What to drink while watching Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It’s a statement, not a question. If you must give up two and a half hours of your life to this drudge masquerading as both art and history then you must get drunk. There is no other way to tolerate it. But what to drink? I suppose that depends on what major artistic figure lured $18 out of your pocket and into the theatre. Fortunately, I have spared you the difficulty of making choices by listing the appropriate wines for the appropriate hangover.
Tony Kushner. Once upon a time there was nothing but meaning and metaphor. Everyone spoke eloquently and even in a temper with wit and wisdom. There was barely time to eat, drink or procreate. It was called President Lincoln’s America by Tony Kushner; witness the White House gala that begins and ends at the reception line, the Tommy Lee Jones (spoiler alert) conjugal visit with his maid cum wife which couldn’t be colder at absolute zero. In one scene, a character runs to the exit to avoid hearing Lincoln regale the rapt room with another multidimensional anecdote. That was but a whisper of the number of people in the theatre that ran out earlier, in real time. If you’ve ever arrived at a party only to discover you’re one of three guests and there’s no way out, that is pretty much the opening scene. And if you stick it out, well, yes, it does get better, but with an inertia that makes Last Year at Marienbad a rollercoaster. Once upon a time there was nothing but meaning and metaphor but then Ernst Lubitsch came along and made the world a better place, but you will have to go back in time to witness such delight, not here, not in the imagined past constructed out of “Krishnamurti for Dummies” and pained historical sincerity. You will need a deep, dark, uber-alcoholic quaff to get this script down. Any old California Zin under $20 will do.
Steven Spielberg. He was young and brash and full of confidence and changed our lives with Jaws. He was introspective and brought a new dimension to a much considered subject, changing our point of view with Schindler’s List. Now, welcome to your fusty old uncle who goes antiquing on the weekend, his home full of olde worlde charm, and not a mote of dust that isn’t authentic. Please don’t touch the doilies! From the faux light streaking out of the White House fireplace to the oppressive omnipresent blue tint that creates mood but is more akin to pigeon shit on copper, this is just like going to the museum after dark, removing the stanchions in front of historical displays and taking tea in a diorama. There was more life in the empty hallways of The Shining than in the bustling queue which teems through the White House corridors. More extras! More extras! The only booze that will do is something that brings back memories. In my case, it was the kosher wine I tried as a teenager that sent me reeling. Er, sorry, I meant good memories. Try a Huet Vouvray. It will cost you more than you want to spend but will drink like something you’re not expecting and you will invoke the ghost of Robert Shaw and all will be better in the world.
Tommy Lee Jones. Some people, the only thing they know about The Wizard of Oz is that Dorothy’s ruby red slippers went to auction. Some people, the only thing they will ever know about Lincoln is that Tommy Lee Jones’ wig went, at some future date, to Sotheby’s, and fetched an enormous sum. I don’t know what to tell you to drink as I think whatever it is must disappoint which is only to say that from start to finish I begged and hoped and wanted the old school vintage TLJ but instead had to live with mere pastiche. I’ve had a fair number of 05 Bordeaux’s turn out corked. Give me a call; maybe we can open another bottle of high expectation and bemoan the wine that might have been.
Daniel Day Lewis. I have stood by this actor since 1982 when I bought tickets to go see Another Country in the West End starring Rupert Everett and DDL took over. And was, arguably, better (if only to compare RE in the film). DDL could do no wrong, and I even found his wacky bent towards cobbling (that’s being a cobbler, not cobbling as in My Left Foot) endearing. I cringed as he did the daytime chat shows after the nightmare of Nine, but, still, he’s the man with the credible career that (unlike many other actors who have become lazy post-Oscar) continues to soar. So, sigh, it was sad to see him play a metronome rather than a person, to see him more costume than character, and (for all the chat about the voice, none of which bothered me) to tread water instead of anchor the story. When you try this hard to treat a character with respect he, the character, comes off false. But you can get over it: Discover Alsace, some of the finest wines on the planet, crisp and fresh and as likeable and appealing as DDL in My Beautiful Laundrette.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Jesus H Christ. Who blew who? Some actors, they have a breakout role. Some actors, they tend to steal scenes. Here, JGL does the reverse of both. Using what I can only imagine is dedicated method, he invokes the cultural keystones of performances past: He brings the petulance of Peter Brady to the screen, the assertiveness of Greg Brady (think of the episode with Greg locked in Sam’s freezer), and softens them both with the growing pains of Bobby Brady, cleverly all pre-curl permanents, into a camp version of what might have been an actual person. The only thing missing was Don Pardo with voice over and JGL stumbling against the off-screen teleprompter. You will need to hunker down for this one. First, get yourself some Blowfish for Hangovers; they say it really works and in fact I can attest that it does. Then, if you tend towards the white, try Blue Nun or Black Tower. If red is your wont, anything with the Yellow Tail label. They should all be available at your local gas station.
Sally Field. It might have been more plausible to put Harvey Fierstein in a skirt. If you sit Lincoln out start to finish, if you can bear it, there is a priceless scene over the hump of the first hour with Lincoln and Mary Todd in a buggy where Sally Field, waving her fan like Robin Williams in La Cage says something to the effect of “You better get those votes, or you will have Mary Todd Lincoln to deal with.” So, yes, maybe only Sally Field could truly ruin such a line and
make half the audience laugh and bring some much needed hokey levity to what could of been so much more, and then only Sally Field could go on record as saying that it took her a decade to get into this role. I thought more of Miriam Hopkins than Mary Todd Lincoln, and that is a sincere compliment, to Miriam that is, but I was thinking how so many great actresses missed out on this opportunity and that Spielberg may really be better off hosting Antiques Roadshow. There is no drink that will get you through this performance, at least nothing that’s ever touched my lips, but I saw in a drug store a chocolate wine—that’s right, chocolate and wine—and perhaps that is exactly what you need, something that takes two beautiful achievements of culture and marries them to no demonstrably decent effect. (If you think I am making this crap up, see pic at top.)
The Supporting Cast: No fewer than a dozen roles for Paul Giamatti but not to be seen. Shurely shome mishtake? In fairness, the supporting cast is wonderful, Harris, Hawkes, Spader, the lot. But it’s like stepping into an over-decorated parlour cluttered with reproductions only to notice an original cornice that shines above the dross. Accoutrements, no matter how fine, can’t save this single-hulled disaster. I think the ideal drink is a bamboo, a cocktail almost as old as Lincoln. Take some vermouth (which is, essentially, bad wine, gussied up) and some basic dry sherry (which is, essentially, a lot of wines of mediocre quality blended to create a decent whole,) and pour equal amounts on ice with a twist. Voila, the effect that the chocolate and wine hoped to be but couldn’t touch, a higher greatness.
Price: Too dear to tell.
Market Liquidity: Life of Pi was but a boy and a boat but my god at least it was beautiful to look at…