Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Absinthe: the movie


THIS REVIEW HAS VARIOUS MOVIE QUOTES AND REFERENCES. SEE IF YOU CAN SPOT THEM ALL!

“Absinthe,” a new documentary about our favourite drink, was launched too late for an Oscar in 2011 (of course the competition was quite tough with “The King’s Speech” winning much of the glory and “Inside Job” winning the best documentary prize).

However, for absinthe fans and for those wanting to find out more about this mysterious spirit, Chris Buddy’s new film, now available for download in the USA from Amazon, will certainly win many friends, and maybe prizes in the future.

With my association with Claude-Alain Bugnon, I was fortunate enough to get a DVD copy of the film by airmail directly from Director Chris Buddy (global distribution has still to be announced), and I can only agree with the claim that it is, for now at least, the “Definitive Film on History’s Most Notorious Drink.”

Buddy rounds ups the usual suspects with a cast featuring many of the “Who’s Who” of modern absinthe, including the producers, sorry, I mean distillers, Ted Breaux, Claude-Alain Bugnon and Francois Guy, Lucid CEO Jared Gurfein, and many notable absinthe historians including Marie-Claude Delahaye, Barnaby Conrad III, Benoît Noël …. and, speaking via webcam (which made it sound like he was 20,000 leagues under the sea), David Nathan-Maister. Nice to see friends Peter Schaf, Nico Tripet, Luc-Santiago Rodriguez and Jean-Luc Tucoulat too (but no absinthe bloggers, unfortunately!).

Intriguingly, there was no trace of those responsible for artificially coloured and/or pre-sweetened absinthe, and no trace of products the absinthe community calls “fauxsinthes.” Nothing other than 100% distilled absinthes, the stuff that dreams are made of.

And, except for some fleeting shots of Combier, hardly a single distillery shown from outside the Val-de-Travers or Pontarlier (respectively the birthplace and 19th century capital of absinthe). Others would say that is the film’s only real omission but it’s certainly representative of historic absinthe production centres.

The movie progresses from the birth of absinthe (clearly explained by Marie-Claude Delahaye to be in Couvet in the 1790’s, and NOT anywhere else in 1805!). So much for a famous movie quote: “In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” How about absinthe, Mr Welles? Marie-Claude is famous within the absinthe community, but she disarmingly tells us later that she doesn’t drink (so no point in thinking "I'll have what she's having").

Absinthe then details the drink's steady early growth, and its then more spectacular growth in the late 19th century Paris (“We’ll always have Paris”). The ban and the 20th century underground manufacture in Switzerland are covered in a lot of detail, bringing Claude-Alain Bugnon into focus, as large as life and just as humorous on film as in the flesh, as he bids for possible Oscar 2012 glory!


One can almost hear him saying “"I love the smell of wormwood in the morning!" By comparison, Ted Breaux comes across


as positively poetic, with Viridian’s Jared Gurfein, in detailing the US re-legalisation, playing the straight man to the famous absinthe distillers.

I’d be hard pressed to find many factual errors in the film, although I was surprised at the minimal references to the phylloxera blight which played a big part in absinthe’s explosive growth. And it is only recently becoming clear that absinthe was not actually banned in the USA in 1912, although importation and transport across State lines were (so production in some States, and sales within those States, could well have continued until much closer to prohibition).

A great way to watch Absinthe would be to sample some of the absinthes shown in the film at the same time they (or their inventors/owners) are on screen. So get the absinthe fountain out, invite some friends and share one of the Jade absinthes while listening to Ted Breaux talking about 19th century absinthe. Crack open a bottle of La Clandestine while listening to Claude-Alain Bugnon talking about the moonshiners of 20th century Switzerland. And then enjoy a glass of Lucid while Jared Gurfein describes the battle to legalise absinthe in the USA.


After all that, it is recommended that you only watch and imbibe the matching absinthes once every evening. Tomorrow is another day and Absinthe will definitely repay second and third viewings.

I leave almost the last word to Claude-Alain Bugnon as he brings the film to a close ...

In fact, he goes on to say a little more, but far be it from me to reveal the film's dénouement!

Here's the film's trailer:


In the spirit of movies, let's close with some fun. When you’ve watched the film, please let me know which of its stars might have said:

"I am big! It's the pictures that got small."

"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

"If you build it, he will come."

"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"

At $3.99 for 3 days' rental from Amazon, Absinthe is a must-have; at $14.99 to keep the movie it's great value. Enjoy the film, and to Chris and all the others involved in producing Absinthe: santé!