Recently, one of my wife’s co-workers had us over to their apartment, along with several other couples, for a wine tasting party. It was a sumptuous affair, with numerous varieties of reds all from all across France’s rich Bordeaux region.
We participated in three tastings (each with three vintages), the first of which was done blind to ensure our impartiality. The reason for the objectivity was clear as soon as we took our first sips. Of the three glasses, one was clearly a humble table wine, one a middling quality entry, and the other an exquisite, expensive vintage.
I’ve attended wine tastings before, mostly in Italy, but never with checklists recording our impressions of the Five Ss (See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor). By the time we were done, we had several pages worth of marked boxes and scribbled notes.
What impressed me, was that out of the dozen or so tasters, most of whom had never participated in a tasting before or knew anything about wine, all but two people correctly assessed the quality of the vintages and with the tools given them, were able to articulate exactly why.
And it got me thinking...
What if we substituted film for wine? What if, instead of ingesting everything that came down the theatrical pike without a second’s thought regarding its quality, we actually applied some discriminating taste? If we gave viewers the proper tools for understanding inherent levels of excellence within cinema, could even the most uneducated film viewer come away knowing the difference between Michael Bay and Ingmar Bergman and be able to explain why? The exercise with the wine proved that even the most ignorant tongues can appreciate and distinguish between base, average and the truly extraordinary.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a reason the French drink the table wine each night with dinner. It is cheap and agreeable, a satisfactory if uninspired compliment to their meal that does not require anything in the way of reflection or meditation. But when they sit down to an opulent banquet, only the finest wine with the most exquisite balance, bouquet, and flavor will suffice. No matter what they hold in their glasses, they are fundamentally aware of the content and the context within which each is appropriate and esteemed.
Should we not have the same attitude toward cinema?