Hookah Western Cinema
, Authored by James Robertson, Estimated Read Time: 6 min
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, Authored by James Robertson, Estimated Read Time: 6 min
A brief look at the portrayal of hookah in film and what it represents to a Western audience
The Skull Hookah in Fantastic Beasts is made of an old human skull and has magical powers. Belonging to Gellert Grindelwald, it possibly came into his possession during his time at the Durmstrang Institute.
The appearance of the skull seems to be based on a´Beinhaus skull´ one of more than six hundred intricately painted skulls in the largest collection of skulls in the world kept at St Michael's chapel in Hallstatt, Austria. Like many of these decorated skulls the hookah is engraved with writing. The German words translate to ´For the greater good´ and the year 1898, perhaps alluding to a traumatic event in the characters past. The wreathes painted on the forehead is commonly found on other skulls in the Beinhaus collection.
When the hookah is smoked, the user sees the visions of Gellert Grindelwald. He used the powers of the hookah to communicate his visions to his followers and other wizards.
The skull hookah is instantly recognisable as an exotic and magical object. To many cultures, a human skull is sinister looking and representative of death. The notion of receiving a vision from smoking the shisha is reminiscent of the effects of psychoactive substances. A western audience might be so unfamiliar with the use of shisha that they assume the pipes are used to ingest these sorts of drugs.
In the story, the Skull Hookah is eventually destroyed.
When we first meet the pale, white twin enforcers in Matrix reloaded they are sitting at a dinner party-like setting with a beautiful, silver dual hose hookah between them. In fact, as the camera moves towards the party we can see one of the twins drawing on the hose before gently placing it back on its cradle. The hookah pipe is conspicuously lacking a foil and coals, perhaps for aesthetic reasons for the shot. Indeed, the silver colour emphasises the striking appearance of the white twins.
In modern Hollywood movies smoking is usually an activity reserved for the bad guys, and these two are the baddest of the bunch. Smoking adds a devil may care attitude to these characters and the presence of the hookah gives them an air of sophistication.
The silver colour of the smoking vessel reminds us of the metallic mirror which is the gateway through which Neo exits the Matrix for the first time and the hoses are reminiscent of the multitude of connective tubes and pipes that link the humans in their pods.
In the Old Quarter of Cairo, Egypt in 1936, Indiana Jones encounters another shisha smoking bad guy, Rene Belloq. Believing Belloq to be responsible for the death of his love interest, Jones threatens to kill him but Belloq has chosen to meet Jones in the busy hookah bar to prevent him from being able to do so. During their conversation, Belloq has his men surround him.
Visible in the scene are several ornate silver hookah pipes complete with coals. The beautiful pipes are at odds with the run down and dirty looking bar in which they are being smoked. Smoke drifts in the room and around the faces of the actors.
The shisha are used in this scene to give the bad guy a suitable menace. When Jones spots him he is drawing on the mouthpiece. Again the shisha seems to convey a level of elegance and sophistication to the character as he muses that Indiana Jones is a worthy adversary.
In Disney’s classic, Aladdin, a Western audience is shown a love story set in the Ancient Middle East. Outside the city of Agrabah a mysterious merchant suddenly launches into an enthusiastic sales pitch. One of his products is a typical hookah in gold or brass with a single hose. He introduces it as a Combination Hookah and Coffee Maker. He then demonstrates its extra feature which is that it can also be used to make Julienne fries! Turning it upside down he uses it like a stamping press, raising it back up to reveal a pile of freshly cut potato chips!
To a Western audience the device is recognisable but exotic. A symbol of the Middle Eastern backdrop against which the story is set. The juxtaposition of the exotic with the banal extra functions is humorous, but reminds the audience that what is foreign to them is familiar to others.
Unfortunately at the Premium Way we are currently out of stock of Combination Hookah and Coffee Makers.
Perhaps the most iconic portrayal of a hookah pipe in Western cinema is the Hookah Smoking Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. Alice interrupts the caterpillar while he is in a deep state of relaxation. She sees him blowing elaborate smoke rings in the shape of letters. The shisha device has an impossibly long hose which completely wraps around him.
The caterpillar offers Alice cryptic advice and adds emphasis to his sentences by blowing smoke in the shape of letters or symbols of the words he speaks.
In the end, he puffs repeatedly on the mouthpiece until he is completely concealed by a thick cloud of smoke, out of which he emerges as a butterfly.
The hookah itself and the way the caterpillar is smoking it gives him an air of mystery. Although the wisdom he imparts is beyond the audiences understanding, even nonsensical, the hookah is used to build an image of a wise philosopher
We´re not all bad guys trying to create a menacing air of sophistication, for us, smoking shisha is about relaxing and enjoying the company of our loved ones. But if you´ve got an idea of what you would like your next hookah pipe to look like, please drop us a line and let us help you choose the shisha pipe that fits your way!