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Pairing a DVD and a Drink Takes Care


Hardlucksville, NY
A NYT article on pairing movies and drinks.
May 10, 2010
Pairing a DVD and a Drink Takes Care
I COULD blame Don Draper, but if it was anyone’s fault, it was Robert Mitchum’s.

There he was early in one of my all-time favorite films, “Out of the Past,” sipping bourbon in a little bar in Acapulco (or a Hollywood version thereof), waiting for the girl, thinking about how the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked. But, baby, I didn’t care. I was thinking, man, that bourbon looks good.

So I paused Mitchum midsentence, went over to the liquor cabinet and then the freezer, and poured myself a Knob Creek on the rocks. And then another.

By the end of the film, whose labyrinthine, double-upon-triple-cross plot had baffled me with each previous viewing, I was even more hopelessly lost than usual. But so what?

So, no, Don, your great-looking old-fashioneds in great-looking bars in “Mad Men” didn’t get me started on this funny habit of mine. I’ve been matching my drinks to my movies for at least 15 years. I’ve done it with my wife, in groups, or (and I’m not ashamed to say this) alone. It adds a new dimension — Alc-O-Vision? — to the plot, the photography and, especially, the sense of immersion if the film takes place in the same country from which the drink in my hand originated.

Different spirits cause different results. “Out of the Past” paired with Knob Creek is mellow yet ominous. But try it with smoky Monte Alban mezcal backed by Negra Modelo beer, and it is vibrant and energetic. The opening Mexican scenes seem to stretch the whole way to the end, to the final quadruple-cross. And it all makes sense.

There are some obvious pairings, like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with a Sazerac, the character’s drink of choice. Others aren’t so easy. Here, after much trial and error, are some of my favorite combinations.

“THE SWORD OF DOOM” (1966), paired with Chiyonosono Black Warrior shochu (brand slogan: “protector of the righteous!”) and a Sapporo Premium Lager.

This may be the greatest sword-fight film ever, and when it was released on DVD I tried it with sake. But the sake’s mellowing effects didn’t quite fit the brutal and often cruel plot, which centers on a psychotic Samurai who kills for pleasure. So I tried something stronger, shochu, sake’s tougher and meaner older brother, which is distilled rather than brewed. I had a beer back, Sapporo.

The light, sharp-bubbled Sapporo had a hint of wheat fields and cut nicely through the shochu’s tongue-lacquering strength; my mouth was alternately deadened and brought back to life. I felt not mellow but aggressive — I wanted to jump into the television, which had become miraculously hi-def. Little danger of losing the plot thread here: the film is utterly nonsensical, the first part of a trilogy that was never completed, so the various story lines have no end points. But so what?

“SABRINA” (1954), paired with a gin or vodka martini, chilled, straight up, with olives.

This is a shiny, polished-looking film with a hugely flawed plot. It seems impossible that the sagging and aged Humphrey Bogart could ever woo the birdlike and very young Audrey Hepburn. But the whole thing looks so great, and liquor is so crucial to the plot, that drinks are certainly in order.

We had our neighbors Trente and Lou and their daughter, Sabina, over to watch — sending the invitation e-mail message “Sabrina with Sabina?” brightened my day. Trente abstained, as she was pregnant, and so did Sabina, as she was 9. But Lou; my wife, Helene; and I did just fine, and with each icy sip, Bogey grew a few years younger.

“A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT” (2004), paired with Lucid Absinthe Superieure.

I like the effect of absinthe — it seems to sharpen my senses, not dull them — but I don’t like the taste. Good — I won’t drink too much. I remain in full control of my filmic receptors.

“A Very Long Engagement” is a close adaptation of a French novel by the mystery writer Sébastien Japrisot. It has a Chinese puzzle box of a plot: a woman seeks her soldier fiancé who has been missing during World War I. She gets closer and closer, through a web of memories and forgotten details, as time moves farther away from the day of his disappearance.

All the colors in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s adaptation are heightened in a magical-realism way that suggests the effects of absinthe. Yet drinking it somehow cancels them out, and the beauty of simple thought at the heart of the complex plot rises above some of the more distracting visual gimmicks (like being taken inside a bomb to see the firing pin strike).

“I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!” (1947), paired with The Balvenie Doublewood 12-year single-malt scotch, neat.

The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have a certain other-worldly quality that suggests someone was sipping something as they were made. In “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945), a bride-to-be travels to the Scottish Hebrides to marry a rich industrialist, but ends up falling for a charming, down-on-his-luck R.A.F. pilot.

The film is shot on location: the wind, the cold, the smell of salt off the gray Atlantic seem to seep off the screen like a draft in an old house. Even if you are sitting in your apartment in Brooklyn, as I was, you want to put on a heavy wool sweater and wrap yourself in a blanket. And you want to sip Scotch.

Not chilled, not on the rocks, but neat. The Balvenie needs nothing added to it — it is, to me, a peaty marvel of changing flavors from the moment it hits your tongue to the moment it goes down your throat. Ah, yes. Is that damp grass I feel crunching underfoot as I head down to the loch?

Powell and Pressburger films also have a certain inescapable warmth, and a winking, sly sense of humor. As I swirl that half-inch of amber in the bottom of my glass, I think about how it possesses those same qualities.

“MAD MEN: SEASON 3” (2009), paired with a Rittenhouse Rye old-fashioned (cube of sugar, dash of bitters, two ounces rye; mix them up, add ice and a slice of orange).

It’s not a movie, of course, but the production values of “Mad Men” nearly make it one. I started on Season 3, expecting to love it, and was surprised how much I disliked almost all of the characters. They were jerks, sexist, racist, arrogant; even the women were misogynists.

Don Draper was the worst of all. He struck me as a martini man — tall and cool and straight up. Yet he always had an old-fashioned, one that looked like a fruit basket drenched with whiskey. Why, I wondered, would someone with such a streamlined appearance and simple, black-and-white view of the world crave so Rococo a drink?

So I joined him. We became drinking buddies with our old-fashioneds. And I started to warm up to him, to his internal struggles, his life with so many lies in it — it’s much easier to let it all out after tossing several slices of orange into several successive glasses.

There, there, Don. There, there.

If anyone has a favorite drink/movie combo feel free to share it.


I'll Lock Up
I haven't drunk it whilst watching it but surely with "Battle of Britain" it would have to be Spitfire Ale ;)


One Too Many
In grad school, when there was a one-star movie scheduled on TV, we would get a couple of pounds of salted-in-the-shell peanuts, the largest jug of Tyrolia we could find, and a waterglass for each of us (you drink Tyrolia from a water glass, not a wine glass!)

I seem to recall parts of a movie titled something like "Return of the Amazon Women" or something like that along with a Tyrolia haze ...


One Too Many
Fletch said:
I assume you weren't drinking ski bindings, but the once popular jug wine, which one google hit describes as white with "awful fruit flavors." One-star wine for one-star movies.
That's the stuff. Actually not bad with the salted peanuts.


Rude Once Too Often
"A Cocktail of ones own creation for "The Vortex" by Noel Coward"





I'll Lock Up
Gads Hill, Ontario
My favourite film, Withnail & I, has its own drinking game associated with it. Follow the rules to the letter, and most people would actually die of alcohol poisoning! (Essentially, match the characters drink for drink while watching the film. An acceptable alternative is to swig one sip of each drink as it appears or is ordered.).

I've had themed showings at home where in the "spirit" of the film I only serve drinks mentioned in the movie. The one drink I've never matched exactly, but WILL during my 100th viewing (I'm at 95) is the 1953 Margaux ("Best of the century!"). I supply a good vintage Bordeaux in its place...

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