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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn