Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on October 14, 2012
On this day of October 14 something wonderful happened 34 years ago. Before I go down that rabbit-hole, let me preface this post by stating that I like both my beer and films to be bold and distinct. During the late seventies, something pivotal happened to ensure the beer scene was about to get much better and eventually explode with quality and diversity, and during this same time some pivotal things happened to ensure that the movie scene would slowly become increasingly formulaic and homogenized. Three decades later and we now have over 2,000 craft breweries in operation, while craft films have been eclipsed by a lot of crap films that are as homogenized and market-driven as any bottle rattling down an Anheuser-Busch assembly line. The box office hits for this year are mostly remakes (Bourne Legacy, Spiderman), sequels (Men in Black 3, The Dark Knight Rises), prequels (Prometheus), or some amalgam of a recognizable franchise (The Avengers). This combination of spectacle-fueled and market-driven “product” gets test-marketed to death and is beholden to merchandise sales, delivering the visual equivalent of a piss-clear corporate Pilsner that has virtually no taste and is easily forgotten.
The first American film to have a “Part II” behind the title was The Godfather Part II, which came out in 1974 and was a box-office smash. Other box office hits that year included Death Wish, The Exorcist, Young Frankenstein, Airport 1975, Blazing Saddles, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Longest Yard, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Chinatown, Earthquake, The Great Gatsby, The Sugarland Express, The Conversation, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Are you keeping score? That’s one sequel, and a very good one mind you, while everything else in that lineup is composed of an original film. Okay, I was trying to avoid mentioning Herbie Rides Again… so, technically, yes there are two sequels that year. Still… 1974 was a great year. There is no need to extrapolate on the already well known consequences of what happened the next year, in ’75, when Jaws hit the screen, or two years later, in ’77, when Star Wars sealed the new (not-so-great) deal of the big studios putting all their eggs in one hellbound basket looking to up the ante on spectacle, but I do mention them because it neatly brings me to 1978.
On this day of October 14, in 1978, 34 years ago, something wonderful happened. That’s when President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment sponsored by Democratic Senator Alan Cranston that created an exemption from taxation for beer brewed at home for personal or family use. On a federal level this made home-brewing legal, but the 21st Amendment (which repealed prohibition in 1933) left regulation of alcohol to the states, so the exact details of what can or can’t be done still vary from state-to-state. Either way, this was the beginning of a revolution that ensured an explosion of tasty new brews. It took a while for the seed of home-brewing to extend outward toward the movement now so clearly in view but, wow! What a difference.
Case in point: this last weekend I was at the Great American Beer Festival, an event that showcases the work of 580 breweries and over 2,700 different beers. It’s a three day event attended by over 40,000 people. Tickets sold-out within 45 minutes. Once inside you could find a line of 50 people waiting for a one-ounce pour of a sour beer by either Russian River or The Lost Abbey. These are the same people who won’t think twice about spending $10 for a glass of a seasonal beer at their local tap house, but will think twice about spending $13 to see a 3-D movie at the multiplex. It’s a situation best summed up by a recent New Yorker cartoon I saw by William Hamilton that shows two people drinking at the bar, while one says: “The other thing I love about drinking is that you can’t do it online.” This, of course, is the genius behind what the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema provides – a lure of one to compliment the other.
With that in mind, I’d like to now provide a short list of films that I feel would compliment a good brew. The key word is “compliment,” much the same way the right bleu cheese can be sublime when paired with the correct imperial stout. This means I’ll avoid the films that serve as agit-prop for A.A. (Lost Weekend, Bad Santa, Leaving Los Vegas, etc.), and I’ll also eschew the films about wine or hard liquor (Sideways, The Hangover). The idea here is to pick my pickled brain for films depicting an animated beer culture. I’ll apologize ahead of time to fans of W.C. Fields for not including The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933) here, but the title alone is too cautionary and the suds themselves get short shrift. I’m also skipping over beer docs (which preach to the choir) like American Beer, Beer Wars, or The Beer Hunter. Others get shoved aside simply for being too ghastly (sorry, Dudley Moore) or offensive (well, offensive to me, anyway, because they glorify Coors or P.B.R., like say Smokey and the Bandit and Blue Velvet, respectively). No, in the spirit of craft beers, let me instead pick a small handful of beer-related features that embody the exuberance I recently witnessed at the G.A.B.F. It seems appropriate to start with a film that was released during the same pivotal year of 1978 that made home-brewing legal:
Animal House, directed by John Landis, certainly did not glorify good beer, just beer. But it remains a pillar of politically incorrect hedonism that is referenced time and time again by the many films that have tried to replicate its completely unhinged and exuberant spirit. I’m not crazy about the fact that this film was responsible for spiking the popularity of fraternities, or that it made Toga Parties a rage across college campuses nation-wide. I’m also not crazy about how many sharks were hunted and killed because of Jaws, but I still think Jaws is one of Spielberg’s best films, just like Animal House remains a crown jewel for Landis. My favorite trivia on IMDB regarding Animal House is this:
Next up: Beerfest (2006). Another “duh” title that is too obvious, of course, and one I’ve already posted about before. But it’s impossible not to mention it when talking about beer-related films, especially when put against the context of the G.A.B.F. I’ll admit to laughing my ass off the first time I saw it. Whether I was buzzed or wasted, I can’t quite remember, but either way it was a delirious experience that made me want to revisit it later. The second screening was not as kind, and akin to waking up next to a stranger with a pang of regret. Or, rather, like Beerfest‘s Barry Badrinath, when he wakes up with a face covered in blood and next to a mutilated deer and says “Oh no, not again!” Which is to say… the film still has its moments.
