- Since the age of 14, I,ve been a committed marathon runner,
triathlete, and cyclist who values almost nothing more in life than physical
wellbeing. I haven't smoked tobacoo or taken a drink of alcohol in over
6 years. Thus, I am quite puzzled as to why, upon leaving many a Hollywood
flick, I want nothing more than to taste and smell the sweet, rich aroma
of a cigarette.
- I,ve often wondered why directors choose to have actors
smoke in movies, even when it does nothing to define the characters or
create atmosphere in the story. In virtually every crime-noir picture on
the market, and in many action-touch guy flicks starring Bruce Willis,
Van Damme, Kurt Russel and the like, smoking is portrayed as an ultra-cool,
almost spiritual activity which can be used to relax, lose weight, aid
in conversation, and improve one's self-confidence. Actors with physiques
that are obviously the product of personal-training sessions can be seen
puffing away at a rate that would make Joe Camel nauseated. Is it possible
that Hollywood only does this because filmmakers are too lazy and talentless
to try something else, or are the producers, directors and studios secretly
reaping some financial benefits?.
- Product-placement has long been a staple in motion pictures
and on television, and continues to this day. Businesses shell out good
money to have their restaurant chains, coffee houses, computer software,
soft drinks, and various other products featured in movies, where they
will be seen by millions of people. The tobacco industry has openly admitted
to using this advertising technique in the past, but claims that it's been
discontinued. However, I can point to numerous films in recent years which
challenge that assertion.
- In 1997, Quentin Tarantino directed "Jackie Brown,"
a gritty crime-drama adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel. Pam Grier stars
as Jackie, a flight-attendant turned drug-runner/money launderer who gets
caught in the middle of an FBI investigation into her bosses, dealings.
About the only thing I remember from this movie, other than the general
plot, is that Grier had attached to her lips an ultra-light menthol in
virtually every scene. In one conversaiton with co-star Robert Forster,
the two share this exchange which heartily endorses the fine tobacco product:
- Forster: "I don't smoke."
- Grier: "You gain weight?"
- Forster: "Sure, 10 pounds."
- Grier: "That's why I don't quit." (Grier then
takes a 5-second drag from the cigarette, culminating in a moan of delight.)
- 1996 featured the Renny Harlin abomination "The
Long Kiss Goodnight," starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson.
It's the truly idiotic tale of a government-trained assassin who has her
memory erased, only to spontaneously recall her true identity. Both Jackson
and Davis chain-smoke throughout, and director Harlin features gratuitous
close-ups of long-drags that do nothing to advance the story. "Long
Kiss" also has such memorable lines as "A woman's face is never
more beautiful than when it's fully elongated in pain, " and Davis
rebutting a romantic advance with, "No thanks, I,m saving myself for
when I,m raped." Harlin is probably the most successful filmmaker
never to display any discernible talent. He is also single-handedly responsible
for burying the career of wife Davis, who recently had the good sense to
file for divorce.
- The 1993 release"Tombstone" stars Val Kilmer
as the tubucular, murdering outlaw Doc Holliday, who was as reputed for
his smoking, drinking, and gambling as his criminal successes. In this
film, the image of Kilmer smoking is an almost surrealistic vision. His
admittedly funny quips are uttered with smoke smiultaneously billowing
from his mouth. With the possible exception of John Travolta in "Saturday
Night Fever," no actor has "succeeded" in making smoking
seem more appealing.
- In 1988's "Die Hard," Bruce Willis does battle
with a team of pretentious terrorists, but not before inhaling an entire
pack of German-brand cigarettes. What makes this so disingenuous is that
Willis, character is obviously physically fit. In real life, would a guy
who can sprint a dozen flight of stairs, bungy-jump off a building and
outbrawl a trained assassin be a chain-smoker?
- The 1981 film "Body Heat," directed by Lawrence
Kasdan, features the memorable scene of William Hurt taking an invigorating,
five-mile jog on the New Orleans bayouand stopping to light up a smoke.
- Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone are apparently impervious
to the effects of smoking in 1991's sex/bloodfest "Basic Instinct."
The dozens of cigarettes they smoke throughout the film do nothing to damage
their perfect skin or toned bodies, nor does it hamper their Mortal Kombat
style "love-making." "Basic" was the product of writer/director
team Joe Estzerhas and Paul Verhoeven, who we also have to thank for the
genuinely funny "Showgirls."
- What many young people don't realize is that, more often
than not, the actors in these films aren't even smoking real cigarettes.
Herbal, tobacco free cigarettes are often featured in films and in movies.
Even William B. Davies, the infmaous "Cancer Man" on Fox's "The
X-Files," relies on herbal smokes, and hasn't touched a real cigarette
in 15 years. And action stars Russell, Nicolas Cage, Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger,
and Van Damme work out regularly with personal trainers, but that doesn't
stop them from lighting up on the big screen.
- Most people agree that Big Tobacco's advertising in the
first half of the century was profoundly dishonest. It can be reasonably
said that Hollywood's depiction of smoking in the late 20th century has
been equally dishonest, and it's impact as great.
- This is just one of many examples why parents should
be concerned with the pop-culture influence on their children. All previous
moral restraints on film content have dissipated. Smoking, drinking, drug
use, and murder are often portrayed as mere lifestyle choices by modern
filmmakers, and one can't help but wonder if the country has suffered.
History has show that words and images do mean things, and no person is
completely immune from the influence of mass media.
- But there is another side to this discussion, and it
should be addressed.
- In the ongoing debate over the impact of media on our
collective mental health, a key question has long been a matter of dispute:
Is it more harmful for society to "hide in the closet" aberrant
behaviors such as murder, rape, drug addiction, drinking, and smoking than
it is for filmmakers, pop-musicians, and television producers to do what
they,be been doing for decades: exploit and glamorize these phenomea for
their own monetary gain?
- For many years, Hollywood apologists have argued that
those who protest movie amorality are driven by a desire to live in a fantastical
Netherworld, where they are safely ensconced from the harsh realities of
our modern times. They claim that those who feel ":threatened"
by the impact of popular culture are weak-stomached, anal-retentive folk
without the gumption to face the darker aspects of the human condition.
This cowardice, they argue, is responsible for the US, poor history of
race relations, gender equality, crime, and chemical addiction. "We
are better off when aberrance is shone in the light of day," they
say, even claiming that recent improvements in racial and gender equality
is attributable to new trends in film.
- I recently wrote an article entitled "Cold-Blooded
Socipaths: The New Protagonists in Modern Film," in which I postulated
that a recent trend in popular movies (the replacement of the morally centered
hero with the ego-centered, often lawless anti-hero) could potentially
have a corrosive effect on our society as a whole. I was met by responses
which accused me of everything from witch burning to McCarthyism to wife-beating.
"You want to return to a time that never existed," one person
wrote, saying that the "Golden" era of movies and TV was also
a time when spousal abuse, child-molestation and racial-lynching thrived
in secrecy. Some also argued that I lack the intellectual depth to grock
the subtle symbolism of filmmakers who use violence and drug-use as metaphors
for "significant" social commentary.
- I would like to a moment to refute these highly spurious
- Let me pose a simple question to those of you who believe
that I hate amorality in film because I,m afraid to face reality: SINCE
WHEN DID MOVIES AND TV BECOME THE REAL WORLD? Do you honestly believe that
movies like Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, A Clockwork Orange and
Reservoir Dogs are
- true-to-life in their depiction of murder, drugs, alcohol
and sex? If anything, these films are guilty of the most profound dishonesty,
because the problems of violence and drug-use are sugar-coated to a degree
where they can be tolerated by mass audiences. Hollywood has long understood
that most people have a finite tolerance for real-life horror, so they
"lighten it up" to make it more accessible. In the real world,
murder, rape, drug and alcohol addiction are not funny, cool, or the least
- The truth is, it's possible for movies to ADDRESS real-life
aberrance without ADVOCATING it. One of the things that made the Cohen
brothers masterpiece "Fargo" so great was that it depicted crime
as it really is, in all its moronic splendor. The same can be said for
Carl Franklin's film-noir classic "One False Move", which unfolds
the story of three small-time drug dealers/murderers whose paths cross
with a small-town sheriff. Both movies were laced with extraordinary levels
of random violence, but the reason I don't object to them is because the
filmmakers correctly chose not to make the villains into heroes, or the
unspeakable seem admirable. Totally absent was the usual Hollywood pretense
of amoral coolness.
- If parents wants to give their kids a rude awakening
to the Big, Bad World, the last place in the world they should take them
to is their local cinema. There they will only find the brain-dead products
of mediocre minds, pre-packaged and sold with corporate calculation. They
should take them to nursing homes, veterans hospitals, hospice facilities,
and homeless shelters, places where they are forced to confront their pre-condtioned
judgments and prejudices. By drawing kids away from the influence of popular
culture, parents can OPEN doors to reality, not close them.
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