Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mixing movies and cocktails

A friend of mine recently sent me an article from the NY Times about pairing DVDs with drinks I liked the concept and the fact that the author mentioned one of my favorite obscure British films, I Know Where I'm Going!I liked the concept, but I felt, as a classic movie buff and a cocktail maker/drinker, I had something to add. So I'm stealin' his meme, breakin' out my cocktail shaker (they don't call me the "nipper" fo' nothin'), and droppin' my "g"s all over the place.

The Thin Man/martini: How can you talk about movies and booze and not make The Thin Man the first stop in your cinematic bar crawl? This is a movie in which the main characters start drinking when they get out of bed in the morning and don't stop till the case is solved several days later. They get a little tipsy, but no one gets falling-down-drunk. Yes, I realize it's fantasy but it’s a fantasy with enough reality in it to make it a very popular escapist film. Even today, this movie can be relied on to take away all but the deepest, funkiest of blues. Perhaps it’s their old-school alcohol metabolism that keeps them afloat, but I think it’s the fact that the drinks Nick and Nora Charles imbibe are really much smaller than we are used to. It's a case of the dreadful portion-size inflation that has taken over American dining and drinking. The glasses Nick and Nora used were about a third the size of the typical "martini" glass nowadays. In one scene, Myrna Loy orders three martinis and drinks them one after another. If she were to do that with a contemporary martini (which is often not a cocktail at all but just a big, cold glass of neat gin or vodka) she would spend the second half of the film having her stomach pumped. The martini she drank in 1934 would have contained quite a bit of melted ice, vermouth and bitters, as well as a large, alcohol-displacing garnish, like olives or a lemon twist.

Nick and Nora Charles have the Best Christmas ever: booze, toy guns and a new fur coat.

Martini: Fill a shaker half full of cracked ice. I usually crack the ice in the palm of my hand with a large, heavy spoon. Some find this a bit scary, though, so an alternate method is to place ice in a plastic ziploc bag and whack it against the counter top until the ice is broken. If the ice is too small it will melt and make your drink too weak; if it is too big it won’t melt enough. Trust me: it needs to be cracked. Perfecting this technique will not only stand you in good stead not only for martinis but for most other cocktails.For each cocktail, place one room-temperature jigger of gin, a large tablespoon of room-temperature vermouth and a dash of orange bitters into the shaker. Shake or stir, whichever you prefer, Mr. Bond, and strain into small martini glasses. (Ebay is a great source of vintage cocktail glasses.)

The Public Enemy/Salty Dog You have to have at least one movie about bootleggers, and this is probably the most famous. Based on a novel named "Blood and Beer," the film appeared in 1931 and made James Cagney a star. In the movie’s most famous scene, of course, Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clark's face. That's why the drink that goes best with this movie is the delicious, refreshing "Salty Dog," whose main ingredient is grapefruit juice.

Salty Dog: Fill a tall, Tom Collins glass about half full with ice and add five ounces of grapefruit juice. This drink is mind-blowingly good with fresh-squeezed juice. Add a jigger of gin (bathtub quality is fine, since the juice covers up the flavor anyway) and a pinch of salt. Stir and serve. For a more elegant presentation, you could put the juice and gin in a shaker and use a cocktail glass whose rim has been salted. Technically, a Salty Dog is a mixed drink, as it only contains one kind of alcohol. A drink becomes a cocktail when it contains two or more spirits. Yeah, I know, you wanna smash a grapefruit in my face when I say pedantic stuff like that.

Philadelphia Story/champagne cocktail/Eye-opener: Lots of old movies celebrate champagne, but perhaps none with such devotion as Philadelphia Story. This movie really goes out of its way to make sure that you know just how drunk the main characters get on the stuff. But what really sells it to me as a necessity for a movie/booze post, is its hangover scenes. Everyone who drinks in the film feels the effects the next day, to a comic degree. Was Cary Grant ever more welcome in a movie than when he dashes in fresh as a daisy (he's a recovering alcoholic who doesn't get plastered with the others) and volunteers to make everyone an "Eye-opener that will pop the pennies off the eyelids of dead Irishmen"?

Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) manages to drink Uncle Willie under the table and then sobers up quickly to do some secretarial work for her "wandering parakeet" boyfriend. I've often rooted for Dexter and Liz to hook up, but that's just because I identify with her.

Champagne cocktail: Put a sugar cube at the bottom of a tall champagne flute. Soak the cube in bitters. Angustura is the classic and most available, but any bitters will do. I like orange bitters because the result has the flavor of a mimosa without watering down the champagne with juice. Fill the glass with champagne and enjoy. This works best with a mid-priced sparkling wine, I think. If you get real champagne at $40-plus a bottle, it's sort of a waste to put sugar in it.

Eye opener: If you have too many champagne cocktails while watching Philly Story (as is easy to do), you can enjoy this classic hangover cure. Fill a shaker half full with ice (if you are hung over, you may not want to fuss with cracking the ice). For each cocktail, add a jigger of white rum, a dash of Pernod, a dash of creme de cacao, a teaspoon of finely ground sugar and an egg yolk. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. This drink was originally made with absinthe, which has recently become available again. If you happen to have it in your bar, use it in place of Pernod. Try not to ride in any carts with Dinah and you should be fine.

Manhattan/Manhattan: A few years ago, my husband and I were in Manhattan and ducked into a fancy hotel for drinks. We ordered,--what else? A Manhattan. The bartender made the drink with rye whiskey and it completely changed my life. Bourbon Manhattans, which are more common, are sweeter and heavier. They will make you feel as if you are sleepwalking until you wake up the next day with a terrible headache. Rye Manhattans have a complex character, like the town after which they are named. I feel that Woody Allen's masterpiece Manhattan best reflects the warmth and unexpected edge of this cocktail. It's one beautiful movie, to boot.

Manhattan: Fill a shaker half full with cracked ice. For each cocktail,add a jigger of rye whiskey, a large tablespoon of sweet vermouth, and a dash of angustura bitters. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail, garnishing with a cherry.

Platinum Blonde /White Lady: This Frank Capra comedy tells the story of a hard-boiled reporter (Robert Williams) who marries a society dame (Jean Harlow) but falls for his gal Friday (Loretta Young). Toward the end of the movie the reporter’s pals show up at his house, late at night, drunk. He continues to entertain them and winds up on a bender that lasts for days. When he sobers up, Harlow throws him out, and he moves in with Loretta Young. They live happily ever after, thanks to the non-enforcement of the Production Code. Since Platinum Blonde was made toward the end of Prohibition, it seemed appropriate to choose a gin-based cocktail, whose other components could easily hide the taste of bootleg hooch. The White Lady with it sweet and sour flavors fills the bill.

White Lady:

Fill a cocktail shaker half full with cracked ice. For each cocktail, add a jigger of gin, half a jigger of Cointreau or triple sec and a generous tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass with a sugared rim and garnish with a lemon slice. This is one of my favorite drinks, and I owe my knowledge of it to my mother-in-law, who once visited us in Minnesota in March, bless her soul.

Roman Holiday/Campari shakerato:
Roman Holiday isn't really a boozy movie, but, as this piece progresses, I find myself thinking of my favorite cocktails, first, and then trying to come up with movies to match. When I think of Campari shakerato, I think of sunshine and walking around as a tourist, gasping for a drink. Roman Holiday celebrates both those things. Also, Campari shakerato isn't as strong as other drinks on this list, so you can enjoy a couple and still go dancing on that barge in the river later.

The only drinky scene in Roman Holiday. It looks like something stronger than shakerato!

Campari shakerato: For each cocktail, squeeze the juice of one orange (about four ounces) into a shaker with ice (no need to crack it). Add a jigger of Campari, shake and strain into a large, chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cinema OCD Podcast

Cinema OCD Podcast

Episode two is up and archived. Cliff and I discussed Warren William and his films Upperworld, The Match King, Three on a Match and The Mind Reader. Thirty minutes of Warren William goodness and more of the boy bursting in demanding to tell me stuff about robots. Good times.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Podcast? Well sort of

Such as it, the first episode of my CinemaOCD Podcast is now available. It's a bit rough, owing to interruptions from my son, and the fact that I had to end early when I lost a page of my script! It ends rather abruptly with no notion that this podcast might continue as regular entity. I do plan to do one next week, with Cliff from Warren William blog as my guest/co-host. Hopefully I'll manage a bit better when I'm not just yammering to myself.

