The Last Cigarette
New Yorker Video // Unrated // $29.95 // September 25, 2007
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted October 5, 2007
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:
This brisk, frequently hilarious and piquant documentary may not, like Newport Menthols, leave you "alive with pleasure," but it is sure to satisfy those with more than a passing interest in how popular culture first deified and then excoriated smoking.

Mixing segments from such sources as films (both classic and, shall we say, not so classic) and archival documentaries (among them, an opening culled from Frederic March's turn as Christopher Columbus pointing out the obvious savageness of natives who inhale the fumes of burning leaves, which dissolves to a nice montage of legendary actors and actresses smoking, and a later snippet from an interview with the advertising genius who created the Marlboro Man), the film is otherwise comprised mostly of neo-camp advertising and informational films (think public school) from the 50s interspersed with neo-neo-camp archival footage of the 1994 Senate hearings where a line of tobacco executives, all straight-faced, insisted nicotine wasn't addictive and smoking posed no health risk. The Last Cigarette mostly hits the bulls-eye on what has become an easy target, the dichotomy between the illusionary glamour smoking was promoted as giving its customers and the ugly reality of the ravages of the habit.

What is somewhat missing in this surprisingly breezy and funny approach (due to the quicksilver editing between disparate source material) to a literally deadly serious subject is some sort of recognition of the transition phase in American consciousness, where smoking wasn't cool anymore and fear levels escalated. It's touched on briefly with some vintage advertising urging people not to be concerned about "recent health scare headlines," and some public interest films and spots pointing out the perils of the habit (including a frightening example of what one drop of nicotine does to a mouse), but these are already firmly in either the pro- or anti-smoking camps. A little more in-depth coverage of how and when the change in thinking about smoking played out in the public at large would have given the documentary a more complete feel.

The DVD

Video:
The full frame image is mostly sharp, though quite a bit of the archival footage, some from kinescopes, is degraded.

Sound:
A standard stereo soundtrack is just fine. The documentary wisely stays away from an omniscient narrator, juxtaposing vintage advertising and archival film with the 1994 hearings, all with their "original soundtracks" intact. Some source music (including everything from Artie Shaw's rendition of "Begin the Beguine" to Bernard Herrmann's "Vertigo" theme) adds a little extra flavor.

Extras:
None, really, aside from a trailer and, per the insert, "scene selections."

Final Thoughts:
For anyone who, like I did, grew up with smoking parents, The Last Cigarette is a must-see. Anyone with an interest in this subject though is sure to get a kick out of the now unbelievable ads that sold smoking two generations ago, not to mention the equally unbelievable testimony of the tobacco executives. The Last Cigarette tastes good like (as?) a documentary should.



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