Smoking in the movies; a new low

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Mario Bartel, Dec 12, 2002.

  1. Mario Bartel

    Mario Bartel Stunt Coordinator

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    I've always been disturbed by the amount of smoking in movies. To me, there's nothing sadder than when, halfway through a romantic comedy, a favorite actress suddenly lights up to show she's anxious, sad, nervous, frustrated, etc. It's a cheap plot device, weak acting, and crappy direction, devoid of imagination or creativity. And a sellout by producers to an industry that, as it is shutout of mainstream advertising, is becoming increasingly insidious in its efforts to eke into our consciousness.

    But last night, as I watched the French film, My Wife is an Actress, tobacco use in movies hit a new low. A subplot of the story revolves around Yvan Antel's sister's ongoing battle with her husband to have their unborn child, should he be a boy, circumcised. Throughout the film, and her screen pregnancy, she chainsmokes. In fact, early on, another character advises her she shouldn't smoke, but she just sneers. Moments after she gives birth, as her husband and others are cooing over the new baby, she is at a window, smoking like a chimney!

    Show me one obstetrician who would advise an expectant mom to keep on puffing. Show me an expectant mom who cares a whitt about her unborn child who wouldn't at least make an effort to cut her tobacco use for the sake of her chid.

    Yeah, the sister's character is a neurotic shrew with all kinds of issues, but she's also middle-class, presumably well-educated, informed and living in a stable relationship. Surely the director, also Yvan Antel, could have come up with a better way to portray this character's neuroses, one that doesn't send an implied message that it's fine for pregnant women to keep on smoking. Shame on him.
     
  2. Russ Lucas

    Russ Lucas Stunt Coordinator

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    I haven't seen the movie to which you refer, but I have difficulty imagining that any movie that shows a person smoking heavily while pregnant and being preoccupied with the habit to the point of smoking immediately post-partum isn't trying to blatantly say that the habit is demonstrative of the person's character flaws and misplaced priorities. You were likely supposed to be disgusted. It seems unlikely that anyone will see the film and imitate the character's behavior because it appears attractive.

    Admittedly, though, I haven't seen the film.
     
  3. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Or maybe it is meant to be portrayed as a serious character flaw, especially if the film acknowledges such a moral stance in dialog from another character.

    For example, Linklater makes a humorous point about that very subject in Dazed and Confused in which an expecting mother is given healthy eating advice by a liquor store clerk while he is selling her liquor (and she is smoking). The point in that film is to stress a remarkable change in our culture and how goofy the contradiction of values was as recently as '76.

    I have not seen the film you are discussing, but since you did say she is told not to smoke by one of the characters, that tends to make me think it is meant to show her as thoughtless and neglectful, not to show smoking as okay for a pregnant women.

    Perhaps the director feels that such an action is clearly morally wrong, just as showing murder on screen or cruelty would not be to portray those actions as okay or positive, but rather to use the "obviously" bad actions to portray the character as flawed.

    So it not just smoking to show neurosis, but smoking to show smoking, where the smoking itself is the problem, not just a "harmless" indicator of some other flaw.
     
  4. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Um, people smoke in real life too, you know. I never really understood why people think that the movie worlds should automatically be devoid of cigarettes. In the modern time frame atleast, that's not very realistic.
    Now if someone was smoking in the theater, I could see where you'd have a problem... [​IMG]
     
  5. Ross Williams

    Ross Williams Supporting Actor

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    I've got to agree with Russ and Seth.
     
  6. Shawn C

    Shawn C Screenwriter

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    Sex & the City on HBO was really bad with this.

    Every stupid party that the girls went to, EVERYONE in the background had to appear to be smoking. I've seen several people in the background with unlit cigarettes pretending to be smoking. Personally, I think it's quite pathetic. I'm not sure what message they are trying to convey?
     
  7. Robin Warren

    Robin Warren Second Unit

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    That people that party smoke? I don't know but when I bar hop the majority of people smoke when they drink....
     
