The idea of smoking in a movie theater, or anywhere one might go to have a good time, seems outlandish in 21st-century America, far more fantastical than most of what you’d actually see projected onscreen. I don’t smoke, but it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to start while moviegoing, a pursuit that, here in Los Angeles, takes up a considerable chunk of my free time. Though I attend screenings at the Nuart Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard with some frequency, I’ve sadly missed the heyday of the public service announcement above. Bad-taste-is-good-taste filmmaker John Waters shot the PSA for the Nuart Theatre decades ago in appreciation for their long-running showings of his breakthrough feature Pink Flamingos. “I’m supposed to announce that there’s no smoking in this theater,” Waters says to the camera, after taking a drag on his cigarette, “which is just one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard of in my life.”
“How can anyone sit through the length of a film,” he continues, “especially a European film, and not have a cigarette?” Indeed, the Nuart today remains a reliable source for interesting pictures, often of European origin. So, I’ve heard, was Berkeley’s UC Theater, another frequent screener of Waters’ “no-smoking” PSA, before it closed its doors in 2001. When Landmark Theatres owner Gary Meyer purchased both the Nuart and the UC in 1974, they became the first in that now-formidable chain of popular-art house crossover venues. Revival cinema has seen something of a resurgence in recent years, giving Landmark more competition than it once faced, and though some theaters have brought gourmet food and alcohol into the experience, cigarettes seem unlikely to make a return. What the moviegoing world needs now is a clip from Waters denouncing cellphone usage — but he’s got to do it seriously. Or as seriously as he can.