Friday, December 10, 2010
the dude's good
There has never been a smoker like Bridges in films, and when I say that I am thinking of all film smokers and all smoking movies, from Bogie to Now, Voyager. Bridges' relationship with things he lights on fire and sticks in his mouth creates a parallel world of expression in film that he uses to great advantage and it deserves some recognition beyond the tiny gold cigarette that must be dangling from the mouth of his Oscar.
It started in his earliest work. Bridges smokes in a scene at the end of The Last Picture Show (1971) before he ships off to Korea, his uniform--and his cigarette---hinting at adulthood. Even then Bridges shows some of his classic smoking gestures, including holding his fingers close to his face and tilting his head down as he inhales.
In Starman (1984), Bridges depicts an alien come to earth who in one scene learns to smoke for the first time, (showing us, maybe, how he learned to do it) and before dissolving into a coughing jag that demonstrates the classic Bridges hollow-cheeked suck:
Among other parts in the 80s, Bridges was a post-war smoking innoventor in Tucker (1988):
before the role that I think earned him a gold medal as a movie smoker, The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), which, I'm sorry to tell the film industry, cigarette manufacturers, and my mother, made me want to smoke. I already smoked occasionally, but his character made me want to smoke better.
Taciturn, hooded-eyed pianist Jack Baker is a virtuoso smoker rendered in Bridges' naturalistic acting style, which extends into the smoking as well. Bridges is smart in that he doesn't pretend he's not smoking or minimize his movements. Nor does he try to look as if--or avoid appearing as if--he's too cool for the activity; he engages with it, looks foolish doing it on occasion, has some big gestures the way real smokers do, revels in the sensuality of what he's doing. It's subtle in human ways, not classically cinematic ones.
In The Fabulous Baker Boys he luxuriates in long, long scenes of smoking, letting it speak for him--reveling in the smoking as his character remains coldly closed off. He employs some classic Bridges stuff such as the Dangle, which should look stupid--he talks with the cigarette wobbling in his lips, his eyes screwed up against the smoke, his lower lip pushed up in a silly way to keep it there--but on Bridges doesn't:
He has a distinct way of dragging hard on a cigarette then pulling it out of his mouth at the very last minute before speaking a line to punctuate it, showing that he is thinking and paying attention, but controlling his involvement in the scene until he's ready. He keeps his fingers poised over the cigarette and very close to his mouth the whole time before quickly whipping it out to the side, speaking quietly in the space his gestures have created:
He does this constantly in Baker Boys, accompanied always by the Bridges Suck, which can look goofy or voluptuous, but is always right there in the front of his mouth:
Here it is again in Blown Away (1994):
It goes without saying that somebody who's won a Smoking Oscar has demonstrated versatility in different smoking media, such as evil cigar smoking in Iron Man (2008):
Bridges is really good at using smoking as a signifier of dissolute characters and of vulnerability in general, such as the alcoholic ex jail-bird in American Heart (1992) (the thumb push on the bottom lip--also a Bridges move):
and in Crazy Heart, which is among other things something of a paean to smoking. It is an absolute tapestry of debauched, repetitive physical gestures. He's almost never without one:
True Grit, the Coen brothers sorta-remake with Bridges in the John Wayne role, which opens December 22, appears to be a possible apogee of Bridges' onscreen smoking. Even the trailer feels smoky, with all its grays and browns and outdoor shots and period quality: