On Global Morning Live, we chat about how Hollywood’s most memorable characters, from James Bond to Hannibal Lector, have always had a little help from the wine bottle … and help yourself to those I nominate as the best wines in a supporting role for watching the Oscars this year.
By Natalie MacLean
Although this year’s Oscar-nominated movies have many merits, oenophiles are bitter over the lack of great wine scenes. For example, couldn’t The Wolf of Wall Street show a little class and decant some Chateau Margaux in the midst of all that excess?
Leonardo DiCaprio’s last pivotal wine scene was in the 2002 movie, Catch Me if You Can. His character’s parents unwittingly spill wine on the carpet as they’re dancing, then grind the stain in with their feet—a harbinger of darker days to come. (Wine lovers in the audience whispered: “Use salt.” “No, white wine will do it.” Meanwhile, the beer drinkers were able to follow the plot.)
Like some of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, wine has long been cast in both good and bad guy roles: either it is a mark of sophistication or of evil. Rarely, is it neutral in the way beer is.
Perhaps that’s because we view wine as a drink loaded with our own insecurities. For example, appreciating wine is often part of both coming-of-age films and make-over movies. In My Fair Lady (1964), Professor Henry Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle how to taste wine.
In a modern twist on the same theme, Michael Caine plays an aristocratic snob hired to teach the tomboy undercover cop Sandra Bullock how to act like a lady in Miss Congeniality (2002). In a restaurant, he sips on his red wine while she chugs her beer. Caine says to the sommelier, “Gaston, I’ll have another cabernet sauvignon.” He looks at Bullock and asks, “And another keg for you?”
When the streetwise CIA agent Chris Rock must pass himself off as an art dealer in Bad Company (2002), he’s taught how to appreciate bordeaux and port. And of course, there’s the champagne of James Bond making wine connoisseurship sexy. But mostly it’s women who are on the receiving end of instruction: In the 1958 musical Gigi, for instance, Lesley Caron must learn to drink wine as part of her training as a courtesan.
The most memorable song in that film (after Thank Heaven for Little Girls, of course) is The Night They Invented Champagne. More than any other type of wine, champagne represents refinement, luxury, love and celebration.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman drink champagne in Casablanca (1942) to forget the imminent war. Sam plays As Time Goes By, and Bogie says to Bergman, “Henri [the proprietor] wants us to finish this bottle, and then three more. He says he’ll water his garden with champagne before he’ll let the Germans drink it.” He offers his classic toast, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” But when they kiss, the camera pans down to reveal that Bergman has tipped over her champagne glass—symbolizing the end of her happy times with Bogart.
Many films use the sophistication and pretension of wine as humour. In Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Meg Ryan’s boyfriend tries to impress her in a restaurant by ordering a bottle of Dom DeLuise. In Batman Forever (1995), the beautiful Dr. Chase Meridian says to Batman, “I’ll bring the wine, you bring your scarred psyche.”
In The Jerk (1979), the nouveau riche Steve Martin takes his fiancée to a fancy French restaurant. In his opinion, it’s a disaster: First there are snails on the plates, and then they’re served old wine. Martin insists on a bottle of their freshest—and reminds the waiter not to forget to put umbrellas in the glasses this time.
Martin’s the man, after all, who once ordered a “beige wine”—not red, not white, just middle of the road in a Saturday Night Live skit. And in The Muppet Movie (1979), playing the sommelier to Kermit and Miss Piggy, he brings them a sparkling muscatel (one of the finest from Idaho) and asks if Kermit would like to “sniff the bottle cap.” After pouring, he produces two straws for their glasses.
Looks alone have made red wine the preferred drink of horror movies, often an omen of evil. The Dracula movies associate wine with blood. “Aren’t you drinking?” inquires the guest, as Count Dracula pours him a glass of claret. “I never drink … wine,” the Count replies. In Interview With The Vampire (1994), Tom Cruise wrings out the blood of a rat into a crystal wine glass for Brad Pitt, who’s feeling squeamish about human blood. Pitt has since recovered and started his own wine label, joining the ranks of other celebrity winemakers, including Avatar director James Cameron’s BC winery.
Silence of the Lambs is in the same queasy vein. After it hit the theatres in 1991, many wine lovers (and most census takers) eased up on the chianti after watching Hannibal Lecter pair the Tuscan wine with fava beans and human liver. (Oenophiles sniffed that, in the novel, the wine was a more classic Amarone della Valpolicella.)
A decade later in the sequel Hannibal, Lecter’s connoisseurship rises to a new level: he selects a 1996 Château Phélan-Ségur. And while his decision to pair such a robust red with pan-fried human frontal lobes cannot be faulted, that he also chooses to serve it with caviar is simply barbaric.
Wine has also made hundreds of appearances in Hollywood thrillers. In Disclosure (1994) Demi Moore uses wine to instigate some nefarious action of her own. In her executive penthouse office late one night, Moore tries to seduce her new manager, a married man, played by Michael Douglas.
She tells him to pour each of them a glass of wine. Picking up the bottle, a rare Californian cult cabernet, Douglas asks, “Pahlmeyer’91—how did you know I’ve been looking for that?” “Well,” she says, “I want all the boys under me to be happy.”
Of course, those were the sun-dappled days of innocence, before wineries and other consumer products began paying tens of thousands of dollars for such a mention. Word has that Disclosure’s production manager phoned Jayson Pahlmeyer and asked for a free case of his wine to use in the movie.
Pahlmeyer told him that it cost $25 a bottle and hung up. But then Pahlmeyer recalled that the bottle of champagne that Tom Cruise drank in Top Gun had garnered Taittinger $150,000 in free publicity. So he called the production manager back. When Disclosure was finally released, Pahlmeyer’s phone rang constantly, for weeks; and it rang some more after the European release and the television rerun. Had he made four times the amount of wine actually produced, he could have sold it all.
When the Academy Awards air this year, wine lovers will no doubt be watching with a good glass of wine in hand, reminding them of the irritating way that many actors’ hold their wine glass—by the bowl rather than the stem, thereby warming the wine and leaving unsightly fingerprints.
Directors consult all sorts of experts, from set designers to makeup artists; so isn’t it time that they included an oenophile on the team? If nothing else, she could choose the wine when the cast dines out at those chi-chi Hollywood restaurants. Martin Scorcese are you listening?
Posted with permission of Global News.