Looking sideways at Sonoma in LaLa Land
Like Wine Country, Hollywood is a company town, dominated by a single industry. Show business, like winemaking has its seasons, its cycles, its controversies and its good and bad years. Some of its products age well, others not so much. The cinematic equivalent of vinegar might include such, um, classics as, say, "Green Lantern," which, according to some critics, will not stand the test of time and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
I haven't seen the flick but I am surprised, given the amount of Hollywood refugees in Sonoma County (Lasseter, Coppola, Kamen, et al), that we have yet to see a proper Wine Country flick. For reasons that could probably be easily revealed with a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, filmmakers frequently ferment second careers in wine.
None, however, have made a wine-themed movie specifically about their adopted turf. Screenwriter Robert Kamen has come close with "A Walk in the Clouds," which finds Keanu Reeves and Anthony Quin at loggerheads over the younger man's love of the elder man's daughter and featured a plot point in which a vineyard burns (at his behest, the production ended up torching Kamen's own Sonoma vines when it conveniently became necessary to abate them anyway).
However, his was a not a Sonoma film, nor was "Bottle Shock," the docudrama about the infamous Paris tasting of 1977, which ostensibly put California wines on the world map and used Sonoma to double for everything from Paris to Napa in the '70s, while nary a drop nor frame was actually Sonoma.
"Sideways," the wine-soaked buddy comedy that all but destroyed the merlot market last decade, has done wonders for Santa Ynez, where it was both set and shot. There is still signage along Hwy. 154 that proudly reads, "As seen in 'Sideways.'" Though this is only a notch above Wal-Mart marking products, "As seen on TV," it gets more cars to pullover than the CHP.
But why doesn't Sonoma have its own "As seen in" sign? Where's our homegrown movie? I've long thought Sonoma was a natural for cinematic treatment, not only for the sexy themes one can weave around wine but for the cavalcade of characters that make up our social tapestry. So, I wrote it. This is how I found myself taking, somehow appropriately, the Vineland exit at that magical place where highways attain definite articles and "101" suddenly becomes "the 101."
I was overdue for a meeting with a producing partner, who, like many in LA, has an out-sized idea about the wine country experience, believing, surely, that I was birthed upon a crostini and weened on wine.
Though this is probably true (I can't remember that far back - wonder why?), I didn't disabuse him of this perception. Why would I? It's no more fanciful than the analogous vision held of Hollywood since I was wee - that it's a dream factory, where wonder is cranked out as if by a machine.
But like much of wine country, it's also just a business. In fact, mostly so, which I tried to remember as the producer pawed the pages of my Sonoma flick that I've been rewriting per his notes (meaning, changing the names of the scoundrels most likely to perceive libel). It was also suggested that I remove a certain character, a minor one, who nevertheless was based on a friend.
This, I imagined, would be like selectively erasing aspects of my memory - though the script is not based on a true story, certain incidents are drawn from real experience.
The old queasiness was back, a feeling I thought I had washed away with the hundreds of gallons of Sonoma wine I had drunk since leaving LA for good several years ago.
Then when the producer offered his final note, the reason Sonoma has yet to have its own wine movie became glaring. "Change the city to Napa," he barked. "People know what that is. Sonoma sounds like 'hematoma.' Sounds nasty."
I never drove the 400 miles home so fast. In my opinion, a true bottle of Sonoma red will always shine brighter than any green lantern.
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Daedalus Howell goes all indie at FMRL.com.