Look­ing back


Virtuozity - - Virtuozo -

IN THE LATE 1990S, Sylvester Stal­lone was go­ing through some­thing of a ca­reer cri­sis. He’d de­cided to hang up his box­ing gloves and his gun hol­sters, and was at­tempt­ing to re­ju­ve­nate his im­age as an ac­tor. He wanted to star in more dra­matic films, films that didn’t de­pend on shots of his bulging bi­ceps, or of him gunning down end­less bad guys.

Af­ter all, the man’s al­ways been a fine art lover, and so he wanted to re­flect that in his own art (he wrote or co-wrote most of the Rocky and Rambo films). Even at the height of his ac­tion-man era, Stal­lone be­lied his on-screen, tough-guy per­sona by, in pri­vate, snap­ping up price­less works of art, his­tor­i­cal arte­facts and be­guil­ing prop­er­ties. He also de­vel­oped, dur­ing this time, a taste for fine wines and, of course, cigars.

What’s ironic about this point in Stal­lone’s life is that, dur­ing this cen­tury, he has found suc­cess in re­turn­ing back to his po­si­tion as a man of ac­tion. Af­ter a rea­son­ably dire few years in Hol­ly­wood, his ca­reer was rein­vig­o­rated with the re­lease of the last Rambo film (2008). And from there, he would go on to cre­ate the Ex­pend­ables, an all-ac­tion se­ries fea­tur­ing a mash-up of the world’s best-loved ac­tion he­roes since the 1980s. Per­haps he felt that his artis­tic self was bet­ter kept pri­vate, and that the ac­tion hero would be his pub­lic per­sona. Af­ter all, he’s al­ways taken that at­ti­tude with cigars.

“I don't know whether that's con­scious or not, but I feel some­times that smok­ing is, be­lieve it or not, more of a pri­vate af­fair. It's some­thing that I look for­ward to, that I covet,” Stal­lone said in a 1998 in­ter­view when asked about his at­ti­tude to smok­ing cigars.

Stal­lone be­gan his cigar-smok­ing ca­reer when he was film­ing F.I.S. T. in the late 1970s. He’d been a heavy cig­a­rette smoker for most of his life, to the point where, even when he was film­ing the first Rocky film, he’d be puff­ing away right be­fore get­ting into the box­ing ring to film. But he de­cided enough was enough, and around the same time, de­cided that, in F.I.S. T. the main char­ac­ter could ben­e­fit from be­ing a cigar smoker. At the time, he ex­plained that the cigar helped him to get into the char­ac­ter’s mind­set, be­cause, to him, a cigar con­veys a sense of lofti­ness.

“A cigar does that be­cause we've grown up see­ing cigars as hav­ing a con­no­ta­tion of power or pres­tige, or at least the man who smokes them seems to be very glam­orous and al­most mono­lithic com­pared to a cig­a­rette smoker. A guy who smokes a cigar seems to be a very con­fi­dent hu­man be­ing. Af­ter that point, I went back to cig­a­rettes once or twice

and then I quit to­tally. Cleaned out my lungs for three years and then went back to smok­ing cigars in­tel­li­gently, for lack of a bet­ter term, from a con­nois­seur's point of view,” he said in an in­ter­view on the sub­ject.

And Stal­lone took on the role of cigar con­nois­seur ex­tremely se­ri­ously, even plac­ing his artis­tic eye over the cigar bands. Be­cause of this, he’s claimed that he’s very par­tial to Ar­turo Fuentes cigars. He loves the Fuente Fuente Opusx, but he also loves the pack­ag­ing that the cigars from that brand come in. Stal­lone once claimed that, aes­thet­i­cally, he found the Opusx to be beau­ti­ful.

“And the band is kind of like a Re­nais­sance fil­i­gree. It has a kind of bold, al­most In­qui­si­tional-type X. The band al­most looks like a piece of metal; again, the band is so aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. I think im­age has a lot to do with cigars and peo­ple don't quite un­der­stand enough that there is the aes­thetic qual­ity,” he said in the same in­ter­view.

And Stal­lone’s cri­tiques of cigar bands can turn neg­a­tive, too. For ex­am­ple, he be­lieves erni­sa­tion of a lot of Cuban brands, pre­fer­ring in­stead to cel­e­brate cigars be­cause of their her­itage and his­tory, much as he cel­e­brates clas­sic art.

“I think of it as reach­ing back into an­tiq­uity; though it doesn't go that far back, I think of it as that. And I think it is one of those things like a fine wine that has moved on into the modern era but the beauty of it is an­cient. I hate to see the mod­erni­sa­tion of the cigar,” he said.

Per­haps this gets at the rea­son why Stal­lone felt more com­fort­able re­turn­ing to his ac­tion man roots. Af­ter all, the world has mod­ernised, with 1980s ac­tion he­roes all but for­got­ten. But few can deny the charm that these he­roes had, and the af­fect that they had on us when we were younger. Per­haps, by re­turn­ing to those days, Stal­lone is telling us to con­sider that progress for the sake of progress might not be the right way, and that some things are worth hold­ing onto.

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