I hardly know where to start in enumerating the things I didn’t like about this movie. … Let’s begin with wine.
I know nothing about wine. You know that slop bucket Paul Giamatti poured over his head in Sideways? If you gave me a glass of that I couldn’t distinguish it from Chateau Rothschild ’65. I do know a bit about wine snobbery, though. It is my feeling that 90% of the bullshit in the world is to be found in politics. A good part of the other 10% is to be found in wine. At one point a man in the movie says that wine is culture. Where you find wine, you find civilization. Where there is no wine, there goes barbarism. Bullshit. Wine growers, wine critics, wine drinkers … they can’t string three words together without two of them being bullshit.
The thesis of this movie is that big American wine makers like Mondavi, and now big French winemakers kissing the asses of big American winemakers, are polluting the precious culture and heritage of the great wines of the world, all of which happen to be found in France. (Well, maybe a few primitive ones in Italy.) A Chardonnay cannot be grown in California or Australia; what matters is the terroire, the entire growing environment of the grape. Ergo, a Chardonnay can only come from Chardonnay, and you don’t even dare label it Chardonnay, but only by the vineyard where it was grown.
Sacre bleu! Call out the friggin’ Foreign Legion! It is difficult for me to imagine a scandal I would have less interest in. We’re not talking about screwtop and cardboard box wine here, we’re talking only about wines selling for more than $50/bottle. And it seems possible that the people who buy and consume these wines … i.e., rich people who fancy themselves wine experts … are being cheated! Gulled! Hypnotized by Big Wine and Big Media and a guy named Robert Parker to accept inferior product and think it’s the real stuff! Imagine my horror to learn this!
Oh, screw it. I could carry on all day about the fatuousity of the wine culture, and I have other things to complain about. Things like cinematography.
When I was 21 in San Francisco, I picked up a great old Bolex 8MM camera at a pawn shop. I shot a roll of film. One of the things I shot was a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge in our car. I got the film back and looked at it. Lesson One in hand-held photography: Don’t shoot from a moving car. The footage sucks. It seems like half this film is shot from a moving car. We actually see footage taken crossing the Golden Gate Bridge! Or jerky footage of an airliner passing overhead. Or things by the side of the road, which we can’t see because the camera is too unstable. Unbelievable!
My old Bolex didn’t have a zoom lens, that first refuge of the incompetent filmmaker trying to make his crap more visually interesting. Without rhyme or reason, the camera will zoom in for a few seconds, focus, then pull back jerkily. Hey, asshole, this is supposed to be a movie about wine, not nose hairs, zits, old acne pits, and receding hairlines. Yeah, yeah, I know they teach a special course of shaky-cam in film schools these days … and please, please, somebody make them stop! They actually jerk the camera around, even if it’s on a tripod, to give it “edginess,” “immediacy,” “tension.” Anything at all to avoid the dreaded “talking head.” Well, folks, when you interview people it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a talking head here and there. Get used to it. There is another transparent technique, which is, when you don’t like someone, when you want to make him appear as a villain, shoot from the hip. Better yet, shoot from the ground. It makes him look sinister, looming. It gives you the subconscious feeling that you’re seeing footage from a concealed camera, that you’re catching the guy off guard. We get a lot of that here. Listen, I already knew where your sympathies are, idiot, you don’t have to beat me over the head with it by shooting the Mondavis out of your hip pocket.
Sheesh. I know this film isn’t worth all these words, but seldom has a film punched so many of my angry buttons, nor punched them so hard. But one last gripe. The film is 135 minutes long. (The French version was 159! But then I imagine the French could watch a much longer film that puts down the Americanism their wine industry has embraced.)
After all that, I do have to say one good thing about winemakers. Apparently they love dogs. Without exception (well, the dealer in the backseat of his car, who never seems to leave his car except to sit in his awful office) they have one or more great dogs. Whatever you can say against them, they aren’t cat people.