what your opinion of them, don’t be put off as they exist as a fairly neutral linking artifice. It would, however, be fascinating if someone were to make a documentary exploring the use of smoking in the movies and its evolution with social trends and medical knowledge. The Red Dragon firmly believes the movie industry has a lot to answer for in terms of knowingly encouraging the youth of every generation to take up smoking and, despite the aforementioned sexual allure of Ms French, in real life there are few things less sexy than someone looking to desperately light up a fag, or uncaringly blowing their foul ash into your lungs as you are walking behind them.
Eventually, humankind will look back and laugh at the stupidity of their ancestors, smoking having long since been completely banned (I believe one dictator in central Asia has already done this), unless, perhaps, they are all fans of film noir. Check out ‘The Insider’ (99) and ‘Thank you for Smoking’ (05) for films that deal with the smoking industry as a central theme.