On Monday, yet another public smoking law went into effect in New York City, this one banning the consumption of cigarettes in 43 square miles of parks, public plazas, boardwalks, and beaches. While it’s certainly not as shocking as the 2002 prohibition on smoking in restaurants and bars (“No smoking in bars now,” Eddie Izzard memorably warned, “and soon, no drinking and no talking!”), it is yet another sign of the continuing ghettoization of the habit.
I should pause a moment to point out that I am not a smoker — never have been, never will be. I recognize the indisputable health dangers, and the addictive nature of the product, and I’m not making light of them. But here’s the thing: I’m also a movie nut, so my feelings about smoking are, well, complicated. The classic teen impetus for smoking is that it “looks cool,” and countless anti-smoking advocates have done their best to debunk that notion (“Y’know what doesn’t look cool? A voice box,” etc.), but you know what? We’re all adults. We can say it. Smoking does look cool. At least, it often looks cool in movies, when it’s properly lit and framed and done by a movie star. So, in memory of the smoker, that most endangered species, join us after the jump for ten movies that make you feel like lighting one up (plus one that does quite the opposite).
Honest, one of these days I’ll make it through a post without a block quote from Roger Ebert, but this ain’t that day. He writes about Out of the Past in his negative review of 200 Cigarettes, a movie that you’ll notice is not on this list. Noting that the filmmakers don’t even know how to light cigarette smoking properly, he directs them to Out of the Past, which he calls “the greatest cigarette-smoking movie of all time.” According to Ebert, the trick is “to throw a lot of light into the empty space where the characters are going to exhale. When they do, they produce great white clouds of smoke, which express their moods, their personalities and their energy levels. There were guns in Out of the Past, but the real hostility came when Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoked at each other.”