Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette

What smoking has given entertainment and popular culture?

Where would Hollywood be without the lingering plumes of seductive smoke that helped convey intimacy, contemplation, bravery, rebellion, companionability and independence… or a mixture of some or all of these? What would the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Joe Strummer do to convey that same sense of effortless nonchalance towards their craft if they were not able to have the ubiquitous cigarette dangling from their mouth, or propped in the machine head of their guitars. And if the smoking bans begin to make an even greater impact on our habits, will the audiences of tomorrow lose a whole language of rich symbolism? Voyager and The Big Sleep where cigarette smoke was not just an essential and beautiful part of the cinema but also, clearly stood for sex. When Sharon Stone crosses her legs in that famous scene in Basic Instinct and taunts her interrogator with “What are you going to do? Arrest me for smoking?” – will audiences of the future wonder why he hasn’t already done that? The symbolism and semiotics of smoking in the 20th century must be decoded. We should ask ourselves whether we might be in danger of losing a useful prop in the 21st.This is not a celebration of smoking or indeed a condemnation of it, rather it is a look at the special part cigarettes have played in the popular culture of much of the 20century… and a chance to explore where the likes of Dave Allen, Albert Camus, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Winston Churchill, Bette Davis, Pete Doherty, Serge Gainsbourg, Clark Gable, Lew Grade, the Joker in Batman, Maigret, Princess Margaret, Jean-Paul Sartre, (the list goes on) would be without their little sticks of burning leaves.