  8. Russ Lucas

    Russ Lucas Stunt Coordinator

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    I think the message they're trying to convey in those party scenes, Shawn, is that many people there are smoking. It's probably an accurate portrayal. If it's an inaccurate portrayal, it may err on the side of overstating the smoking simply because, to a nonsmoker, being at a restaurant or party where a few people are smoking may sometimes seem like everyone else is smoking.
     
  9. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    Or as The Onion pointed out in an expose some years ago, "Secondhand Smoke Linked to Secondhand Coolness."
     
  10. Iain Lambert

    Iain Lambert Screenwriter

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    Indeed - isn't one of the main characters in S&tC pregnant (I don't regularly watch it)? If so, I can see the running gag of every background character smoking working.
     
  11. Dave Poehlman

    Dave Poehlman Producer

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  12. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    And, the possibility, that not everyone buys into the zero-tolerance hysteria and third rate thinking about second hand smoke [​IMG]
     
  13. Luc D

    Luc D Second Unit

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    I'd heard about the anti-smoking lobby's radical stance on smoking in film, but I have to say this is the first time I've actually heard someone be bothered by it.

    Don't they know that cigarette smoke looks great on film? Cinematographers will use it every chance they get.

    Besides, it's just cigarettes. They can't kill you.
     
  14. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    All jokes aside: Look around you at the real world. People smoke. In other cultures where there hasn't been so concentrated, orchestrated, and sustained an effort at demonizing cigarettes and smokers, this is a non-issue. Just because one doesn't approve of a certain activity doesn't mean others should refrain from it or that filmmakers shouldn't portray it. It's life.
     
  15. Charles J P

    Charles J P Cinematographer

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  16. Carl Johnson

    Carl Johnson Cinematographer
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    About six months ago I was in a smoky strip club and some woman who looked like she was about 8.5 months pregnant was sitting at the bar drinking and smoking. She was just a customer but I was tempted to put some money in her pants just so she would go home and quit trying to bring a child into the world with it's first buzz already in effect. It's sad but stuff like this happens.
     
  17. Mark Pfeiffer

    Mark Pfeiffer Screenwriter

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    You know, I did see My Wife is an Actress, and I don't recall this at all. (Granted, I see so many films that forgetting details comes as no suprise.) Good film.
     
  18. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Speaking of Sex and the City, it's worth noting that only Carrie is a smoker of the 4 stars. And she is often confronted with the pressure to quit, including by her most likeable boyfriend so far (which she blew it with of course).

    So I think that show, while portraying smoking as "good" via her character, mostly just plays true to the facts of life. Lord knows I can't stand to smell my clothes after a night at the bars.
     
  19. Bjorn Olav Nyberg

    Bjorn Olav Nyberg Supporting Actor

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    I have a feeling the original poster have been slightly misunderstood in this thread. The way I read it, the problem wasn't really smoking per se, just that *every* director and/or screenwriter seems to be using it a lot, and there might be other ways to show a character trait visually in a movie, other than taking the slightly easy way out by using cigarettes.
    Then again, it is pretty common, as has been pointed out.
     
  20. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    For a reference, my mother smoked during her pregnancy with me. She was a nurse, she knoew it was unhealthy for the baby she was carrying. This isn't because she doesn't care about me... nothing could be further from the truth... however she comes from a gene pool with addictive personality as a dominent trait in the majority of them. As a result, even at parties and so forth, I don't drink, smoke, or try any drugs (and never have for that matter)... not even socially, because I'm afraid it wouldn't just stay social. The point in all of this, is as I myself, Dave, and Jack have said, it's a rather accurate portrayal (from the sound of things anyway) of real life. If people could just flip a switch in their brains and not smoke, I doubt there would be a market for the damned things.
    (Now I wish I could say I turned out all right in spite of her smoking during the nine months I was in her womb, but I'm a really bad example for such a cause.[​IMG][​IMG])
     

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