Coen Brothers + Tobacco =

In this section, you will find over 4,000 individual tobacco incidents that I have personally counted within the Coen Brothers’ 17 feature films to date. I have placed all of this raw data into a spreadsheet format and color-coded each entry for quick and easy reference.

1. Blood Simple
2. Raising Arizona
3. Miller’s Crossing
4. Barton Fink
5. The Hudsucker Proxy
6. Fargo
7. The Big Lebowski
8. O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?
9. The Man Who Wasn’t There
10. Intolerable Cruelty
11. The Ladykillers
12. No Country For Old Men
13. Burn After Reading
14. A Serious Man
15. True Grit
16. Inside Llewyn Davis
17. Hail, Caesar!

What is a Tobacco Incident?

According to one group’s definition: …a tobacco incident is defined as any cigarette, cigar, and chewing tobacco use as well as the display of smoke and cigarette paraphernalia such as ashtrays, brand names, or logos displayed within the frames of films reviewed. [citation]

After attempting to count the number of tobacco incidents in a single Coen brothers’ movie using this particular definition as a guide, I quickly realized that it is extremely vague. This definition also makes it somewhat impossible to actually count every individual tobacco-related item onscreen with all of the overlapping content and other elements. Also, it’s impossible to know which individual tobacco products are repeated from earlier shots since so many physical edits to the film occur, so to do a true investigation of my own I quickly had to augment the above definition a bit to capture every tobacco incident within the Coen brothers’ 17 movies.

For my own personal definition, I declared that a tobacco incident is essentially one uninterrupted shot of a single tobacco product or any other tobacco-related paraphernalia such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, packs of cigarettes, ashtrays, rising smoke, cigarette brand logos, advertisements, or even any dialog or song lyrics related to tobacco, etc. Also, an item such as a cigarette can even leave the frame momentarily but once the overall static shot is cut, interrupted, or changed in any way this ends that particular tobacco incident. Repeating the same shot of a tobacco product multiple times (with distinct interruptions, cuts, or edits in between) will ultimately count as multiple tobacco incidents regardless of the fact that it might be the same cigarette or ashtray being portrayed over and over during the scene. As long as a traditional film cut is made that is the container for the entire tobacco incident, by my definition. Any repeated or similar shots will be counted as completely separate tobacco incidents since repeats by the Coen brothers are often from slightly different angles or entirely different shots altogether but attempting to depict the same tobacco incident.

Ultimately, my hope is that counting each individual “shot” of tobacco will give viewers a much better sense of how much time tobacco products are actually present onscreen during the Coen brothers’ movies rather than simply counting the number of cigarettes an actor might smoke during a film. For example, an actor might only smoke three cigarettes during a two hour movie however a viewer might actually be witnessing over 200 individual edits or unique shots of the actor smoking those three cigarettes. By combining dozens and dozens of individual shots or angles, the Coen brothers are able to keep tobacco products onscreen much more often. Because of all the alternate camera angles and other film editing techniques used, my new method of counting tobacco incidents will hopefully be a little more universal.

Both definitions above describe a single tobacco item visible onscreen as being equal to a single tobacco incident. For example, a man holding or smoking a cigarette equals one tobacco incident. Two people smoking at the same time would count as two incidents, two people smoking and sharing an ashtray would count as three tobacco incidents, and so on… Similarly, a stack of 27 ashtrays will count as 27 tobacco incidents, etc. Before you ask, yes there is a scene in the Coen brothers’ first movie Blood Simple (1984) with a stack of 27 ashtrays. Where the counting get’s really tricky: A cigar sitting in an ashtray counts as a single tobacco incident, but if the cigar visibly leaves the ashtray onscreen that would then count as two tobacco incidents. Also, if someone removes a cigarette from its pack onscreen, that might count as two tobacco incidents.

I’ve also decided to count appearances of marijuana as tobacco incidents during this study because most of the scenes from Coen brothers’ movies involving marijuana show a hand-rolled cigarette or “joint” being smoked and this could be equally as influential as tobacco to younger viewers. In fact, I don’t think you ever actually see the green marijuana drug in its original form and it is rarely (if ever) mentioned what is actually contained within these hand-rolled cigarettes being smoked onscreen. Coincidentally or not, the Coen brothers only seem to depict marijuana being smoked in that generic hand-rolled cigarette format. That should tell us something, I guess.

Ultimately, I decided not to count cigarette lighters as tobacco paraphernalia during this study. Why did I omit lighters? At the beginning I was thinking that lighters are not always exclusive to tobacco or smoking however in the films of the Coen brothers, they most certainly are — so I should probably rethink this. Dozens of Zippo brand lighters and other large decorative lighters appear throughout the movies by the Coen brothers and trust me no one ever uses them to light up a stove or ignite some fireworks. Even still, I have continued with my decision to omit lighters however I will mention them along the way with other interesting items. Miscellaneous items not contributing to the total of tobacco incidents will appear with an (*) asterisk in the first column.


What are “Smokescreens”?

Part of the reason that the Coen brothers and other Hollywood directors are able to embed so many tobacco products within a film and not have viewers think twice about it, in my opinion, is because of other extremely subtle plot devices or other scare tactics which I like to call smokescreens. One example of a “smokescreen” used by the Coen brothers might be the extremely violent act that appears in the third act such as the infamous woodchipper scene in Fargo (1996). After that awful bloody woodchipper moment near the end of the film, all of that claustrophobic chainsmoking inside the car scenes didn’t seem so disgusting after all. A “smokescreen” such as the shocking woodchipper scene helps the casual viewer to forget about the hundreds of tobacco incidents they’ve just witnessed and instead lets them leave the theater thinking about other horrible moments.


BREAKDOWN OF SPREADSHEET DATA

COLUMN 1 – ID #
The list in the first column shows a simple identification number for that particular tobacco incident or incidents. Multiple tobacco incidents may appear within the same line however the count in the first column will always reflect this. All other items worth mentioning but which do not count toward the total number of tobacco incidents such as Zippo lighters will appear with an (*) asterisk rather than a number in the first column.

COLUMN 2 – TIME
The actual timecode for that particular tobacco incident when it occurs in the movie. For easy reference, the timecode that is listed will actually correspond to the moment when the tobacco incident first becomes clearly visible onscreen.

COLUMN 3 – ANGLE
I’ve carefully listed the camera angle for each individual shot containing the tobacco incident. This will not only help to identify the correct tobacco incident I’m referring to but also illustrate how some tobacco products are given far more focus than others. For example, some cigarette smokers really do appear in a closeup (CU) shot for the audience to see clearly. I also think it’s important to note when a tobacco incident is clearly visible at center screen rather than appearing deep in the background.

COLUMN 4 – DESCRIPTION
A short description of the action or individual tobacco incident. The color key below refers to the different types of incidents I’ve listed.

YELLOW BOXES
Inside the yellow boxes, you will find my personal comments or other interesting tidbits about that particular scene.


COLOR KEY

An instance of tobacco
An instance of tobacco brand name
An instance of tobacco involving a celebrity actor
An instance of branded product placement
An instance of alcohol product placement
An instance of wacky tobacky


FILM ANGLES

BE Bird’s eye view
CU Close up
CS Crane shot
DA Dutch Angle
DS Dolly shot
ES Establishing shot
ECU Extreme close up
EL Eye-level shot
FS Full shot
HA High angle
LA Low angle
LS Long shot
MD Medium shot
OTS Over the shoulder
RA Reverse angle
WS Wide shot
2S Two shot
3S Three shot

Click on any of the films below to view a full list of the individual tobacco incidents…

1. Blood Simple
2. Raising Arizona
3. Miller’s Crossing
4. Barton Fink
5. The Hudsucker Proxy
6. Fargo
7. The Big Lebowski
8. O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?
9. The Man Who Wasn’t There
10. Intolerable Cruelty
11. The Ladykillers
12. No Country For Old Men
13. Burn After Reading
14. A Serious Man
15. True Grit
16. Inside Llewyn Davis
17. Hail, Caesar!