Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seen It: Smoke (1995)

A Christmas story shared by Auggie (Harvey Keitel) to Paul (William Hurt).

So, as often happens, I fell a just a touch behind in posting my Twelve Days of Holiday Movies, but here I am on  the morning of Christmas Eve with one or two cards up my sleeve,once gain seeking to expand the scope of what "counts" as a holiday movie. While the original Mighty Joe Young (1949), and King Kong for that matter, will always be Thanksgiving movies for me, and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) is must-see viewing for Lent, today's film, and in particular the closing credits, is must-see Christmas viewing.

Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995) is one film I rewatch during the Christmas season every year since I first saw it. Though not a family film (it's Rated R for language), Smoke is an ensemble piece starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Harold Perrineau, Stockard Channing, and Forrest Whitaker, among others. A quirky film, its themes include the many faces of redemption, the power of family and the quiet power of compassion. If you see it at the rental store, or on Netflix, don’t be put off by the goofy American edition DVD case (seen here) which promotes this film as a slapsticky comedy with aristocratic-appearing celebrity cigar smokers. While there are some humorous moments, and many cigars are "smoked," this film and its characters have much more going on below the surface. The slipcase developed for release in Japanese(?) markets (pictured to the right) offers a more evocative (not to mention holiday themed) image: this is a moving multi-character piece.

I’m not exactly sure how it is I first got turned on to this film, almost ten years ago now, but after having purchased a VHS copy of it in a supermarket one day on my way to work (at one point VHS movies could be had for two bucks when store were converting their rental choices to DVD), I watch this film each year at just around this time. Taken as a whole, Smoke is not easily pigeon-holed as a “holiday film” (which is a good thing), but the values it eschews do seem to hit home, especially at this time of year.

The story set to "Innocent When You Dream" by Tom Waits.

The final five minutes, though, are more overtly holiday-themed which helps to make it a more “obvious” holiday suggestion. Originally published as "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story" by writer (and the co-director and screenplay writer for Smoke) Paul Auster (a version of which is available here), the final moments of the film show what is told earlier in the film. The set-up is this: two of the primary characters, Auggie and Paul, are having lunch. Paul is a writer who needs to submit an essay to the New York Times for its holiday edition and he looks to Auggie (the cigar store owner whose own story is intertwined with those of the other characters) for a suggestion. The emotional impact of Auggie’s story is further punctuated by the Tom Wait’s song, "You Dream," which accompanies it.

Great stuff, and just one of many evocative scenes from an excellent film.

Originally posted on December 24, 2011


RoxiticusDH said...

Oh, Scotty, we are living parallel lives. Here you are down in the Roxiticus Valley, NJ, prancing around in a woman's body. I don't associate Smoke with the holidays, but think I remember this correctly. The cigar store owner comes out of his store every day and takes the same photo. That's a notion I've long wanted to replicate, particularly when I was living in Manhattan's West Village and later on my Bay Head Blog. Despite the huge number of photos I take, I've never successfully executed the concept.

I first saw Smoke in the theatre with my Bestest Pal and my friend Jill and her boyfriend (now husband) I received their holiday card. Weird coincidence.

Anyway, good thing we didn't both use the song from Smoke as our Music Monday, eh?

Happy Holidays!

Mushy said...

Thanks...I've been wanting to see that forever...I'll try and make it happen soon.