They say, after all, that smell is our most powerful sense. And although film is predominantly a visual medium and does not (as of yet) have a 3D scratch & sniff option, any true blue moviegoer knows there are indisputably times when despite the barrier of the movie screen you can still smell what is happening up there. Yes, you can.
So, what places/images/moments in the movies do I most remember smelling?
5 Places In The Movies I Can Smell
Gone Baby Gone. I remain more partial to Ben Affleck’s directorial debut than his recent Oscar winning “Argo”, and one reason is the immaculate set design (holla, Sharon Seymour & Kyra Friedman Curcio!). And when I say immaculate, what I mean is it immaculately designs dumpy, lived-in, ultra-realistic sets. And there is no set I love more than Helene McCready’s house. Look at that crappy carpet! Just look at it and you can SMELL the crumbs of half-eaten Sno Balls and spilled Miller High Life and un-vacuumed dirt and grime and cigarette smoke all embedded in its fibers. Its distinct aroma in a word? Nasty. Just like Helene.
Twister. Yes, I understand Jan de Bont’s hollow spectacle is not necessarily a film of emotionally affecting visuals. It is mostly CGI tornadoes and CGI cows and a CGI Cary Elwes (I’m fairly certain he was CGI’d in that anyway). But…there is a scene and a shot of which I have admittedly written before that captures – with all due respect and thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the tragedies in Oklahoma (where the movie is set) – the electricity of a stormy Midwestern afternoon. Bill Paxton stands outside a roadside BBQ joint, gazing at the ominous storm clouds in the distance. And, dear reader, to see those clouds is to smell that rain.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Finicky Neal Page has just taken a shower in the low-rent motel bathroom where he has been forced to spend the night with loutish Del Griffith. Del has already been in the bathroom. Towels, sopped with water, lay everywhere. Water is pooled on the floor. The sink is “like a demilitarized zone.” And though, of course, you can’t see it, the odor of Del Griffith permeates every inch of that room. We all know that smell, don’t we? We have all, terribly, unwillingly, encountered it at one time or another, haven’t we? It’s a damp pungency that makes you shiver just to think about.
Platoon. Privates Taylor, King and Crawford are, unfortunately, relegated to latrine duty. So there they are, in the midst of the Vietnam War, which is pretty much bad enough all on its own, hauling cans of soldier piss away from outhouses and then burning it into oblivion. Ugh. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore loved the smell of napalm in the morning, to be sure, but napalm isn’t the aroma I recall when thinking of war movies – it’s the militaristic urine being carted away by the grunts in “Platoon.”
Once Upon A Time In The West. Put simply, I have never smelled a scene more than the scene near the end of Sergio Leone’s epic masterpiece when Cheyenne (Jason Robards) shows up one final time at the frontier home of Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) and asks if she made coffee. Which, of course, “this time (she) did.” She pours a bowl of hot water so he can shave. She pours the coffee. The sweat glistens on their faces in the un-air-conditioned Old West. Hot water. Coffee. Sweat. Dust. Fragrantly, it all wafts through the air, mixing together, fashioning an odor so palpable you can literally (which is to say, figuratively) see it ooze from the pores of your TV.
---Now, let's keep it rolling. What places in the movies have you smelled?