Monday, December 3, 2018

Somm 3: Yes, You Must See This Movie

I have to admit - I wasn't overly fond of Somm 1 and 2. Why make wine into a competitive sport? Why ruin a perfectly good beverage with people aspiring to know so much about so little?

Somm 1 and 2 also ignored the farming involved in making so many of the wines featured. Where was the mention that herbicides and fungicides are used in massive quantities?

It's all very well to discuss mountain vineyards and how vines struggle and what type of soil this obscure Spanish region has, but how can you then, as the same time, fail to mention the influence of the nerve gas toxins on taste (and people and water and air) and pesticides showing up in schoolchildren in Bordeaux who live next to vineyards? Such is the world of wine. I can't really fault Somm's makers for not bringing those topics into the conversation. The eyes of the industry are not looking at the farming - not to mention the manipulation in the winery - as much as they should be.

None of these darker topics is mentioned in Somm 3, but at least the foil of Carole Meredith presides over it all, taking a dim view of blind tasting. For, once again, the Somm film team has put the blind tasting form to the ultimate test - pitting major experts' opinions against one another.

One problem with Somm is the continuing, almost adolescent adoration way the filmmaker worship at the altar of the great names in the sommelier-hood. Somms also seem to prefer wines from some of their own, in the movie at least. It's a clubby, little world, filled with "certain people." It's hardly the stuff of everyday life or even the titans who have achieved financial success in the industry. (The rich guys at the top of the industry might make for a much more interesting film, if you could ever get them on camera. These are the puppetmasters who never get into the spotlight).

Another issue is that Somm plays right into the peculiarly American obsession with wine as an elitists' beverage - a pleasure reserved for people inhabiting the planet of the One Percenters. It paints a picture of wine as apart from mere mortals who like to drink it with dinner at home or even with popcorn or at a baby shower or with pizza. It promotes the world of wine from on high - an expensive beverage to be curated by masters. Hardly any producers inhabit the film. No wonder my friend who sells wine at a local Whole Foods says, "wine is just too complicated. At a certain point, some of my customers just give up and go across the street to get a bottle of vodka."

If the subject was food, we might focus on the elite chefs, for fun, but not the waiters, would we? But wine is different (is it - really?). Now somms are embracing new careers as vintners, aren't they?

The good news about the film - if you think about it - is that the experts don't agree, and in fact even some of the most famous in the world can be quite wrong in identifying a wine (or right as well, but not consistently) and that everyone does, in fact, often have a different taste preference.

The best part is seeing the heavyweights of wine on camera (and not in a wobbly YouTube video) and well lit. There's Pascaline! There's Raj Parr! There's Jancis Robinson and Fred Dame and Stephen Spurrier!

That for me was the fun part of seeing this film.

To kind of ground it all in a non-snobby, Millenial perspective, the filmmakers inject Madeleine Puckette (author of the bestselling book Wine Folly, which, though wildly popular, is more of a good graphic design project than a serious wine book) into the proceedings. Puckette good naturedly reassures us and fills in gaps in the story line. It's a useful device for pivoting around - which the film does rather quite a lot of.

Chop chop go the editors. Those looking for beautiful sequences will be disappointed. Much of the film's style is cut and paste, cut and paste in the editing. It seems like it's cut to the audio. (As a former filmmaker - and one who made about 50 films for Apple as well as several for PBS - who learned her craft from a true documentary master, I do miss real sequences.) But no matter.

It's fun, it's fast paced, and you won't know what's around the bend from moment to moment.  It's character based - a little bit - in that personalities are set up as types, and the characters are interesting (although we never really go very deeply into their worlds - think mini profiles).

This is documentary style filmmaking by and for the Instagram era, after all.

But you've got to see it - it's like the great big family movie of the little inner circle of People Who Matter in Wine. And it's a good bit of fun.

(It's now available for streaming on a number of platforms including iTunes.)

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