Top 5 Reasons to Start Smoking
by Bret Dorman
(fair to say Spoilers! in the explanation/clips for the Top 5 films that will be mentioned)We live in an age of modern medical common sense. For instance, asbestos is bad for you, drinking alcohol impairs your judgement and motor skills, and an apple a day keeps the doctor away (fact).
Even with these tidbits being common knowledge, we still need organizations like Truth to tell us Smoking is Bad. We get it, you’re smart, edgy, funny, in-your-face, and telling it like it is. Even better, your message can possibly save lives:
But what Truth doesn’t tell you is that there’s always two sides to any argument. They say Smoking is Bad.
Well friends, I can’t argue against the statement that smoking is harmful to your health.
I can’t argue against the statement that financially speaking, smoking takes a heavy toll on your wallet.
What I can argue is that cinematically speaking smoking is one of the coolest things. Ever.Case in Point: Spike Spiegel. The Coolest
It doesn’t matter if you’re the goodguy, badguy, or anti-hero, smoking is the common cool link between them all. How you hold your cigarette, how you let it dangle from your mouth, how you get it out of the pack, or even how you use it as a tool/weapon, they all are cool ways to give a character some character.
So go ahead and give me your best. You got a speech on how smoking is bad for my health? You got facts and figures supported by scientific research? You got a witty commercial or website to show me? Great. Also… um… you got a light?
5) DEMOLITION MAN
Its a classic badguy move: Hold a detonator/grenade so if the goodguy ‘threatens’ to kill you, he’ll kill you both. (Side Note to Badguys: Don’t Worry! In MOST cases, the goodguys won’t kill you on purpose anyway. Especially after giving them the whole ‘we’re not so different if you do – go ahead’ speech.)
In the case of Demolition Man, the floor has been covered in gas by Baddie Simon Phoenix who is holding a torch over it. If Copper JOhn Spartan shoots, they both go up in flames.
Phoenix adds to the coolness by lighting a cigarette with the torch (Bonus Points!). Now the cigarette has become the threatening tool of ignition.
What elevates this above most ‘using a cigarette to light some gas’ instances is that Phoenix inexplicably tosses the cig onto the gas, lighting the place up and Movieland’s much-anticipated/overly-hyped first fight of the two Action Powerhouses (Stallone and Snipes) is given to us in a sea of flames. To call this scene explosive is an understatement.
Taxi cab screeches into frame. Low Angle as man drops cigarette onto ground… in slow motion (Bonus Points!). Man bursts out of cab and slams door shut. This man is not joking around. This man means business. Who is this man? Constantine… John Constantine, asshole.
The actual backstory concept behind Constantine is pretty interesting: Constantine as a kid could see angles and demons. Then Constantine as a teen tries to kill himself. He is revived. But technically speaking he is still a ‘suicide’ so now it doesn’t matter how Constantine as an adult dies, he is technically going to Hell. His act of (constantly) smoking is a passive aggressive way to give the finger to God and His ‘rules and regulations’.
But its not just why Constantine smokes that’s so cool, its how its shown. Director Francis Lawrence showcases the cigarette prominantly in the first exorcism scene. Constantine doesn’t just make the act of smoking cool, it makes just setting a cigarette in the foreground of a shot cool… given there’s an exorcism going on in the back…
3) LE CERCLE ROUGE (THE RED CIRCLE)
The beginning mention about Spike Spiegel was not just an extended side note. It was foreshadowing. How?
Cowboy Bebop is a collection of cool. I don’t want to make it seem like it has no legs of its own to stand on, because it has several of them. But if we were to look at Spiegel’s childhood room, I’m positive on the wall there would be a poster of French Actor Alain Delon… with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
Delon isn’t just a man who is cool because of the roles he’s had; he’s a man who used his cool to make his roles truly cinematic, especially when teamed with French Director Jean-Pierre Melville. Delon isn’t a man who exudes his emotions in an over the top physical manner. Rather, he brings his roles to life with an introspective simplicity.
