Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The effete connoisseur's guide to drink and film - Part I: Bourbon

Our poor, neglected blog. Such is life. This attempt at resurrecting the fine musings of Light Within Light Incorporated will hopefully be filled with as much vigor and zest as an early 90's, coke-infused Paul Verhoeven film. Failing that it would be nice to just return to regular posting.

For this first blog post in a coon's age.(1) I would like to offer a new column entitled The Effete Connoisseur. Being something of an imbiber, as well as a lover of films, there are few things that I love more than downing a drink or two or three whilst watching an enjoyable piece of cinema. And I am sure, given the immaculate taste and well-earned snobbery of our readership, that many of our visitors enjoy similarly combining the spirits of Dionysius and Athena.(2) Yet choosing which drink to enjoy with what film can provide even the most able aesthete with a challenging conundrum. In the following column I am therefore going to suggest which drinks and films pair together in the most delightful way (as the song goes) in order to further enhance our enjoyment of both. The first installment centers on that sweet, mellow spirit of the American South, a favorite pleasure around these parts, bourbon whiskey.

The following five films are all a lovely accompaniment to a nice glass of bourbon (or vice versa, depending on your priorities). I will sometimes be making more specific recommendations for how to serve the drink in question, including the occasional recipe for a cocktail, though usually I prefer my liquor as God intended it: straight from the cow.

1. Rio Bravo - Howard Hawks

Dino enjoying the occasional glass of bourbon

My favorite film, as many a visitor to this site probably already knows. Bourbon and John Wayne represent many of the best things about America (many of which, one feels, are sadly fading away, if they have not already done so): A mellow earthiness, strength of spirit and noble dignity. And cowboy boots. Wayne's John T. Chance is a man who is awfully gruff on the outside but who is at heart a true friend, a compassionate man and someone who believes in the simple dignity and joy of doing well what needs to be done. Rio Bravo is best enjoyed with a bourbon which is not too sweet yet doesn't have too much of a bite. A Knob's Creek Kentucky Bourbon served neat or on the rocks goes fantastically well with this American classic.

2. The Big Sleep - Howard Hawks

Bogart and the lovely Dorothy Malone

My other favorite film. These two are necessary pairings with my very favorite liquor. The joys of this classic film noir are too numerous to praise in this limited space but there is a particular scene, one which I have written of before, which has a special place in every whiskey connoisseur's heart. It is the scene where Phillip Marlowe is staking out a used bookstore which serves as a front for some shady dealings. He goes into another bookstore across the street to stake out the place in question and starts making small talk with the (very beautiful) girl behind the counter. A torrential rain storm starts to pour and Marlowe is about to head out to his car to continue his stakeout when the salesgirl coyly suggests he might as well wait inside.  Marlowe, catching her eye, remembers that he has a bottle of good rye in his pocket and states that he would much rather "get wet in here." The girl closes the store, brings out a couple of glasses and Marlowe gets to enjoy three of the most lovely graces imaginable, all at the same time: A beautiful girl, a used bookstore and a glass of whiskey.

Effete connoisseur's note: Though the scene in question involves a rye the film is much better enjoyed with bourbon. Rye whiskey is a bit to dry for such a full-bodied(3) and mellow piece of art. Enjoy this one on the rocks.

3. The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Sam Peckinpah

Cable Hogue enjoys the finer things in life

The unlikely follow-up to Peckinpah's 1969 masterpiece The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue is a comedic fable starring Jason Robards about a ne'er-do-well who strikes it rich by finding an abundant supply of water in the middle of the Arizona desert. Much drinking and carousing with beautiful women ensues (Stella Stevens!). Peckinpah had resumed his notorious drinking habits upon directing this film and alternated between firing the entire crew and buying them drinks, ultimately running up a $70,000(4) tab at a nearby saloon. The film is wonderfully directed and is very satirical and funny. It also contains many of the beautiful, elegiac elements that characterize Peckinpah's film of the era, a sad longing for times gone by and the values they represent. The film is a kind of poetic ode by an incredibly gifted drunkard, the cinematic equivalent to the old Irish guy at the saloon who starts a mournfoul song upon finishing his fifth pint. 

The Ballad of Cable Hogue calls for shots of Wild Turkey chased by a beer of your choice.

4. The Thin Man - W.S. Van Dyke

Nick and Nora enjoying a drink

A great detective film, comedy classic and one of the greatest examples of on-screen chemistry and charm in the two leads, William Powell and Myrna Loy. The characters of Nick and Nora Charles are among Dashiell Hammett's most beloved creations and through the subsequent film series they became an immortal part of American popular culture. Nick Charles is one of the great souses of literature and screen, a detective whose only recurring case is a case of scotch. The Charles go through many a delicious drink in this film but in my opinion its charm and good vibes are best enjoyed with a cold glass of bourbon in hand.

In this case my own personal favorite, Jim Beam bourbon, provides an especially delicious accompaniment. If you're in the mood for a cocktail give a Manhattan a try. Make sure to have a supply of Maraschino cherries at hand.

5. Our Man Flint - Daniel Mann

Some consider this to be primarily a spoof of the James Bond films. In my mind Derek Flint is just as cool as the master himself, though undeniably inhabiting a world more jovial than her Majesty's most famous agent. Flint is enjoying an early retirement, hanging out in his penthouse flat with his "playmates" Leslie, Anna, Gina and Sakito (!!!), when he is forced back into action to combat the nefarious forces of the crime syndicate Galaxy, led by a trio of mad doctors (Drs. Wu, Schneider and Krupov). A super agent must do what a super agent must do, so Flint sets out with a drink in hand a woman on his arm to save the world yet again. The film remains very funny and is extremely stylish and well done, a lovely example of the groove and verve of the 60's. And it has one of the best Coburn performances ever, a thing that is a joy to behold indeed, and is even better appreciated with Mr. Coburn's favorite drink in hand, a nice, tall glass of Kentucky bourbon. 

For a taste of Flint we recommend either a fine, high-priced bourbon on the rocks or a classic cocktail like the Old Fashioned. I am loathe to admit that I have not tried it yet but I have heard very good things about Jefferson's bourbon, distilled by McClain & Kyne distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. This sounds like the perfect accompaniment to a cool 60's spy flick.

So that's it for our first installment of the effete connoisseur's guide to drink and film. We hope you enjoyed this sojourn into the joys of cinematic imbibing and that you will join us next time when we will discuss the best films to enjoy with a glass of ice-cold vodka, whether it be straight on the rocks or in a James-Bond-Cool martini.

1) This interesting American idiom apparently comes from an old belief that racoons live for a very long time. This is, in fact, not true at all. Live and learn, dear readers.

2) Our highly intellectual elite of a readership will already know this but Athena was the goddess of the polis of Athens and was, among many other things, the patron saint of artists. Dionysius represented what Freud would later call the "id," the animal-like urges, passions and desires of man which could be brought out through mystery-rites and incantations or (perhaps more effectively) orgies and drinking-parties.

3) I am here, of course, at least in part referring to the magnificent charms (physical and otherwise) of Lauren Bacall.

4) We're talking 1970 dollars here, not adjusted for inflation. That's a lot of drinking!

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