Let’s move from “duh” do “do’h!” with: The Simpson’s Movie. Homer Simpson’s passion for Duff beer illustrates a completely unapologetic and willful drive that is immediately understood by any beer enthusiast, especially if one has the imaginative powers to think that Duff beer might be on par with a Ballast Point Brewing Company Sea Monster Imperial Stout. (Yum!) The odds, of course, are far more likely that Duff tastes like Huber Light, but within the safety of a family-friendly cartoon it’s a bit easier to hope for the best. Plus, Homer has so many quotable beer related lines that you can easily buy a talking bottle-opener espousing his wisdom with lines like:
And let’s not forget Homer Simpson’s beer song:
Speaking of D’oh!, I’m now reminded of the pitfalls of writing in the wake of attending a giant beer festival, as I’ve now missed my deadline and will need to speed things up, and will keep it brief from here on out. Let’s continue with:
Withnail and I
This boozy weekend in the English countryside circa the late sixties is about two unemployed actors, Withnail and Marwood. Richard E. Grant’s powerful film debut as Withnail showcased a bright new talent, and Bruce Robinson’s film is full of piss and vinegar. Recent promotional Blu-Ray’s even included a Handmade Films beer glass. (Want.)
This recent UK monster film shot entirely in Ireland has a winning premise: island denizens are invaded by bloodsucking aliens and there only chance at survival is to get, and stay, drunk – so as to toxify their blood, alcohol being unpalatable to the aliens. I wish Howard Hawks had thought of this! Grabbers is a fun bit of entertainment that leans a bit too heavily on the C.G.I., but is still highly recommendable – especially with Halloween right around the corner.
This film by George Roy Hill stars Paul Newman as the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed coach behind a failing ice hockey team. Again, this period of the late seventies was rich with portraits of despondent losers, working class grunts, and all kinds of shag carpeted squalor. Pure analog joy, no green screens or tidy characters, but rather a beautiful mess of people acting in unpredictable ways. Plus: funny as all hell.
Okay, technically Jack’s drinking the hard stuff, but this masterpiece of horror by one of the most demanding and micro-managing geniuses to ever sit in a director’s chair needs to be the pantheon of films relating to drinking. Because it’s a horror film, it’s the dark side of drink that gets focused on, but there’s something rapturous about Jack’s longing to be part of the Overlook‘s party that echoes the exuberance exhibited by John Belushi’s character in Animal House as he smashes beer cans on his head. It’s neither the smart or right thing to do, but it does show commitment.
The Saddest Music in the World
“If you’re sad, and like beer, I’m your lady.” When that lady is Isabella Rossellini, playing the role of a legless beer baroness, luck be a lady tonight. Guy Maddin, working with different formats and mediums, delivers a visual feast that feels both classic and new, fantastic and weird, and is full to overflowing with carbonated joy.
Wake in Fright
Okay, joy is not a word I’d use to describe the Aussie landscape as depicted by director Ted Kotcheff, who is working off the novel by Kenneth Cook. However, when it comes to a beer-soaked universe, I can’t think of a single film that raised more pint glasses than this one. This re-discovered gem from 1971 was recently given great coverage by Jeff, and I defer discriminating readers to his post here:
The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew
It’s as obligatory to mention this film as it is to remind people that it’s loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the words of Bob McKenzie: “This movie was shot in 3-B. Three beers, and it looks good.”
The Quiet Man
Directed by John Ford, released in 1952, and starring John Wayne. This one gets two thumbs up for having Wayne stop by a pub and say “I’ll try one of the black beers.” It’s a hand-pumped porter, and that’s what he drinks for the rest of the film. ’nuff said.
I’ll end with Repo Man because director Alex Cox, also a beer enthusiast, jointed me at the G.A.B.F. (seen below taking a pic of the crowd) and his film put a nice twist on the otherwise abysmal habit of product placement: he made sure every beer had a generic, white label that spelled out “BEER” on every white can. I actually remember drinking generic BEER around the same time of that films release (1984). It was horrible. A couple years later I discovered home-brewing, and there was no going back. (BTW: On behalf of Alex and myself, big thanks to Diana Vann and Mike Paige for the otherwise-impossible-to-get tickets to the G.A.B.F. – it’s nice to have friends in high places!)
In the words of Doug McKenzie from Strange Brew: “We hope you enjoyed the beer, oh, like I mean the movie, eh?”
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