Tune in next week at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time for Episode 2.

Friday, May 7, 2010

OCD for the Big Screen: Notorious

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to catch Notorious (1946) at the Riverview Theater. I had a unique experience at that screening: I got there late. Call me an incorrigible optimist, but this was actually a good thing. I walked in during the scene in which Devlin and Alicia are flying down to Rio, their heads pressed together in murmuring conversation against the backs of those gloriously huge 1940s airplane seats. "I was remembering how nice we both were," Alicia says wistfully of her father. Oh, what a thrill to walk into a big movie palace and see those two up there on the screen, carrying on like that. It was a bit like that moment in Radio Days when the boy walks into Radio City Music hall and sees the kiss between Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story? Nevermind that I had to miss all my favorite business with the scarf and "this fog get's me" at the beginning.

With the retrofit sound equipment at the Riverside, I noticed a line I hadn't heard before. When Devlin and Alicia are at the races being watched by Sebastien through the binoculars, Grant says, "Dry your eyes. His nibs is coming." I was so excited because I'd never heard the second half of that before. My husband and I call our son "his nibs." We collect moments in pop culture when the phrase is used. (I noticed another one the other day in When Ladies Meet" when Robert Taylor refers to Joan Crawford as "her nibs.")

It was also great fun to watch Notorious with a really big audience. All around me I heard the gasps of the people who'd never seen the movie before, reacting to the suspense. I'm always so dang jealous of those folks. It's nice to find out which lines get the biggest laughs. My own favorite about the chicken catching fire once garnered a few chuckles, but I was surprised at how much everyone laughed at Louis Calhern's preening when Alicia tells him that Sebastien thought him very handsome. After that, I began to take notice of Calhern's performance and, indeed, he is terrific. I love the scene in which Devlin comes in to tell him that Felicia might be really ill and he's eating cheese and crackers. He's just so into those crackers.

Hitchcock's artistry can't be left out in any discussion of Notorious. During the party scene, Felicia and Devlin must complete their investigation in the wine cellar before the champagn runs out. Hitchcock empahsiszes the champagne in every shot and the effect is like a ticking clock. A while back, I coined the term "champagne clock" to describe this sequence. This time through, I noticed that time and champagne are linked in other scenes as well. Devlin buys a bottle of champagne before he goes to meet with Prescott, and though he refers to it in the script as a "bottle of wine," it is specifically champagne. Hitchcock places the bottle prominently in the scene in which Devlin is presented with the nature of Felicia's work. Unwilling to stand up for Felicia's new found sobriety and faithfulness, which is only a few hours old, Devlin allows the begging of their love affair to sleep away. The champagne clock begins to tick out what Devlin believes to be their final moments. Tellingly, Devlin leaves the bottle behind and doesn't remember it until after he an Felicia have fight later that evening.

The big screen always affords the opportunity to notice new things about Grant's performance. I think the moment when he starts up the stairs to Felicia's room might be the most beautiful moment in the whole movie. Archie Leach the acrobat takes over as he silently bounds the stairs two or three at a time.

I can name movies such as Cary Grant's Pride and the Passion, that I did like at all until I saw them on the big screen. I would encourage those of you who have the opportunity to watch any classic films that you can on the big screen. It is always worth while.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Eye Candy of the Day: Carole's leg

I just watched this amazing movie for the first time yesterday. I haven't had time to put together a coherent post yet, but I just had to gush. The picture says it all: this movie kicks ass. Twentieth Century is up there with Design for Living as my favorite pre-code comedy. One of the things that definitely makes this movie pre-code (besides the living in sin subtext and the religious lunatic) is the amount of Carole Lombard lounging around dishabille. Typical pre-code cheesecake gambits abound including changing in front of the camera, losing the belt for that robe, etc. Walter Connoly and Roscoe Kerns are brilliant. Also: I'm now a total Barrymore fanatic.