Shame

Shira Levine‘s Premiere riff about “10 Movies That Made Us Want To Smoke” was, for me, reckless and disgusting. What would the reaction be if someone wrote an article called “10 Junkie Movies That Made Us Want to Shoot Smack”? The piece is also, by my sights, inaccurate. Make that mystifying.

The only mention that hit home for me was her acknowledgement of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Little-man Bogart was one of the three supreme hustlers of movie-smoking sex along with Robert Mitchum (in all those late ’40s and early ’50s noirs he starred in) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause . But she doesn’t mention the most essential element in successfully selling this delightful life-shortening habit to impressionable youths.

You have to smoke in movies like you don’t give a damn, like you don’t need it, like you don’t care one way or the other if you have any on you, like your Zen-ness is rooted in your soul and not in the way you look when you light up, you desperate asshole. Once an actor looks as if he anxiously wants or needs a smoke to stabilize or enhance his currency with an audience, he’s a dead man. Once an actor pulls out a cigarette in order to have something to do during a scene (and you can always spot actors who do this), the man has permanently surrendered his cool. He’s finished, discredited. And Levine doesn’t even mention this,.

I was profoundly unmoved, in any event, by Levine’s choices for strongest tobacco enticement — Coffee and Cigarettes, 200 Cigarettes, Wild at Heart, The Royal Tenenbaums, Kalifornia, Thank You For Smoking, Reality Bites and all the Madmen guys.

Make no mistake — nicotine is rank and putrid and Levine is pushing it like any R.J. Reynolds corporate scumbag. She’s attempting to sell the same cancer glamour journalistically that movies sold to her, and maybe pick up a Hollywood contact high on the side. In my mind she’s no better and less funny than Weasel J. Weisenheimer, the legendary R. Crumb dope pusher.

I’ve smoked on and off in my life. I truly hate it and particularly myself for succumbing from time to time, which has mainly happened when I’ve been in Europe, more particularly during my times at the Cannes Film Festival. There, I’ve admitted it.

15 thoughts on “Shame

  1. European movies with intellectuals sitting around smoking makes me want to smoke. A Christmas Tale, maybe Reprise…it always looks so pleasant.

  2. Would you have been as offended by a list of “10 Movies That Make Us Want to Roll a Joint”? Pineapple Express had that effect on me. Then I ate some pizza.

  3. Dude, if you light up every once in awhile then you obviously understand the appeal of smoking. Smoking is a nasty habit when it’s outside of it’s “sexy” context. However smoking and movies always seem to go hand in hand– Dramatic beats between either a long winded passage or action scene. Then there’s the visual element; how nice smoke looks trailing upwards off of a lit cigarette.

  4. One of my favorite movies is Bad Timing, where every character chainsmokes as a sign of neurosis (lots of overflowing ashtray shots). When I met director Nicolas Roeg years later, I told him I’d counted 52 cigarettes consumed on-screen during the film. Without hesitation, he responded, “Fifty-four.”

  5. I don’t have a problem with the article at all and I’m a rabid anti-smoker.

    The whole point of the article is that some movies DO present smoking glamorously and may make viewers want to light up.

    Taking a light hearted look at it doesn’t mean she condones it and so what if she does? Smoking isn’t a crime, just really foolish and self destructive. It’s not like she wrote an article called Top 10 movies that make us want to grab a gun and shoot somebody.

    And where is Get Shorty on that list? Nobody looked cooler taking a drag than Chili Palmer.

  6. Cigarette smoke in film noir is how butter is for bread. It fits.

    Eleven months smokeless for me. Here’s hoping for eleven more.

  7. My great-grandfather was an executive at American Brands (home of Lucky Strikes among others) He was a pioneer in the advertising of tobacco. He came up with a campaign to have society women of NYC in the 30′s to walk down 5th Ave dressed to the nines while smoking, which was up to that point considered an “unladylike” thing to do. After that, it became more acceptable for women to smoke in public. He also was a huge player in getting major Hollywood actors to sign lucrative contracts to promote smoking in their movies. Needless to say, whenever I see someone smoking in the movies I think of him and my grandfather who succeeded him as president of American Brands. And yet I have always been a non-smoker, burdened with a little guilt that my family members played a part in getting that ball rolling.

  8. azmoviegoer you know that means your family was at least fictionally portrayed in that great “It’s Toasted” scene in MAD MEN Season One. Which is fucking awesome.

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