An Unplanned Allegory

  Smoking is nasty, dirty, and deadly.  I know that all too well.  I’ve tried it though and have been in the sway of its allure for many years.  In fact, I was in a cigar smoking club while in kindergarten.  We lived near a farm and a friend whose father always had a box of stogies on his desk would purloin a few and meet the rest of us in Farmer D’s apple orchard.

  I was the only one who could finish one.  Maybe that’s why I’m the shortest in the family.  I smoked a pipe for a while and tried cigarettes.  Thankfully, nothing stuck.  My favorite part was fidgeting with the paraphernalia – lighters and all.  I became quite proficient at rolling my own, but, uh, that’s another story.

  What is interesting to me now is how cigarette smoking is portrayed in modern cinema.  The actual act, I mean.  Next time you’re watching a movie and someone has a butt in hand notice carefully what happens when it gets to a mouth.  You will almost certainly witness a very poor bit of business no matter between whose even Oscar winning fingers it is held.

  Anyone can be cool, graceful, tremulous, or whatever’s appropriate to the role from pack through ignition.  However, lips once pursed, chest has to raise as lungs fill or it looks fake and taints the whole dang flic.  99% of the time you get the feeling that the actor either is worried about his/her own health or else is stealthily furthering his/her own antismoking campaign.   

 What would be the right thing to do?   Faithfully portray the character, as imagined by its creator, to the best of one’s ability or ask for a rewrite?  The solution I’ve just described is a compromise that I’m surprised to see condoned by today’s top talent.

  When this issue comes to mind, I’m drawn back to the opening sequence of The Client in which a young boy sneaks a couple cigarettes from his mother, goes into the woods with his brother, and they light up.  Looks real to me and the sequence conveys more about those two characters than dialogue ever could.

  The tragedy though is that Brad Renfro won awards for his portrayal of the older brother, but died of an overdose at age twenty-five.  Perhaps the bright lights were more than he could handle, but I wonder if instead that the long draw at age ten evidenced a naïve slipping of his skin to such a degree that it could not be made snug again once shooting stopped.      

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