Too Many Cigarettes | The Nation


Too Many Cigarettes

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Wednesday: Screening of Risa Bramon Garcia's 200 Cigarettes. Young white heteros bicker in New York's East Village on New Year's Eve 1981, while a black cabbie (Dave Chappelle) chauffeurs them around and pop hits of the year drift onto the soundtrack and off again. Was I in the East Village that evening? I can't remember. My memory seems to have stopped at Election Night 1980.

About the Author

Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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I remember that Keith phoned, saying, "I can't take this on my own. Can I come over?" He showed up fifteen minutes later with a bottle of Stolichnaya.

"Good," I said. "I've got Jameson. Let's mix them."

We poured equal measures over ice and got something that looked like a Stinger and tasted like sweetened antifreeze. "What should we call it?" I asked.

"Stoli and Jameson," Keith said. "It's an IRA."

After three of them, we still knew Reagan would be President, but we temporarily didn't care. But what about 200 Cigarettes? It occurs to me that a movie has been unspooling. Evidently this, too, is something I don't care about--and the feeling in this case would seem to be permanent.

Thursday: Screening of Adam Bernstein's Six Ways to Sunday, a movie with subtle links to 200 Cigarettes. Bernstein can claim to have directed more than seventy music videos, while 200 Cigarettes is co-produced by MTV Films. Also, the soundtrack to 200 Cigarettes features a number of tunes by Blondie, whose lead singer, Deborah Harry, has a lead role in Six Ways to Sunday, as the domineering mother of an up-and-coming gangster in Youngstown, Ohio.

So is Six Ways to Sunday merely a continuation of 200 Cigarettes by other means? No--it's too weird for that. Based on Charles Perry's novel Portrait of a Young Man Drowning, the movie stars slit-eyed Norman Reedus as a severely repressed young man who discovers his métier--and his sexuality--while beating people up for the mob. Every time he whacks a victim, the screen explodes in a freakout montage of distorted faces, bloody colors, flashing lights. This is the normal part of the movie. The strange stuff has to do with the Yiddish-speaking, klezmer-loving gangsters for whom the boy works, the junk-shop decor of Mom's apartment, the allure of the limping maid (Elina Lowensöhn) who ministers to the chief hoodlum and (above all) the question of what we're to make of the people in this high-style freak show.

Are we to laugh? Mourn? Giggle in superiority? Or just use these people for thrills and move on, as Dino Velvet would do? Since the plot is a machine for eliminating the characters, one by one, the question is perhaps self-resolving. Once the remaining two have left Youngstown, in effect voiding the screen, we're simply free to get up and go as well. In a way, that makes Six Ways to Sunday the most coherent film I've seen all week--praise whose height you may judge for yourself.

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