An Anti, Anti-Smoking Announcement from John Waters

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.

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  • For an insid­er’s scoop on John Waters, get “Low Bud­get Hell: Mak­ing Under­ground Movies with John Waters”

    “Out­ra­geous Dirt”– John Waters

  • Douglas Brian Martin says:

    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.

  • Paul Zink (@paulzink) says:

    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.

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