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That's not your impression, there are more cigarettes in movies

That's not your impression, there are more cigarettes in movies

In recent months, film critics and professionals have noticed how cigarettes have returned to being more present in films, after a long period in which they were rare. The most famous examples in modern American cinema are those provided by Cillian Murphy Oppenheimer And Bradley Cooper in Perfects, dedicated respectively to the lives of theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer and conductor Louis Bernstein. Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal) the protagonist is also a smoker Cassandre, a film that tells the story of one of the few gay wrestlers of the 1980s. But there are many others.

Rebecca Ford He said on Vanity gallery This phenomenon is somewhat surprising, because it goes against the prevailing trend regarding indicators provided by American film producers. Since 2007, also due to strong pressure from various anti-smoking associations, the MPA (Motion Picture Producers of America) has encouraged directors to reduce the presence of cigarettes in films and TV series, and has come to Insert Scenes with smokers are within the criteria of the system that classifies films based on their suitability for minors.

In some cases, cigarettes are necessary to characterize characters who were already present and were smokers: for example, Oppenheimer is known to have smoked cigarettes constantly and often skipped meals, especially during the most intense periods of study. Bernstein's addiction to cigarettes is also a fairly well-known fact: V Interview give to The New York Times In 1990, a musician who had played with him on several occasions said that “Lenny is the only bandleader who simultaneously gasps on a respirator and lights up a cigarette as soon as he walks off stage.”

– Read also: What is true and what is not Oppenheimer

Roger Ross Williams, Director CassandreHe said that cigarettes have a certain importance not only in the narrative of the protagonist's transition into adult life, but also in better contextualizing the historical period in which the film is set: the 1980s, a decade in which smoking was now more common.

A similar case is the case SaltburnA film directed by Emerald Fennell set between 2006 and 2007 in England, when smoking was still legal in public places. Fennell told Ford that, in his view, highlighting the prevalence of smoking was important to make the story believable, but also because “for someone in their 20s or teens, it's unbelievable to go to a bar and light up a cigarette.” Several characters in four other films released last year and set in Europe are also smokers: Conservatives – Life Lessons, Strangers, Anatomy of a Fall And Area of ​​interestThe protagonist is the Nazi leader Rudolf Hoss, He often keeps a cigar in his mouth.


In an interview with Ford, film historian from Wesleyan University in Middletown (Connecticut) Jeanine Basinger explained that directors, for many years, showed cigarettes in films to fulfill a “character description” function. But in old Hollywood films, cigarettes were also an item with strong symbolic meaning, indicating sexual intimacy between two people in a period when explicit sex scenes were not possible.

For example, Basinger cites one of the film's most famous scenes It's hopeless for you (1942), the film in which Paul Henreid takes two cigarettes out of his pocket, lights them and passes one to Bette Davis.

Basing also explained that cigarettes were conceived as useful items to highlight a character's attractiveness (“it meant you were sophisticated”), and that “virgins didn't smoke in the movies, and that was one of the ways I understood that they were virgins.” “.

Between the 1970s and 1980s, cigarettes became increasingly present in films, often as a result of conventions “Product placement” (the practice by which brands and products are paid to be included in films and television series as a form of advertising). For example, in 1983, Philip Morris paid $350,000 He smokes his cigarettes By James Farentino and Penny Fuller, the two heroes of the film License to kill. Another very famous case is that of Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the 1978 film Superman, Smoking Marlboro cigarettes in several scenes.

It is likely that many directors have returned to using cigarettes as a narrative device as well because the act of smoking a cigarette is so much greater “Transcendental” today compared to the past, at least in the eyes of the audience targeted by the vast majority of films produced in Hollywood, that is, the American ones.

In fact, the negative stigma that accompanies smokers in the United States is greater than in European culture. Smoking discouragement policies began to spread across the United States in the early 1990s, and since then the percentage of smokers has declined dramatically. Between 2019 and 2023, the percentage of adult smokers It decreased to 10 percenthistorical minimum (for comparison, smokers in Italy represent 20.5 percent of the Italian population over 15 years of age). In this context, a character who smokes has a better chance of remaining imprinted in viewers' memories.


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