La Cinema Olfactif


There has always been a literal-minded school of narrow thought which holds that the sense of smell, a scent, a perfume cannot be presented on film or indeed on any other visual media. This of course is a great nonsense: “Films are fantasy” as Mr Crisp used to say. “The worst film in the world is preferable to real life”. And the allure of fragrance is likewise all about the power of the imagination, the mind, the memory and the instinctive responses of our animal natures. Perfume is as much about suggestion as it is about the manifested bottled essence. The exquisite packaging and the crystal bottle may draw us to the perfume like a bee to the flower, but it is how our minds interpret the contents that works the magic.

It is a truism that our brains, noses and minds are as individual as our finger prints. An unknown perfume that we see/feel arousing emotions on the screen is the most powerful and desirable of all: the suggestion of a scent sets up an irresistible Pavlovian reflex. Involuntarily and feverishly, the viewer constructs and inhales the private scent of his dreams. How shrewd is Billy Wilder in DOUBLE INDEMNITY to have Barbara Stanwyck unable to recall (or unwilling to divulge?) the name of the fragrance¤ that is driving Fred MacMurray to the outer limits of homicidal desire. The camera merely zooms in on Fred’s damply lustful face as he smells her hair to devastating effect. If we want to take up clues from the hot dust motes, ” the sour taste of her iced tea” or the sultry California gardens heavy with sticky flowers ( “how could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”) we are free to do so. Just so with Diana Dors’s phial of “Christmas Rose” in YIELD TO THE NIGHT – the pure rose that turns sick, the rose in glittering white sequins that is broken on the gallows.*


So you can see how fascinated I am by Mark Buxton’s creations for FOLIE A PLUSIEURS, a continuing series of fragrances which takes moments from the movies to enhance this arcane and magical form of sensory engagement. In each case the great Buxton designs a scent to express his personal visceral reaction to a scene, a moment, a line in a film – the perfume-child of his emotion then becoming part of the group cinematic experience. What is revolutionary here is that for the first time the audience is led (by the nose) to a communal sharing of a living screen fragrance: the imagination must still play an integral part – each viewer will experience the smell discretely and personally; hopefully, too, controversially. But Buxton’s unique role is to provide an olfactory commentary on the on-screen action; each perfume is birthed from celluloid and simultaneously gives an added depth, insight and resonance to the movie in question. Instead of a film historian discoursing on dialogue and direction, one of the world’s top perfumers explores the emotions of the movie through that infinitely refined and mysterious (though often neglected) sense of smell. Simultaneously, Buxton’s creations probe and stimulate the emotions of the audience: the ultimate in modern immersive cinema.


Mark Buxton covers a wide spectrum on this scented odyssey: from the exuberant surrealist fantasy-comedy of DAISIES, the nutty Czech succes de scandale of 1966, to the jazz motifs of MOOD INDIGO which inspire a floating world of lilies and incense, smoke and smooth warm salty skin. With INDIGO, too, Mark peels away a second inner skin and takes inspiration from the 1947 novel by Boris Vian upon which the film is based: wheels within wheels. We experience the creepier odours of Sofia Coppola’s THE VIRGIN SUICIDES; and the cold grimy urban Paris sprawl & the stench of hate in LA HAINE. That classic of Cinema Realiste. The formula inspired by this most despairing of movies is the foetid reek of a cold damp cellar, breathing out soiled leather, blood, sulphur and concrete. But I am wary of providing too many pointers as I do not wish mere words to invade and limit the phantasms of your own intimate sensual reverie. Buxton’s cinema is a private experience, a voyage into the scented darkness of dreams. You need patience to be prepared to work alongside him. You have to adapt to his rhythm and the interaction of film and fragrance; akin to adjusting to the leisurely pace and titles of the Silents.


We may see FOLIE A PLUSIEURS as potentially subversive, even threatening, in a peculiarly exciting way. If, as is claimed, “70% of all emotions are due to smell rather than visual stimuli” then Buxton’s pioneering work could set cinema as we know it by the ears and turn it head over heels. We may end up with a reversal of the senses where the visual satisfaction is largely replaced by the olfactory. And, as in THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, we revert to the beast men and women in Charles Laughton’s House of Pain.”


¤ she bought it in Mexico, in Ensenada; over the border, where bad things happen…

* in Holloway prison, the girl who once sold luxurious perfume is not allowed to keep even a tin mug of violets by her bed.

Now film fans, having whetted your appetite for a whole new life experience, LES SENTEURS has an Irresistible Competition for you:


We have 5 pairs of tickets to give away to a special screening of Still, starring Game of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen, at the historic Regent Street Cinema in London Friday 8th May in the gracious presence of the cast and crew. To be in with a chance of winning, you simply need to head to our Twitter, follow Les Senteurs and retweet the pinned post. Alternatively, like our page on Facebook and share the competition post. We will choose 5 winners at random on Tuesday May 5th.


The winner must be able to attend the screening in Central London at 19:30 on Friday 8th May 2015. Tickets are non-transferable and there is no cash alternative. Winners will be chosen at random on Monday 4th May and will be able to collect their tickets from the box office on the night of the 8th May at least 30 minutes before the showing. 

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