Andrew Martin: Alain Delon is the reason I'm a smoker

The thing is...

Share

The thing is, on reading the news that children who have watched films featuring smoking are more likely to take it up themselves, I tried to think which film had started me off on the habit.

We have to go back a long way, although strictly speaking the first "cigarettes" I "smoked" were sweets. They were called something like "Junior Fags" and were white sticks of sweet stuff with red dye on the end to look like a lit cigarette. Aged nine, I was on about 10 of those a day, and I believe I actually would leave a "stub" and stand on it before entering a friend's house, not that there weren't adults puffing away inside.

It was possibly when I saw – late one night on louche BBC2 – Jean-Pierre Melville's film Le Samouraï (1967) that I realised it was time to move on from smokeless smoking to something more carcinogenic. In it, Alain Delon plays Jef, a Paris-based assassin with an admirably minimal lifestyle. When Jef wants a car, he steals someone else's, always going for grey Citroens. In his flat, there is nothing but a bed, numerous bottles of mineral water (Evian), and numerous packets of cigarettes (Gitanes). There is also a bird in a cage as a metaphor for... something or other. I marvelled that Jef really had got life sussed, because that was all you needed, when you really thought about it.

Or was it watching Elliott Gould in Robert Altman's version of The Long Goodbye (1973)? Gould was a superbly adept smoker, and they should show his performance in drama schools because they're going to have to start teaching smoking, just as they teach another anachronistic art, fencing. They should have smoking coaches – rheumy old actors down on their luck. (For an example of completely unconvincing smoking, see Colin Firth in The King's Speech).

Or it might have been Jeremy Brett who, as Sherlock Holmes, smoked French-looking cigarettes. Of course, Holmes is "period" and you've got to have smoking in period drama. Given that people didn't swear or have sex in the past, there's not a lot left if you take away the smoking.

I generally don't want to see smoke-free art. I recall the relish with which Elmore Leonard said that after writing a conversation, he'd go over it again to "put in the smoking": the pauses, the nuance. Or consider...You are a child at large in a strange world. Who would you rather encounter? The Smoking Caterpillar? Or the Non-Smoking Caterpillar?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried