Smoke (1995)
May 3, 2024 4:39 AM - Subscribe

A Brooklyn smoke shop is the center of neighborhood activity, and the stories of its customers.

Written by Paul Auster (RIP). About 75% of the screen time, a character is seen smoking on camera, so Auster has maybe the least surprising cause of death ever. Filmed in a somewhat less gentrified Park Slope, Brooklyn.
posted by 1970s Antihero (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The summer of 1995 was brutally hot in New York. I was living on the Lower East Side then, in an apartment with no air conditioner, and one weekend I decided to just go see a movie purely for the air conditioning. I didn't have anything in mind and just head to the Angelika because I figured that whatever they had, I'd probably like, so I could just go there and pick something. This is what I chose.

I am so glad I did. This was my introduction to both Paul Auster and to Tom Waits (the closing sequence, a black-and-white dramatization of Auggie Wren's Christmas story, was set to Waits' "Innocent When you Dream"), and my 25-year-old mind got blown.

A fun postscript: the film Blue In the Face, featuring several of the same characters, was a spontaneously improvised sequel filmed during a single week after they finished filming for Smoke. Keitel and some of the extras had been having fun doing these little improv'd scenes when the shots were getting set up, and it gave director Wayne Wang an idea to just film that. He got Paul Auster to write a quick outline for a plot so the characters could riff on them, called in favors from friends, and put together a whole second movie. It's a very different tone - a lot more random and freewheeling. There's that basic plot, but there's also all these fantastically odd characters wandering in and out - Madonna is a singing telegram vendor, Michael J. Fox is a pollster for a really odd research study, Lily Tomlin is on a quest for Belgian Waffles. Jim Jarmusch has a whole sequence where he plays himself, coming into the shop on the cusp of quitting smoking to smoke his last cigarette in good company. Lou Reed showed up on set and they didn't have anythingfor him to do, so they just put a camera on him and let him talk and used clips of his monologue throughout the film.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:01 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]

The bit in Blue in the Face where Jarmusch complains about movie characters who throw aside empty handguns as though they are discarding a spent cigarette lighter lives in my mind forever. It might be the funniest bit in either of these movies.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:43 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]

I need to revisit this. I saw it once in the theater and never since, but I continue to think about Harvey Keitel's photo album of daily pictures of the same street corner. I never did get around to watching Blue In the Face, so I should add that to the list as well.
posted by mrphancy at 7:47 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]

I just found the original Paul Auster story that this film was based on. It ran in the New York Times in 1990, and is pretty much flat-out recited by Harvey Keitel just prior to the clip I link to up above.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on May 3

- It's been so long since I've seen this and Blue in the Face that I tend to conflate the two, and would have to see them both to remember which scene was in which movie.

- Wasn't this filmed in Park Slope? I lived there from about late summer of '93 to early winter of '94 and I'd swear that I knew (or used to know) that corner very well.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:26 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

Yes, Park Slope. Also, the Brooklyn Inn, which is my regular bar.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 4:15 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

Love love love both Smoke and Blue in the Face. And I, too, got my first exposure to Tom Waits through this film. For that alone, “Smoke” is pretty pivotal for me.

Michael J. Fox is a pollster for a really odd research study,

You kind of bury the lead, there, given that his scene is with Giancarlo Esposito. This was probably my second exposure to him after “Do the Right Thing”, but I’ve been a big fan of his as well ever since.

I’ve never done the autograph at a convention thing before, but I’ve been tempted to come to his booth with a still from “Blue in the Face” and ask him how much money it would take for him to eat a bowl of shit.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:46 AM on May 4

I love this film on so many levels, especially Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Cyrus. The stories told by one character or another unlock so much meaning, like the one about a mountain climber who finds his father’s frozen body; it’s a brilliant way of reflecting how time has stopped for Cyrus, until Rashid snaps him out of it.
posted by abraxasaxarba at 10:16 AM on May 4

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