I love the shit out of Halloween. Halloween is a bitter, passive person’s dream, a chance to feel like I am not where I am while not even having to move. Lawns become decorated, the atmosphere gets spooky, and even children become adorable and entertaining for just one night.
But I hate being scared. I don’t even like going in the laundry room during daylight, so I’m not trying to see a film that’s been jokingly insured due to threat of audience mass heart attack. Right now that sleep drug commercial with the living Zzzs and most Canadian public service ads from the mid-1990s are at the top of my shitlist for being creepy as fuck, so that’s about the level of fear tolerance I’m working with.
I still want to get in the holiday spirit. I watched Scary Movie 4 last night, and not only was it funnier than I thought the 4th of anything would be, it was more than festive enough for me. So here is my list of Halloween-y movies for people that don’t want to crap their pants.
Last night I watched Somm, which is a documentary that follows three sommeliers training for their Master Sommelier exam. Besides pounding Wild Vines in college, usually out of the bottle, but occasionally in a plastic cup stolen from the dining hall, I have zero experience (or interest) in wine. But the guys chronicled in this film are so sweet, and the exam so surprisingly grueling (out of 150 entrants in the documented year, 6 pass,) that the completely unrelatable becomes riveting. I always associated wine tasting with the pretentious and/or fannypack wearing tourists in Napa, but these dudes are young, seemingly normal (if you discount the whole sommelier thing) and surprisingly bangable. They seem like your college roommates, if your college roommates were now slaying flashcards to memorize the 3,000+ varieties of Old World grapes, or deducing the soil conditions and precise year of production from a single swish of Burgundy. Seriously, put this on, watch the first tasting (<10 minutes in,) and tell me you don’t want to shit your pants in awe.
Like life, if you want to make a sweeping-ass metaphor, Somm doesn’t turn out perfectly, but it does turn out contentedly. Or in more practical Netflix terms, this is a safe film to watch before you go to bed. It will have you on the edge of your seat (seriously, I was on the verge of tears) but it won’t have you cursing God for life’s injustice. Somm isn’t going to make me want to take up wine-drinking anytime soon, either casually or competitively. But it does make me want to make it rain on the sommelier at my next social function, and offer them a drink, because apparently they’re the ones who need it.
“The screen gets all fuzzy now as the viewer’s invited to imagine this. Coming out of an avant garde tradition, I get to this grad school and at the grad school, turns out all the teachers are realists. They’re not at all interested in post-modern avant garde stuff. Now, there’s an interesting delusion going on here — so they don’t like my stuff. I believe that it’s not because my stuff isn’t good, but because they just don’t happen to like this kind of esthetic.
In fact, known to them but unknown to me, the stuff was bad, was indeed bad. So in the middle of all this, hating the teachers, but hating them for exactly the wrong reason — this was spring of 1986 — I remember — I remember who I went to see the movie with — “Blue Velvet” comes out. “Blue Velvet” comes out.
“Blue Velvet” is a type of surrealism — it may have some — it may have debts. There’s a debt to Hitchcock somewhere. But it is an entirely new and original kind of surrealism. It no more comes out of a previous tradition or the post-modern thing. It is completely David Lynch. And I don’t know how well you or your viewers would remember the film, but there are some very odd — there’s a moment when a guy named “the yellow man” is shot in an apartment and then Jeffrey, the main character, runs into the apartment and the guy’s dead, but he’s still standing there. And there’s no explanation. You know, he’s just standing there. And it is — it’s almost classically French — Francophilistically surreal, and yet it seems absolutely true and absolutely appropriate.
And there was this — I know I’m taking a long time to answer your question. There was this way in which I all of a sudden realized that the point of being post-modern or being avant garde or whatever wasn’t to follow in a certain kind of tradition, that all that stuff is B.S. imposed by critics and camp followers afterwards, that what the really great artists do — and it sounds very trite to say it out loud, but what the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves. They’re entirely themselves. They’ve got their own vision, their own way of fracturing reality, and that if it’s authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings. And this is what “Blue Velvet” did for me.
I’m not suggesting it would do it for any other viewer, but I — Lynch very much helped snap me out of a kind of adolescent delusion that I was in about what sort of avant garde art could be. And it’s very odd because film and books are very different media. But I remember — I remember going with two poets and one other student fiction writer to go see this and then all of us going to the coffee shop afterwards and just, you know, slapping ourselves on the forehead. And it was this truly epiphantic experience.”