The only people I know in real life who smoke are (a) young and courting a kind of contrarian identity, (b) older with vaguely self-destructive attitudes, and in some cases beset by addiction problems, (c) serious “party” people with unmistakable self-destructive compulsions and tendencies, and (d) life’s chronic losers — riffraff, low-lifes, bums, scuzzballs. Cigarette smoking used to be extremely cool but no longer, and that goes for actors in movies too.
All the above associations seem to kick in every time sometime lights up in a film, and it’s gotten so that I don’t want to watch characters in movies smoke at all. Unless it’s a period film or unless they look extremely cool doing it (a la Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past or Jean Paul Belmondo in Breathless), but very few actors have that ability.
I smoked for years and years but I don’t any more, and I don’t like the way cigar- ettes smell unless I’m in Europe. (It’s different over there). Smoking isn’t exactly outright suicide but it’s the next thing to it, and every time someone lights up in a movie it half-pisses me off and makes me think negatively about the film in general, especially if this or that actor smokes all through the movie and looks and acts like a lowlife. Criminals in movies are always smoking because of (b), (c) and (d), but I think it’s way too easy for an actor to use smoking as a piece of business. It’s tedious and repellent. It makes me want to see the actor get shot or at least beaten up.
I think the sun has really set on the sexiness of smoking in movies, and I’m starting to think that actors who light up all the time in front of the camera are second-raters.
Slate‘s Kim Masters wrote on Friday that “powerful anti-smoking groups have been pushing the MPAA to slap any movie that shows smoking with an automatic R rating, unless that movie deals with a historical figure who actually smoked (as in Good Night and Good Luck) or shows people suffering hideous consequences as a result of their folly.” That sounds a bit harsh, but I’m getting so sick of watching people light up I almost don’t care how it stops as long as it does.
People should be free to do anything they want of a self-destructive nature — cigarettes, booze, compulsive eating, coke, heroin — as long as they don’t hurt anyone else doing it. And actors should be free to do anything they want that will make a performance connect. But smoking has lost its coolness, and actors who lean on it repeatedly or compulsively are boring, and I’m starting to say “the hell with them” when they pull one out and strike a match.
Deep down I guess I’m acknowledging that I wouldn’t be surprised if I live a slightly shorter life because of my smoking in the ’70s and ’80s, and I’m kind of angry about that possibility.