October 11, 2008
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Visions and Revsisions

Roger Ebert skewers the new US postage stamp of Bette Davis, in which the artist has used a famous pose but removed the iconic cigarette.

The great Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski took one of the most famous portraits of Davis. I showed him the stamp. His response: "I have been with Bette for years and I have never seen her without a cigarette! No cigarette! Who is this impostor?" I imagine Davis might not object to a portrait of her without a cigarette, because she posed for many. But to have a cigarette removed from one of her most famous poses! What she did to Joan Crawford in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" wouldn't even compare to what ever would have happened to the artist Michael Deas.

This launches a wonderful discussion of the cigarette in movies.

Two of the most wonderful props in film noir were cigarettes and hats. They added interest to a close up or a two-shot. "Casablanca" without cigarettes would seem to be standing around looking for something to do. These days men don't smoke and don't wear hats. When they lower their heads, their eyes aren't shaded. Cinematographers have lost invaluable compositional tools. The coil of smoke rising around the face of a beautiful women added allure and mystery. Remember Marlene Dietrich. She was smoking when she said, "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily."