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

Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
 

Once I would have agreed with Dawkins. Then my daughter was born with Down's Syndrome

Jamie McCullum
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home