In 1995 the movie “Smoke” was released, starring Harvey Kietel and William Hurt. The centre of the film is the Brooklyn Cigar Co., located at the corner of Third Street and Eighth Avenue.
The Brooklyn Cigar Co is owned by Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel. Every morning at 8 a.m. Auggie walks across the road from his store locate don the corner of Third and Eighth and takes a photograph of it. The angle of the camera never varies, just the weather, the people on the street, the colour of the sky.
One of Auggie’s customers is Paul Benjamin. Paul’s an author who is suffering from writer’s block, he’s suffered it ever since his wife, Ellen, was shot and killed one morning right outside the Brooklyn Cigar Co. One morning Paul wanders in and sees Auggie’s camera. They get talking, and Auggie reveals that photography is his hobby, his art, his life’s work. Paul tells Auggie he’d love to see his photographs, and so, Auggie closes up the shop and takes Paul back to his house to show him his collection.
Auggie pulls out a set of large, heavy photo albums and places them before Paul Benjamin, the writer. Paul opens the first page. There, mounted on a stark black background, are four photos, and they’re all of Auggie’s shop, the Brooklyn Cigar Co, on the corner of Third and Eighth, all taken from exactly the same place, at exactly the same angle. Paul turns the next page and he sees exactly the same thing. Four photographs of Auggie’s shop, all taken from the same place, at the same angle. He turns the next page and he sees more. He starts turning the pages faster and faster, til he’s rapidly flipping through the book, when Auggie puts a hand down on the back page and says, “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.”
“But Auggie”, says Paul, “they’re all the same.”
“They’re all the same,” Auggie replies, “but each one is different from all the others.” Auggie explains that he has 4,000 pictures of the same place, but that each picture is different. “It’s my corner, after all. I mean, it’s just one little part of the world, but things take place there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.”
Then Paul sees someone he knows in one of the photos: his wife, who was pregnant when she was shot and killed one morning on the street outside the store. “It’s Ellen,” he says. “Look at her. Look at my sweet darling.” And he begins to cry.
Now all the photos do not look the same anymore…It’s just that you’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.