Truth be told, I thought Coffee and Cigarettes was a weak effort. A great idea, true -- or at least a promising one. But uneven in execution, with most of its segments falling (at best) a bit flat, it is probably my second least-favorite Jarmusch film.
But no matter. Because the above, the closing segment of the film, was wonderful -- deeply charming but possessing a certain solemn gravity at the same time. It worked because of the two characters involved; it worked even if -- as many who saw it -- you had no idea who the two figures in the frame were. The scene was effectively the Jarmusch's way of paying tribute to a prior generation of East Village DIY artists that populated the scene when he and his own friends and colleagues had arrived; the veterans who had helped get the ball rolling in the first place, or at least had helped keep it in motion over the years. In this case: a pair of survivors, honorary denizens of the bohemian substrata of the city.
The figure on the right is Bill Rice; painter, photographer, "unaffiliated"/autodidact art & literary historian. Rice also did a great deal of acting in NYC underground film over the years, turning up in a good many of the films cited or included in the recent doco about the NYC "no-wave" film world of the late '70s and early '80s, Blank City. Rice passed away in 2006, just a few years after Coffee and Cigarettes saw release.
The other figure is Taylor Mead -- writer, underground filmmaker in the spirit of Jack Smith, and former figure of note on Warhol's Factory floor. News of his passing began circulating earlier today, via a few small online channels. Apparently, a proper NYT obit is still pending.