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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Are movies and vices made for each other?

What’s the latest bullshit Avatar “criticism”? It promotes smoking. You know, because Sigourney Weaver smokes in the film and she’s also one of the good guys, that automatically means that James Cameron took a gazillion dollars from Big Tobacco to hook all the poor little childrens on the cancer stick.

Cameron has responded to this nonsense, but a far more cogent reply comes from New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, who insists that movies and vices are made for each other:

As long as there have been movies, there have been scolds who condemn the movies for glamorizing vice. And the scolds have generally been right: one of the great pleasures of movie watching is that it allows us to witness and vicariously take part in all kinds of behavior we wouldn’t dream of (or would only dream of) undertaking in our daily lives.

And I love this:

In the golden years between the repeal of Prohibition and the publication of the Surgeon General’s Report on smoking, two perfectly legal, highly profitable vices were allowed to flourish on screen. It did not hurt that the only thing that looks better in black and white than a highball glass is a plume of cigarette smoke. In the real world, smoking rarely looks cool, and usually smells pretty bad. But on film there is no smell, no desperate, compulsive puffing.

Is Scott right? Are movies and vices made for each other?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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