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.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
For an insider’s scoop on John Waters, get “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters”
“Outrageous Dirt”– John Waters
John Waters did not shoot that early 1980’s ‘No Smoking’ trailer, he performed in it. The trailer, along with two others, was directed by myself and produced by myself and my brother Steven M. Martin. We filmed Mr. Waters in a loft in New York City, along with a trailer for the notorious ‘Shock Value’ film festival and a thank you to the Nuart Theatre for making Divine the ‘filth goddess’ she deserved to be. These trailers were part of a series I directed and/or produced for Landmark Theatre Corporation that included trailers featuring David Lynch, Peter Ivers, Devo, and up and coming talent in Southern California.
I remember seeing a similar PSA by John Waters in NYC in the early 80’s (maybe at the Thalia on the upper West Side?)and being vastly amused (“So, you can’t smoke–but don’t you wish you could?”).
I recall that on a visit to London in 1972, I went to see a James Bond film in one of the large theaters and was gratified to see that one could not only smoke (with ashtrays mounted in every seat back), but also drink at your seat, courtesy of the well-stocked lobby bar.