Tag Archives: smoking in movies

Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049 … smoking no longer “noir”

I recently went to Blade Runner 2049 and noticed a MASSIVE difference between this and the 1982 version of Blade Runner. And it’s something the original Blade Runner got seriously wrong about the future.

In the 1982 version, there are a number of heavily smoky scenes with characters smoking cigarettes. Not just smoking, but smoking indoors.

OK, OK, I get it. Blade Runner was never meant to be an accurate portrayal of 2019, but I found it ironic. There is virtually nowhere you can actually smoke indoors in 2017. Perhaps in bars in the Deep South, but that’s about it. You certainly couldn’t smoke indoors in Los Angeles, where the film takes place.

Blade Runner … 1982 version

Blade Runner was a film noir, a callback to gritty 1940s detective movies with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, even most of the hairstyles are out of the 1940s. I remember seeing the movie as a teenager and damn near feeling my eyes tear up from all the cigarette smoke on the screen.

Blade Runner 2049. Plenty of noir … no smoking.

In fact, the original poster for Blade Runner had Sean Young holding a smouldering cigarette, looking cool and suave like Lauren Bacall from 1947..

Blade Runner 1982 … cough, cough.

Here’s the actual cool part. In Blade Runner 2049 … absolutely … positively … NO SMOKING whatsoever. Not a puff. Not once during its grueling 2-hour, 45

It’s not a statement on the future, it’s a statement on Hollywood and how things have changed dramatically in 35 years. Blade Runner 2049 could’ve had all the smoking it wanted, it was already an R-rated movie, but it’s a statement to me that smoking is no long seen as “noir” or “cool” that the filmmakers felt no need to include it, even though the original Blade Runner was one of the smokiest movies you’ll ever see.

Blade Runner 1982.

1982 was during the dark dirty days of cigarettes and Hollywood. To my knowledge there were no payments from Big Tobacco to the producers of Blade Runner, but it was just two years after Big Tobacco paid $250,000 to have Lois Lane smoke in Superman II … a kid’s movie. Which kind of started the outrage about Hollywood’s weird and mostly one-sided love affair with cigarettes.

Anyway, something cool and interesting I noticed about Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049.

“Hail, Caesar!” — and the shame of smoking

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Finished watching “Hail, Caesar!” this week, a campy Coen brothers comedy that actually made some gentle, yet moving, statements about smoking.

The movie, which takes place in 1951, begins with a studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix played by Josh Brolin, in a confession booth giving his confession to a priest. His big sin? He had promised his wife that he would quit smoking and he lied to his wife that he had sneaked two (maybe three) cigarettes during the past 24 hours.

Brolin’s character is so wracked with guilt he actually breaks down crying confessing to the priest that he’s trying to quit smoking, but can’t.

Perhaps the scene was meant to be comedic, but honestly, I found it really touching, because I’ve talked to so many people who try desperately — and some people are legitimately desperate — to quit, but simply cannot break free of the nicotine. I’ve seen people almost on the verge of tears just talking about it. They hate smoking, they hate their addiction and they hate the fact that they cannot quit, no matter how hard they try.

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Josh Brolin breaks down crying because he can’t quit smoking in “Hail, Caesar!”

Later in the movie, Eddie asks to bum a cigarette from a cop with a look of abject self-loathing in his face. He hates how weak he is when it comes to cigarettes. I found this interesting, because as mentioned before, the film is set in 1951, pretty much the height of smoking in America. Smoking was portrayed making men appear either virile or sophisticated in all of the advertising — and Hollywood films — of the time. But, for this particular character, smoking made him feel weak — and a sinner. It to me showed a dramatic change in the culture of film. It was only 10-15 years ago that Hollywood was still portraying smokers as tough or macho — in PG-13 films. Those days are quickly fading, much like the studio system portrayed in “Hail, Caesar!” was shown to be in its final days. The portrayal of smoking in “Hail, Caeser!” reminded me of “Stranger Than Fiction,” a 2006 film that under pressure from productor Lindsay Doran, was forced to portray a chain-smoking character in a negative light (The character, played by Emma Thompson, spent much of the film coughing and spitting up sputum into a handkerchief.).

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I wondered a bit if this was a gimmick by the Coen Brothers to dodge an R rating. I have no idea. There’s a fair amount of smoking in “Hail, Caesar!”, but it wasn’t what I would call “pervasive” (“Pervasive” smoking in films can trigger an R rating, however, the MPAA has this funky rule that “historically accurate” smoking is OK. The year 1951 would obviously contain a lot of historically accurate smoking.).

Anyway, it was a cute movie with a cute take on smoking.

Tobacco disclaimer in “The Big Short”

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We finally got around to seeing “The Big Short” this week, an excellent film that actually manages to be entertaining explaining the mortgage crisis and resulting massive economic collapse that happened in 2007 and 2008. Steven Carell is amazing in this film as an intense  hedge fund manager right on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Being a tobacco nerd, I noticed something kind of interesting about the movie. It’s very much an R-rated movie, with plenty of F bombs scattered throughout the film and a couple of brief scenes of nudity. (You can show as much smoking as you want in an R-rated movie, smoking is discouraged — not banned — in PG and PG-13 movies.)

However, there is virtually no smoking. There is a very brief scene of smoking in the first two minutes of the movie, flashing back to the boring old days of banking in the 1970s. A couple of bankers are shown smoking in boring-looking banking office. So, it’s historically accurate. Smoking rates were still really high in the 1970s.

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The one very brief smoking scene in “The Big Short.”

After that very short scene, the movie quickly moves to the 1980s and then the 2000s. I don’t believe there was another smoking scene in the entire movie. Which is interesting, because it featured a bunch of richer-than-crap high rollers living it up in Las Vegas, Miami, etc. But, no smoking.

Here’s the part I actually found interesting, and I’ll be paying attention to see if I notice this in any more movies. During the closing credits of “The Big Short,” they showed a disclaimer that the producers did not receive any payments from the tobacco industry for the depictions of smoking in the movie (I got a screen capture of the disclaimer).

I had never seen one of these before. Why I thought it was so interesting is that one of the conditions of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement barred product placement in Hollywood movies 18 years ago. So, supposedly, studios have not been receiving payments from tobacco companies for nearly two decades.

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I emphasize supposedly, because a very weird and inexplicable thing happened after the 1998 MSA … depictions of smoking in movies marketed to teens actually went UP, not down. Apparently, movie directors were giving tobacco companies all this advertising free of charge, out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m not being snarky, I really think they were doing this for free. Because Hollywood was extremely stuck in its way when it came to smoking and that cigarettes somehow made characters seem more cool and sophisticated.

Anyway, an interesting observation about “The Big Short.” It didn’t have all that much to do with the actual movie, but this disclaimer was a new thing to me.

 

Class-action lawsuit filed to force automatic R rating for smoking in movies

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Bogart helped make smoking look cool — he also died of esophageal cancer in his 50s.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, it certainly seems a bit extreme. But, an interesting tactic here, nonetheless.

A class-action lawsuit was filed recently to force the MPAA to require an automatic “R” rating for any smoking in a movie. As it stands now, the MPAA has kind of a convoluted policy to discourage smoking in PG-13 movies, but not outright ban it. Smoking is allowed under a complex set of conditions — as long as it isn’t pervasive, if it’s historically accurate (say if the film takes place in the 1950s), if smokers are shown hating cigarettes or getting sick from smoking.

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It’s under this convoluted set of rules that you get an early 1960s movie like “Man From U.N.C.L.E” that is rated PG-13 but has virtually no smoking, or a PG-13 movie like “Bridge of Spies,” which takes place in the late ’50s and early 60s and has several smoking scenes, or a really violent, foul-mouthed R-rated movie like “Deadpool” that despite its extremely hard R rating, has absolutely no smoking in it (mostly because of a Disney/Marvel studio policy that forbids smoking in its movies now).

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The lawsuit was filed in federal court in California in late February. It seeks monetary damages for the promotion of tobacco use among kids and an injunction to immediately stop PG-13, PG and G ratings for any movies that depict tobacco use.

From a Hollywood Reporter article:

The lawsuit points out that since at least 2003, Hollywood has known that tobacco imagery in films rated “G,” “PG,” and “PG-13,” is one of the major causes of children becoming addicted to nicotine. Disney, Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. are said to have been given recommendations from health experts at leading universities throughout the country as well as the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the American Public Health Association, and yet are allegedly continuing to stamp “their seal of approval” on films meant for children that feature tobacco imagery.

