Coffee, star of the silver screen

Espresso, lungo, americano, corretto, ristretto: prepared in an array of different ways, coffee has become the star of the silver screen. From Westerns to thrillers, classic, comedies and Italian films.

Coffee has bagged itself a starring role in cinema too. And there is one scene that does more to celebrate coffee than any other. In Sergio Leone’s cult film Once Upon a Time in the West, Robert De Niro stirs his coffee for a full 63 seconds without saying a word.

There are a huge number of films, from classic Italian movies to those by the great European and American directors, where the ritual of coffee is used as a symbol of day-to-day life, of a moment of peace and quiet, of an integral habit, of a chance to get revenge. Who could forget the beginning of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in which Audrey Hepburn, swathed in a black dress, emerges from a taxi to enjoy her breakfast as she looks in the windows of the jewellery stores on Fifth Avenue. It’s dawn, New York is deserted and Holly is only happy in front of Tiffany’s, with a croissant and a black coffee.

Coffee takes centre stage

Coffee makes an appearance in the title of Jim Jarmush’s Coffee & Cigarettes, which comprises 11 short films based around coffee and cigarettes. A number of actors, including Roberto Benigni and Tom Waits, are filmed inside the bar, drinking coffee and exchanging opinions on it. Coffee becomes the main protagonist of sketches featuring surreal dialogue and sophisticated quotations. A coffee cup is central to Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her, in which a voice whispers existential reflections while the camera rests on a coffee cup – that symbol of day-to-day life. Quentin Tarantino also celebrated coffee in one of his most successful films, Pulp Fiction. The opening scene is set at the Hawthorne Grill, a small café in Los Angeles, where a strange couple of young lowlifes pluck up the strength and courage to stage a robbery. Yet they couldn’t do anything before they’d enjoyed their coffee: strictly black. Not forgetting the legendary character Mr Wolf, the problem-solver, who in order to concentrate on the job at hand asks for a strong, black coffee with sugar.

Tom Hanks on teh various ways to drink coffee

In one of the first scenes of You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks reflects on the various ways one can drink coffee: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self,” he says

In The Devil Wears Prada, the intern Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, has to accommodate the endless requests of Miranda Priestly, AKA the sublime Meryl Streep. When Andy is late bringing Miranda her coffee, she asks: “Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something? I can’t think without coffee.”

Coffee as a weapon

As well as a pleasure, espresso can be a mortal weapon. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorius, a coffee laced with arsenic is used to kill Alicia (Ingrid Bergman). The poisoned coffee cup is shown in extreme zoom, while wide shots show Bergman and the cup in two different areas of the shot, yet both are in focus. The director used a gigantic cup to achieve the effect.

Coffee also features in Western films. John Wayne uses coffee as a dawn pick-me-up at Fort Apache in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, as a remedy for a hangover in Stagecoach and to put out a bonfire in Cowboy. Meanwhile, in the classic Johnny Guitar, Sterling Hayden turns to Joan Crawford and says: “Nothing like a good smoke and a cup of coffee.”

Coffee and Fantozzi

The moka pot is one of the stars of the show of Italian neorealist cinema. Like all good Neapolitans, Totò was a great lover of coffee and indeed the drink is mentioned in dozens of his films. We all remember the scene in The Overtaxed, when he says: “I have three coffees at once to save on two tips.” For Edoardo De Filippo, coffee has almost miraculous qualities. In Questi Fantasmi, he says: “When I die, bring me coffee and you’ll see that I come back to life like Lazarus.” He goes on to offer advice about how to prepare it, declaring that it is a habit that embodies the poetry of life. Italian comedies have also paid tribute to coffee. In Vieni avanti cretino, the imaginative Lino Banfi serves espresso in the most unexpected ways, while there is an unforgettable Fantozzi scene when one morning he drinks a coffee prepared by Ms Pina to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving him with blisters on his tongue.