10Films in no particular order– No5 Smoke

October 29, 2010

Smoke
(1995)

Smoke is built around a Brooklyn smoke-shop, and its owner Auggie. From there, it expands to include Paul (a novelist, lost in writer’s block), Rashid (a teenage runaway), and (briefly) Ruby (an ex-girlfriend from Auggie’s distant past).

Auggie – at first straightforward – turns out to be the key to the film’s most interesting themes, rendered with quriky poetry.  For years, every day, at 8am, he has been taking a photograph of the same street corner… “…it’s just one little part of the world, but things take place there too, just like everywhere else.” And the Christmas story told by Auggie… “the best Christmas story you’ve ever heard. And I’ll guarentee that every word of it is true”.

I like Smoke despite its uninteresting film-making.

Like a wound-up film-student, I usually dislike movies into which as all the creative energy is spent on plot and dialogue, with little (apparent) time given to film-making as a craft. I want film-makers – directors, editors, cinematograher and (increasingly) computer animators – to make a distinct mark on their films.

Some movies roll almost like stage-plays; the camera functions as a recording device. I want something besides the mechanical repition of what the actors did in front of a camera. (This is, I admit, an illusion. Any movie is constructed from multiple versions, shot by several cameras, edited together. But some seem shot and edited to avoid intruding on the action).

The filmmaking of Smoke is not without a few (brief) intrusions.  I found Auggie’s photographs fascinating, and oddly stunning. We are once treated to a series of them filling the screen. Smoke’s narative structure is unusual: divided into sections, each starting and finishing with one character’s story, with other stories woven in.

Like any good story I’ve every met, Smoke plays with a tangle of themes… The pacing of life, an eggshell between estrangment and reunion, the patience required to find beauty in the mundane, and gems like truth and kindness engineered from make-believe.

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