Among the films cited are Spectre, Dumb and Dumber To, Transformers: Age of Extinction, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider Man 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, Men in Black 3 and The Woman in Black.

According to the complaint, “From 2003 when the defendants were notified that exposure to tobacco imagery in films causes children and adolescents to smoke, through 2015, youth-rated movies recruited approximately 4.6 million adolescents in the United States to smoke, of which approximately 1.5 million are expected to die from tobacco-induced diseases in years to come. And, at current rates, if defendants continue their current practice of certifying and rating films with tobacco imagery as suitable and appropriate for children and adolescents under the age of seventeen unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, defendants’ conduct will cause an additional 3.2 million American children alive today to smoke, and one million of those children to die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and emphysema.”

The lawsuit demands a declaratory judgment that the industry’s film ratings practices amount are negligent, false and misleading and a breach of fiduciary and statutory duties. The lawsuit also aims for an injunction where no films featuring tobacco imagery can be given “G,” “PG” or “PG-13” ratings.

One of the reasons I’m not wild about this lawsuit is the current MPAA policy is more or less working. Is it working a bit too slowly for my tastes? Yeah, a bit, it’s certainly not perfect, and Hollywood has shown to be damned stubborn about the issue. But, studies have shown that smoking has dropped dramatically in PG-13 and lower-rated movies since the policy went into effect about seven or eight years ago (It’s been cut roughly 50 percent from 2008 and about 60 percent since 2004). It hasn’t been eliminated, but it has dropped. Mostly because studios just don’t want to expend the energy defending smoking scenes to the MPAA board. And some studios, like Disney/Marvel, have voluntarily banned all smoking in its movies. (And for the record, movies can depict all the smoking they want in R-rated movies as far as the MPAA  is concerned.).

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Bridge of Spies, rated PG-13

According to the New York Times, the lawsuit, if it’s allowed to move forward, could result in blowing up the MPAA system, a voluntary rating system agreed to by all the studios in the 1960s to ward off potential governmental interference in movie ratings.

From the Times:

But judicial interference might also crack the ratings system wide open, exposing it to similar challenges by those who would like to see tougher ratings for portrayals of gun violence or drug use.

Key decisions are still months away. But the Forsyth suit, currently just a skirmish in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, has the look of a future battle royale — perhaps the biggest since 1968, when Jack Valenti, then president of the motion picture association, established the voluntary ratings system with an eye toward keeping the courts and lawmakers away.

While I may not be on-board with this lawsuit (my attitude is I actually do believe in the First Amendment. Give the MPAA another 10 years or so with the current policy — frankly, it’s working, so I’m not sure this lawsuit is necessary.), the issue of smoking in movies is a very valid one. One of the main pro-tobacco influences on kids for decades were movies, as smoking characters such as Lauren Becall, Humphrey Bogart (who died of esophogal cancer in his 50s) and James Bond were shown to be cool and suave and sophistated. And all this advertising for the tobacco industry was free. It wasn’t until 1980 that the tobacco industry actually started paying Hollywood studios to promote smoking and tobacco products, and disgustingly, this practise actually began with a kids’ movie — Superman II.

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Philip Morris actually paid to have Lois Lane smoke in “Superman II”

The practise of tobacco product placement in movies was banned by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. However, shockingly, depictions of tobacco use in PG-13 and PG movies actually went UP between 1998 and 2008 — the movie studios just kept giving the tobacco industry advertising … completely free of charge. This resulted in a grass-roots effort to change the MPAA rating system to include tobacco use as a factor.

Deadpool — lots of cussing, sex, violence … but not one, single cigarette

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This is kind of a follow-up to my earlier posts about “Bridge of Spies.” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ” I finally broke down and went to see “Deadpool” and it was A) ridiculously funny, B) the first movie I’ve ever liked Ryan Reynolds in and C) incredibly violent and incredibly crude — it had about the harshest language this side of “The Big Lebowski.” It even had some good sex scenes.

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Which means, this is what they call a “hard R” movie. And it was frankly an extremely hard “R” rating. This was a  movie that was determined from the get-go to be R-rated, they didn’t try to play coy at all with trying to get a PG-13 rating. And it didn’t have a single, solitary smoking scene in it. Not one cigarette. Not even a cigar or a pipe. Wow, that’s just amazing. All kinds of bad, rough guys with bad, rough language, hanging out in bars and other sordid environs and not a single cigarette or cigar was to be found.

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What’s interesting about this is Disney issued an edict about a year ago that there would be no more smoking scenes in any of its films, and that includes Marvel films, which Disney owns, and this even includes Wolverine, Nick Fury or Thaddeus Ross, all of whom are cigar-chompers (Love to see if Disney actually follows through with this in the next Wolverine film.) Now, this was a Marvel film, but it was also a 20th Century Fox-produced film. Not sure how this works, honestly. Marvel is still a Disney-owned subsidiary, but it was produced by Fox. Maybe the Disney edict still stands for its Marvel properties no matter what studio actually makes the film.

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Anyway, through all the F-bombs and jokes about genitalia and decapitations and brain splatter, not a single cigarette or cigar. I might be the only person in America who even noticed this. So help me, I thought that was amazing. And tells me we are slowly, slowly, slowly winning the fight to rid Hollywood of its addiction to smoking.  Seriously, I half-expected Deadpool to make a joke at some point about the lack of cigarettes in the movie.

 

World Health Organization calls for adult ratings worldwide for allowing smoking in movies

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Lois Lane smoking in Superman II. Philip Morris paid six figures to have Lois smoke in this PG-rated movie.

A follow-up toa  series of stories I’ve done in the past few weeks. The World Health Organization has now jumped on board, calling for adult movie ratings for films that depict tobacco use.

What prompted my latest series of stories on this was watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on a rented DVD and noticing there was virtually no smoking in the movie at all, even though it took place in 1963, which is literally during the height of the smoking era. Shortly afterward was a story about how data shows that depictions of smoking in movies, in particular PG and PG-13 movies, has dropped fairly dramatically since the MPAA in 2009 adopted guidelines discouraging (discouraging, not banning) smoking in movies marketed to teens and kids.

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Yup, a real still from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with real free advertising for Marlboros.

The new MPAA policy hasn’t been perfect or ideal, but for the most part it has been working. Studios have been voluntarily removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies because they just aren’t interested in butting heads with the MPAA over it. In fact, Disney, which now owns the Marvel brand, has said no more smoking in any of its movies, including Marvel movies. That means Wolverine and Nick Fury and J.J. Jameson no longer get to chomp on cigars. Call it revisionist history, but hey, back in the day, James Bond used to actually spank women. Times change.

Anyway, this story about the data on smoking in movies claimed there were 10-29 depictions of smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” I thought, “seriously? Really? I can’t remember a single one.” I had already sent the DVD back to Netflix, but my friend Nancy watched the movie for me and confirmed that there was no smoking in the movie. Not sure what “depictions of tobacco” means, according to Smokefree Movies.

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I digress … a LOT. WHO has issued its own opinion that movies that depict tobacco use should be given an “adult” rating (R-rating in the U.S., but there’s myriad other terms for it in other countries.)

From a WHO press release:

“With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s Director for the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

“Smoking in films can be a strong form of promotion for tobacco products,” adds Dr Bettcher. “The 180 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are obliged by international law to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”
….

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, says countries around the world have taken steps to limit tobacco imagery in films. “China has ordered that ‘excessive’ smoking scenes should not be shown in films. India has implemented new rules on tobacco imagery and brand display in domestic and imported films and TV programmes. But more can and must be done,” Dr Peruga adds.

I honestly believe this is an important issue because most tobacco advertising has been curtailed. No tobacco ads allowed on TV or radio and tobacco advertising in magazines has for 18 hours not been allowed to use cartoon characters such as Joe Camel. So, where is one of the biggest sources of kids continuing to get the idea that smoking is cool or hip — if not the biggest source? Hollywood, plain and simple. Hollywood has for nearly 100 years had a bizarre symbiotic relations with tobacco. In the 1930s and 1940s “cool” characters created by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall smoked; the tobacco industry actually started paying Hollywood to advertise its products beginning with Superman II in 1980, and yet even after this was exposed and banned by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, smoking depictions in PG and PG-13 movies actually went UP in the 2000s. Only by advocates making a huge stink about it, did the MPAA crack down on smoking in teen-marketed movies … a crackdown that wasn’t as severe as some people wanted, but has served its purpose and hasn’t infringed (In my opinion) on freedom of expression.

For the record, like F bombs, sex, and brain-splattering gore, I’m all for allowing as much smoking as a director wants in an R-rated movie. I’m all for freedom of expression. I just want it out of kid- and teen-marketed movies.

 

Update: Data shows smoking is decreasing in Hollywood movies

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First of all, I have to post a “sort of” correction, even though I’m not convinced yet I was completely wrong.

According to this group called “Smokefree Movies,” which is based out of San Francisco State University, which means my hero and longtime anti-tobacco advocate Stanton Glantz is involved, there IS smoking in the film version of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Between 10-and 29 instances, in fact. Darned if I remember any smoking scenes, but again, I’d have to watch the movie again to confirm that. Perhaps the old Soviet and CIA guys smoke. I think the old CIA guy might have been chomping a cigar. I tweaked my earlier post to reflect this new information I stumbled on.

(EDITOR’s NOTE: According to a friend who watched the movie again in response to my post … she confirmed that there doesn’t appear to be any smoking in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, so I have no idea what Smokefree Movies is talking about.)

Anyway, it was pretty interesting timing coming upon this article just as I posted a story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This story from the Smokefree Movies project confirms that the 7-year-old MPAA policy to discourage smoking in PG-13 movies, while not perfect and definitely not ideal, is in fact, having an effect.

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Augustus, a cancer patient, in “The Fault In Our Stars” has a cigarette continually dangling from his mouth throughout the film but he never actually lights it.

According to Smokefree Movies, the number of films that contained “tobacco imagery” (Not necessarily smoking, but “tobacco imagery”), was about 105 in 2007, the year before new MPAA policy that went into effect threatening (threatening, but not requiring) an R-rating for smoking scenes in PG-13 movies. That number included more than 50 PG-13 and younger-rated movies.

In 2008, that number quickly dropped to less than 90, though the number of PG-13 movies that had smoking went up slightly. In 2009, the effect of the MPAA policy really started being seen. There were about 75 movies that had tobacco imagery, and about 41 one of them were rated for PG-13 or younger.

In 2010, it even got better, with about 61 movies total with tobacco imagery and only 26-28 in PG-13 movies. Frustratingly, that number crept up a bit over the next couple of years, but according to SF State, in 2015, the number of movies with tobacco imagery was about 70 total, with about 30 of those in PG-13 movies. That’s a decrease overall of 33 percent and over 40 percent for PG-13 movies.

Again, I don’t know what the term “tobacco imagery” means exactly. but the policy means there’s been a serious decrease in tobacco imagery in films (both overall and in PG-13 films) since 2007. Man, that’s a big step forward.

Keep in mind, even though supposedly the tobacco industry was no longer paying Hollywood studios a dime after 1998 for including tobacco products in movies, the rate of tobacco imagery in movies actually went UP between 2002 and 2007. So, Hollywood was giving the tobacco industry all sorts of free advertising without collecting a dime in return. What a bunch of shmoes!

Here’s where I might take exception with the term “tobacco imagery,” and maybe why i didn’t notice smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Here is a list of films that contain tobacco imagery. One of those films is “The Fault In Our Stars.”

I have to disagree with SF State on this one. “The Fault In Our Stars” has more than 50 instances of tobacco imagery listed. In this film, a teenager battling cancer keeps a cigarette dangling in his mouth as a specific message — the message being, and I’m quoting from the movie:

“They don’t kill you unless you light them. And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”

So, the character in the film never once lights a cigarette and uses them to remind himself that cancer is death, cigarettes are death, and that cancer has no power over him if he chooses not to let it have power over him by not lighting the cigarette. I think that’s touching, a bit unfair by SF State to include that. There is such a thing as context. Trust me, when I first saw images of a teenager apparently smoking from this film, I was plenty outraged .. until I read up on the context.

Anyway, a really interesting update to my post the other day and I’m sure I will see “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” again to confirm how right or how close I was in my earlier post. Smoking scenes in films ares down roughly 33 percent from eight years ago, and, more importantly, down over 40 percent in PG-13 films. (More importantly to me, because yeah, I still believe in artistic freedom for the most part and if people want to have smoking characters in movies, that’s their prerogative and I sincerely have no problem with it … I just think they should be prepared for an R-rating.)

 

 

Smoking in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movie — there isn’t any … in 1963 setting

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Look, it’s the 1960s and NO ONE is smoking!

Got a pleasant surprise when I got my DVD of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” this week.

The movie is based on the old TV show and is set in 1963 … and yet, I can’t recall seeing any smoking  scenes in the whole movie. 1963 was the absolute height of the smoking era — the highest smoking rates in history — and yet there’s almost no smoking, if any, in this film. I didn’t even really think about it until after I was done watching it … and I was pleasantly surprised. I’d have to see it again to confirm the total lack of smoking, but let’s say, there was definitely a paucity of cigarettes in this 1963-period film. (My friend Nancy confirmed to me there is NO smoking in this film.)

For far too long, Hollywood has gone out of its way to glamorize smoking , without the tobacco industry paying the movie industry a dime for all that free advertising.  The only time the tobacco industry actually paid the movie industry for product placement was from about 1980 to 1998. Before that, it was all free and after 1998, it was all free — as far as anyone can prove.

This is particularly true of spy movies or a lot of other movies from the 1960s that absolutely glamorized smoking. A lot of people don’t realize this, but James Bond smoked a LOT in the early 60s movies. Cigarettes were a symbol of his virility, suaveness and sophistication.

Smoking is also featured a LOT on “Mad Men,” a show about an advertising agency in the early and mid 1960s. In fact, the agency handles advertising for cigarettes and one of the main characters of the show ends up dying from lung cancer.  Mad Men makes the statement that yes, smoking is glamorous, but that it’s an empty glamour with a heavy, heavy price.

Man from U.N.C.L.E. cigarette case toy, actually sold to kids.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. cigarette case toy, actually sold to kids.

I tried to see if the original Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show featured smoking. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if it had considering the era and considering that smoking was common on TV back then. Heck, everyone knows the Flintstones even advertised cigarettes. However, I couldn’t find a single image online of any smoking on the Man from U.N.C.L.E. I did find an image of a Man from U.N.C.L.E. cigarette case communicator. They even sold it as a toy for kids.

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James Bond smoking in “Dr. No.”

Anyway, when some of us tobacco control advocates started clamouring for removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies, there was a big hue and cry from some Hollywood directors, who claimed banning smoking from teen-marketed movies somehow crimps their artistic freedom. (You’ve never been able to say  “fuck” more than twice in a PG-13 movie — and even then it has to be as an exclamation, not as a description of the sex act — which is silly to me, but I’ve never heard directors piss and moan about that.)

Well, lo and behold, here is a movie based in 1963, (a movie with plenty of drinking and casual sex, BTW) when smoking was still seen as glamorous and suave, when over 50 percent of men smoked, and there is virtually no smoking in the movie … and even I barely noticed. In fact, I doubt virtually no one other than me did notice. It didn’t ruin the movie, whiny Hollywood directors! It simply doesn’t add anything to stories or characters or plots to have smoking included in movies. It’s completely gratuitous. And it always was. Napoleon Solo’s character is quite suave, sophisticated, drinks his fair share of alcohol, sleeps around … and manages to remain cool without the aid of a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

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Mad Men

It also heartened me because I believe this movie is a good sign that the new rules put in place in 2008 by the MPAA regarding smoking in movies is in fact, having an effect. The rules have created a chilling effect over smoking in movies because studios just don’t even want to butt heads with the MPAA over it.

The MPAA didn’t actually ban smoking in PG and PG-13 movies, which made a lot of tobacco control advocates angry at the time. But, it did strongly discourage it, allowing loopholes for historical period accuracy (So, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. probably could have included more smoking and gotten away with it.), and the rules also included some weasel words like “pervasive smoking.” However, the rules were good enough to send the message to studios, “don’t even bother. It’s not worth it, it’s not worth fighting over it.” The simple threat of movies being rated R for smoking was enough to convince studios and directors to just not bother.

 

 

 

40th anniversary of Jaws and the dramatic tension of a dangling cigarette

 

 

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I saw an article the other day about how this is the 40th anniversary of Jaws (I was a total weenie in that movie, it really terrified me as a kid). And this story had the very famous, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene attached.

I realized something with this scene. In it, Roy Scheider has a cigarette in his mouth and is shoveling chum into the water to attract the killer Great White. When the Great White pops up out of the water behind the boat, Scheider stands there transfixed in horror at the sheer size of the shark, with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

He backs into the cabin of the boat and says to Quint, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (If you pay attention, you’ll notice a continuation error in this scene. When the giant shark bobs up out of the water, Scheider’s cigarette is unlit. When he backs into the boat’s cabin, his cigarette is now lit. Apparently, Scheider quickly lit his cigarette while walking backward.)

I realized that cigarettes were for a very long time used by Hollywood to create dramatic tension. A cigarette simply dangling from the mouth, a character too shocked to even be aware of that cigarette being there. I’ve seen that used in a number of films.

For instance, in Ghostbusters, there is a scene almost identical to the Jaws scene, only this time, it’s done for laughs. When Ray rounds a corner in a hotel hallway, he sees a gross green spectre they come to call “Slimer.” He’s smoking a cigarette, and again, shocked and transfixed, a lit cigarette dangles from his lip. Only in this scene, it literally dangles from his lower lip and then falls to the ground. It’s actually a really funny scene, and it’s interesting how similar it is to the scene from Jaws. It’s a total spoof of Jaws, I’m sure of it.

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It was an earlier era in which cigarettes were absolutely used as a prop in Hollywood

(BTW, Roy Scheider died a few years ago at the age of 76 from myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Ironically, one of his best-known roles was in “All That Jazz,” a semi-autobiographical film about Bob Fosse, playing a chain-smoking Fosse who dies from heart disease. Fosse actually was a chain-smoker and actually did die of heart disease at the age of 60. Fosse’s wife also died of lung cancer.)

 

 

John Constantine’s smoking evolution — 1988-2014

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Lucifer (Peter Stormare), gives John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) a light.

Smoking might be taken away from Wolverine soon, but there’s a precedent. Smoking has already been taken away from a comic book legend — John Constantine.

Several years ago on a blog far away (that blog is long gone; I abandoned it about six years ago), I wrote a piece about “Constantine” and smoking. “Constantine” was and probably still is the most patently anti-smoking movie to ever come out of Hollywood. “Constantine” was a total Keanu Reeves vehicle and it was released in 2005, coming right after the end of “The Matrix” triology.

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Constantine gives a spider a smoke bath

 

It wasn’t a particularly good movie (it gets a 46 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), it was a total rip-off of “The Matrix”, it made a fair amount of money ($200 million worldwide), but was not a huge hit and it completely pissed off loyal “Hellblazer” readers because it changed everything about John Constantine. In the comic book series, Constantine was blond, British and cocky. In the film, he was dark-haired, American and sullen.

And all that being said, looking back on the movie 10 years later, I think “Constantine” was arguably the most influential movie ever for changing the culture of smoking in Hollywood. “Constantine” came out roughly the same time as “Stranger than Fiction,” another anti-smoking Hollywood movie.

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Remember the time — 2005. At the time, smoking was rampant in Hollywood films. Not just R-rated movies, but PG-13 movies marketed to teens and even PG- and G-rated movies marketed to kids. Hollywood had a long, sordid history of promoting tobacco products, for decades for free, and then beginning with Superman II, for a price. Hollywood, every bit as much as Madison Avenue, promoted smoking as cool, suave and hip going all the way back to the early 1930s.

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John Constantine in the comic books.

 

Even after payments between Big Tobacco and Hollywood studios supposedly came to a halt after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, movies continued to show smoking as cool, suave and hip. Hollywood didn’t get a nickel for 50 years to promote tobacco products, made millions from Big Tobacco for about 18 years and amazingly, mystifyingly, even after those payments were supposedly stopped, Hollywood STILL just kept giving the tobacco industry all kinds of free advertising in movies marketed to teens.

 

I was part of a huge push to get an R-rating for smoking in movies. A push that I think has mostly succeeded, though it was a bloody fight. Hollywood resented us do-gooders, even though it was perfectly cool with R ratings for more than one F-bomb, the slightest glimpse of full-frontal nudity and ANY drug use, even someone just rolling a joint. But take away cigarettes from PG-13 movies? CENSORSHIP! R ratings are not set in stone for smoking, but the campaign has discouraged studios from having smoking scenes in PG-13 and PG movies.

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Along came “Constantine” and “Stranger Than Fiction.” I watched “Constantine” again this weekend on satellite, and I was reminded of what a genuinely groundbreaking film this was. It wasn’t popular at the time, it pissed off “Hellblazer” fans, and the anti-smoking message feels like a forced and trite plot point, but dammit, this was the first movie I ever saw that came right out and said, “smoking sucks.”

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“Constantine,” released in 2005, was the most anti-smoking movie ever made

 

I went to see this movie in the theatre and despite the mixed reviews, I loved it. Maybe because of the anti-smoking message. I didn’t know much about the “Hellblazer” comic book series, and if I had known much about it, I probably would’ve hated the movie. Anyway, “Constantine” was surprisingly pretty scary and Peter Stormare and Tilda Swinton  were amazing as Lucifer and the Archangel Gabriel, respectively. Stormare played the most terrifying Satan I’ve ever seen (as I said, “Constantine” is a surprisingly scary movie), with tattoos, a lisp and wearing a white suit with black oil dripping off his bare feet. Keanu Reeves was badly miscast and more or less played the movie as Neo from “The Matrix.”

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Lucifer rips the lung cancer out of John Constantine’s body — ewww!

 

Most movies about the Devil and the Apocalypse and religious drivel are hopelessly dopey (I mean go watch “The Omen” again sometime and you’ll be reminded just how stupid and ridiculous that movie was) and compared to other films of the genre, “Constantine” was not as dopey as most — despite Shia Lebouf’s painfully bad role in the movie. The plot is similar to “The Prophecy,” which is another Apocalypse religious hokum movie I can actually stomach, mostly because the Devil is simply a spectator and the real bad guy is the Archangel Gabriel (again) and Christopher Walken is amazing as Gabriel. His greatest role by far.

Lucifer arrives in “Constantine”

Anyway, in the comic book series “Hellblazer,” which began in the late 1980s, John Constantine was portrayed as a gruff, chain-smoking Brit. At one point in the series, he was dying of lung cancer until he made a deal with two demons for his soul to save his life (the demons couldn’t let him die because they were rivals).

The film “Constantine” took a different twist. Constantine was dying of lung cancer, but he explicitly blamed the cigarettes for his condition. In one scene, he traps a spider under glass and blows smoke under the glass, telling the spider, “welcome to my world.” Later in the film, Constantine commits suicide to make a deal with the devil and in the absolute best line of the entire movie, Constantine asks Lucifer, “do you mind if I smoke?” and the Devil responds, “no, go right ahead. I’ve got stock.” Awesome line!

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In the 2014 “Constantine” TV show, John Constantine is blond and British, but does not smoke at all.

 

In the end, Constantine is allowed to go to Heaven because he sacrificed himself by committing suicide to save someone else. Not wanting to let Constantine go, Lucifer rips the lung cancer out of Constantine’s body to give him a lifetime of chances to screw up so he can someday collect his soul. The film concludes with Constantine seemingly reaching into his trenchcoat pocket for a cigarette, but instead pulling out a stick of gum. Awesome. I loved it. Trite, beating people over the head with the anti-smoking message, but I loved it.

In “Stranger than Fiction,” a character played by Emma Thompson was originally written as a chain-smoker. However, the producer of the film Lindsey Doran hated smoking and hated smoking in movies. After battling with the director, they agreed on a compromise, Thompson’s character would still smoke, but it would be portrayed in a negative manner. Sure enough, throughout the movie Thompson’s character continually has to grab tissues as she coughs up gobs of phlegm. Gross and disgusting. Her assistant, played by Queen Latifah, begs Thompson’s character to quit smoking throughout the film and at the end of the movie, Latifah leaves a pack a nicotine gum on Thompson’s desk.

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Not-so-glamorous smoking in “Stranger Than Fiction.” Note the wadded-up tissue of phlegm.

 

I honestly feel those two movies are when the tide began to turn against smoking in movies. That’s why, despite its many, many, many flaws, I will always have a soft spot for “Constantine.”

As an aside, this past year, there was a “Constantine” TV show on NBC. They completely took John Constantine’s smoking out; banished completely. That’s how far the issue has come. Constantine was blond, wise-cracking and British like he was supposed to be, but they didn’t even bother making his smoking a part of the character or a plot point, they just simply dumped it as unnecessary and a relic of the past. The show only lasted 13 episodes and likely isn’t coming back. However, a “Constantine” sequel has been planned by Guillermo del Toro. It was be interesting to see if they make it if they will bring back John Constantine’s smoking.

 Epilogue of “Stranger than Fiction”

 “Constantine” 2014 TV series