Thursday 15 October 2015

Great Wine Moments In Movie History VII: An Eternal Golden Braid

...Caché (2005): This wonderfully unsettling psychological thriller from Michael Haneke, deconstructs the supercomfortable middle-class wolrd of Daniel Auteuil, menaced by a hidden observer with a surveillance camera. Terrible truths are, inevitably, revealed. Being a film about well-heeled French domestic life - however threatened - it also contains several eating and drinking moments, and some handsome red wines: one of the absolute cornerstones of French culture, invisibly corrupted, as it turns out, by the invisible presence of Auteuil's stalker. That's how dreadful the threat is: even the innocent, pleasurable, wine becomes a part of it. So what antidote can there be to this existential terror?

Carry On Up The Khyber (1968): Best of the Carry Ons by a considerable margin, not least because of the celebrated sequence at the end of the film in which Sid James, Joan Sims and the rest, plough (with full decorations) through a formal British Raj dinner, under heavy bombardment from an army of enraged tribesmen led by the Khasi of Kalabar (Kenneth Williams) and his lieutenant, Bungdit Din (Bernard Bresslaw). Bottles explode with shot, the chandelier crashes from the ceiling onto the table centrepiece, the orchestra is hit by a mortar shell, but the civilities never waver - not least in the the consoling and civilising presence of fine wines, a countervailing force against the dark barbarism outside. Clarets, from the look of them. Lady Ruff-Diamond (Sims), picking a chunk of ceiling from her pompadour hairstyle: 'Oh dear! I seem to have got a little plastered!'

Bicycle Thieves (1948): But what if you are the outsider? What if you are marginalised - like the father and son in Vittorio de Sica's masterpiece? Wine becomes implicated in your misfortune, an index, even, of your poverty and despair. Father (Lamberto Maggiorani) treats son (Enzo Staiola) to a restaurant meal with wine, a consolation for their latest round of misfortunes. 'Let's forget everything and get drunk!' he cries. But the next table is occupied by a family of gallingly prosperous suburban Romans. Their wine is plentiful and arrives in smart bottles with labels; the father and son's comes in a greasy blank carafe. The father's good mood begins to slip away. Within minutes, he is compulsively rehashing the events that have led to his downfall - the theft of his bike, mainly - and outlining the humiliation that threatens to overwhelm them. The wine is a false friend, confirming the mood, rather than banishing it. 'We'll find it,' says the son, braver than his father, 'we'll go every day to the Porta Portese'. Do they get drunk? No. But Dumbo does.

Dumbo (1941): This is one which Disney himself had to finish off, when most of his studio went on strike. It is also the one in which Dumbo and his friend, Timothy Mouse, accidentally get soused on some leftover grog - resulting in the authentically troubling Pink Elephants On Parade sequence. As anyone with children will tell you, this is one of the hardest episodes in a cartoon film to explicate to a four-year-old - harder, in its way, than the death of Bambi's mother or the surprising uselessness of The Jungle Book. Its vertiginous transformations and distortions (multicoloured devil elephants, amoebal ghost elephants) have something of the Little Nemo cartoons, but without the charm; while the atmosphere of sick menace is as bad as anything from Max Fleischer. This is not drink as we know it. This is a trip to the pharmacopeia, and one which tells you a lot about America's grimly conflicted relationship with drink and self-loathing. Not entirely dispelled by

The French Connection (1971): Another great film: William Friedkin's best, Gene Hackman's best, an unimprovable car chase, and a terrific stake-out sequence with Popeye Doyle (Hackman) freezing his butt off as he watches bad guy Charnier (Fernando Rey) tuck into a gourmet meal in a discreetly sumptuous New York restaurant (actually the Copain). Hackman gnaws a congealing pizza and blows on his chapped fingers; Rey luxuriates in, yes, a fine wine, a wine whose very fineness indicates how terrible and heartless he can be. This is wine as metaphor for evil - rather a remorseless depiction, especially from the country which gave us Dean Martin, but there you are. There is no necessary benevolence in the drink after all - only the capacity to take on a moral colour from whatever its surroundings happen to be. Which leads us handily back to the bottle on the sleek Parisan dining table...


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