In this scene from Le Cercle Rouge (think an even slower, French version of Heat that is just as intense) is where the two main ‘badguy’ characters Corey and Vogel meet for the first time. Corey knows that Vogel has snuck into his trunk. He knows Vogel has access to a gun. He knows he has one chance to impress Vogel or he’s a dead man.
So what’s he do? Lights one up and calls out to his could-be killer. Even while staring down the barrell of a gun, Corey remains calm and collected. His peace offereing to Vogel? A cigarette of course…
2) THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
Anyone who thinks Thank You For Smoking is actually Pro-Smoking is either terrible at watching movies or just doesn’t know what ‘satire’ is.
So why is this #2? (Not that the other movies are Pro-Smoking…)
Because Aaron Eckhart’s super sharp and perhaps a little too charming character Nick Naylor knows all the bad things about smoking like everyone else. He knows he is fighting an uphill battle as, what is essentially, the PR man for tobacco, that hill being Mt. Everest. As a climber, Nick keeps his best tool, logic, sharp as a pickaxe.
While Thank You might not have any scenes that makes its main character cool for smoking, what it does do is make its main character good at being right. Over all the movie might be anti-smoking, but by making Nick Naylor’s arguments air tight and well spoken, smoking gets some cool points by proxy.
Below is without a doubt my favorite scene which illustrates how in a debate of Chocolate vs Vanilla, the best way to win is by proving your opponent wrong, in a completely different argument.
Payback may be the first movie I saw that had a real badass revenge story. Mel Gibson’s Porter starts out as a bad (space) guy before the badguys kill him. Only problem is… they didn’t kill him enough! Having started out as a bad guy, Payback excels in having Porter get revenge by doing so brutally and efficiently. It doesn’t waste time on morals. It utilizes its time on being badass.
Below is a cigarette double whammy. Second in the vid (and slightly in coolness) is Porter teasing baddie Resnick by asking his for a light. Since Resnick doesn’t have one, Porter wastes him. Then, he gets out his own lighter. The viscousness of this scene comes from making Resnick believe, even if for a futile second, that he could have lived if he simply had a light. Of course, Porter would have killed him anyway, but its that glimmer of a hope of a chance before finishing Resnick off that makes him a ‘mean man’.
And finally, the ultimate reason to start smoking…
A car full of 3 baddies, who think they have the drop on Porter realize that they’ve been made. As they look back, wondering what Porter is going to do, he calmly watches, taking a drag from his cigarette. Then he flicks it to the ground, as if he were tossing aside something useless to him now… as useless as the lives of the car’s passengers.
The cigarette hits the ground and sparks the fuel, which has been leaked out onto the pavement. As the baddies try to escape the fire burns fast and blows up the car without giving them a chance. The baddies didn’t die because they panicked, they slipped getting out, or were too slow. They died because they underestimated our ‘hero’, giving him time to not only cut the fuel line, but toke on the cigarette he would use to end their lives.
And without missing a beat, Porter pulls out and lights another. Extra Awesome Badass Points!
Some people want to try to ban smoking from movies (or get any movie with smoking an automatic R) because they think if kids see movie stars smoking, they’d be more likely to do it too. Well I grew up on movies and obviously have been heavily influenced by them and I can count the number of times I’ve smoked a cigarette on one hand (with enough fingers left to count how many times I’ve written a blog post about how cool it is).
Now while I could argue with these people all day I have a different ‘solution’:
If Hans Gruber and John McClane, two of Movieland’s most Die Hard rivals can share a smoke on top of Nakatomi Plaza…. why can’t we? You can’t tell me John McClane isn’t an All American Hero. What’s the matter? You hate America?
And with that, fellow cinematic smokers, I say… “Light ’em if ya got ’em!”… and if Mel Gibson asks you for a light, you better have a light.