American culture in the mid-20th century begs a multitude of descriptions, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would probably be “smoking.” People chain-smoked through the Vietnam protests, Watergate scandal, Stonewall riots and innumerable other events, both historic and mundane.

In the intimate, lovingly crafted “20th Century Women,” the cluster of characters smoke incessantly. Smoke is on par with oxygen, with the cigarette as much a part of daily life as intellectual talk. Mike Mills, who wrote and directed the movie says: “Back then, everyone smoked in the real world and everyone smoked in the movies. As a filmmaker, I can tell you that cigarette smoke brings an ambience to the frame like nothing else. And smoking used to look so glamorous … in classical Hollywood movies, everyone had cigarettes in their hands and the scenes are wreathed in smoke.”

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