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Category Archives: smoking
From the criminally under-appreciated Three O’Clock High (1987):
Before sharing his thoughts on Twenty Cigarettes, film scholar David Bordwell pauses to “reflect for a moment on the powerful role played by the cigarette in twentieth-century photographic portraiture.”
Elizabeth Tamny argues that Jeff Bridges is the best smoker in movie history:
“There has never been a smoker like Bridges in films, and when I say that I am thinking of all film smokers and all smoking movies, from Bogie to Now, Voyager. Bridges’ relationship with things he lights on fire and sticks in his mouth creates a parallel world of expression in film that he uses to great advantage and it deserves some recognition beyond the tiny gold cigarette that must be dangling from the mouth of his Oscar.”
What’s weird is that I’ve never really thought of Bridges as a smoker par excellence before, but after reading Tamny’s piece, yes, of course, duh. I love criticism like this.
(Via Roger Ebert.)
Related post: “Cigarettes Are Sublime.”
“I think pipe and cigar users enjoy smoking because it provides three substantial pleasures. First, a high-quality cigar or a well-packed pipe presents occasion for patience …. It takes at least 45 minutes to finish a decent cigar. That is time set aside for backyard meditation or contemplation. Few things better slow down a busy day and bring it in for a relaxed landing than a burning stogie and an iced bourbon. Second, smoking in the company of others enhances conviviality. Conversation as sumes a satisfying pace as the talkers pause periodically to draw on their pipes or cigars. Third, smoking is an excellent aesthetic pleasure. There are the tools – cigar cutters, lighters and pipe cleaners – whose use is a soothing ritual. And smoke itself moves with visual elegance, in serene white or blue undulations, with a languorous ascent into the sky.”
(Via Writing in the Dust.)
“Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone. Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on them arrow of the volcano. It’s not the tobacco we’re after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.”
—Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
Oh, and for the record, I don’t smoke.
Related post: “Cigarettes Are Sublime.”
“The lunch he prepared for us was perfect: homemade vegetable soup, tuna-salad sandwiches on chunks of suspiciously healthy-looking bread, and a dessert of berries, followed by coffee. He doesn’t drink, except on Friday nights, when he tends to have fun in biker bars. Mr. Waters’s life is otherwise disciplined. He gets up at 6 a.m. and is usually in bed by 10 p.m. or so: ‘I’m a Swiss person trapped in an American’s body. I like a very orderly life.’ He’s a meticulous man, too. His library of some 8,000 books is carefully catalogued. He’s a bookworm. ‘Nothing is more impotent than an unread library,’ he says. Formerly a heavy smoker, he showed me the record he carries of the number of days since he quit. He was on to Day 2,634.”
—John Heilpern, “Uncharted Waters,” Vanity Fair, June 2010.
“After a moment the man on the couch slowly raised the arm with the cigarette at the end of it. He got the cigarette wearily into his mouth and drew on it with the infinite languor of a decadent aristocrat mouldering in a ruined chateau.” —Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister, 1949
There’s a great scene in Definitely, Maybe in which the characters played by Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher bump into one another in a convenience store and flirtatiously debate the merits of Marlboro Reds versus American Spirits. Reynolds’s character can’t believe Fisher’s character pays a couple dollars more per pack for “natural” cigarettes. Fisher’s character counters that Marlboros contain additives to make them burn faster; thus, although she pays more per pack, each of her cigarettes lasts longer so she ends up paying less money in the long run. Skeptical, and more than a bit intrigued by her joie de vivre, Reynolds’s character agrees to an impromptu “smoke off” outside the store. Outside they light up at the same time and continue their flirting. Reynolds’s character loses the contest when his Marlboro Red burns down before her American Spirit, but he wins an opportunity to accompany Fisher’s character to a party that evening. It’s her birthday and her boyfriend has stood her up. She’s looking for a date and he quickly agrees to accompany her.
What’s noteworthy to me about the scene – other than the chemistry the two actors have – is the role cigarettes play in it. That is, cigarettes help bring the two of them together. They also lend the scene an erotic charge. It’s as if time has stopped and these are the only two people in the world. When Fisher’s character coolly blows smoke out of her mouth and seductively gestures with her cigarette, she’s arguably more appealing to Reynolds’s character (and to us as audience members) than she would be if she were sans a cigarette. As Richard Klein writes in Cigarettes Are Sublime, a wonderful, nearly 200-page apologia for the beauty and benefits of cigarettes,
For many women, at certain moments, lighting a cigarette is the socially countenanced mode of signaling hostile or aggressively sexual feelings aroused by the intrusion of another subjectivity. In circumstances when a man might display anger or come on to her, a woman will often light up, summoning fire and smoke, jabbing with the tip of her cigarette between nails or teeth. That explains why, among women, smoking began with those who got paid for staging their sexuality: the actress, the Gypsy, the whore. Such a woman violates traditional roles by defiantly, actively giving herself pleasure instead of passively receiving it. Lighting a cigarette is a demonstration of mastery that violates the assumptions of feminine pudeur, the delicate embarrassment women are expected to feel, or at least display, in the presence of what their innocence and dignity are supposed to prevent them from desiring. A woman smoking may be thought to be less “feminine” because more active, aggressive, masterful, but she is not therefore more “masculine” – in her own eyes or in those of many men; she may in fact be more desirable because she appears to be more free. (117)
Scenes such as this one, of course, can be found in lots of movies (e.g. The Big Sleep ), but they seem less and less common. It’s significant that the scene is set in 1992, before the present anti-smoking campaign in the United States really took off. Though I don’t smoke, scenes like this one almost make me want to. No wonder some people bemoan Hollywood’s glamorization of smoking. Still, as Tom Chiarella’s recent and fascinating Esquire piece “Learning to Smoke” suggests, I am not alone in wanting to do something that movies make look so cool, if only for a short while.