Drinking in Movies

14 Mar

  One thing you gotta like about older movies is that they were fortified with alcohol. Before M.A.D.D., Al-anon, rehab, and political correctness run amok, characters use to drink all the time, for all types of reasons and for no reason in particular. Recently for the most part consuming on camera falls into two categories. Either it is the alcoholic whose “life was ruined by drinking” (Flight) or the “we got way too wasted last night and it ruined everything” comedy (The Hangover franchise). Even if liquor is given just a sip of screen time it is either a sin, weakness, or a hazard (even in the context of comedy). But back in the old days booze was just generally there with no comment. It’s not an element of “character development” (whatever that means), but is simply there. People drank in movies for all the reasons we drink in our personal lives. There were no alcoholics in their universe. Contrary to many modern movie worlds, they were populated with men and women who could hold their liquor. Intoxication was presented as a simple fact of life, which it is. Here are  a few films that really show the varied ways movies pulled the bottle out of their bag of tricks to make the viewer their drinking buddy. These movies are full on 100 proof drinking movies but also reflect how on the whole older movies always splashed a little alcohol into their story telling cocktails.

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Comedies have been using inebriation to make the funny happen since the silent era. Charlie Chaplin’s One A.M. (1916): Is a very early example of how physically funny drunk people are. After “The fastest round of drinks I ever saw.” The rummy attempts to stagger into bed and every prop becomes an obstacle in his way.

In The Bank Dick (1941): W.C. Fields is a soused security guard, this movie is still funny today. He’s often in The Black Pussy, yup that’s the name of the bar. But also is drunk at work and goes drinking and driving. You’d never see a light hearted DWI car chase in a contemporary movie.

Can’t leave out Animal House (1978): This film makes drinking so much you can’t remember college seem like a good thing. Bluto is what John Belushi will be remembered for until the end of time. There’s been a couple rip offs like Old School, Van Wilder, and 21 and over that just didn’t measure up.

The recent 2011 remake of another soggy film also underwhelmed. Arthur (1981): Dudley Moore is living a life we’d all be jealous of, a millionaire who is never sober. He’s always giggling and joking, and who can blame him. A great line is when someone tells Arthur a real woman could stop you from drinking. He replies “It would have to be a real big woman”.

Alcohol was also a character’s motivation to get whatever had to be done in the movie accomplished. Gangsters fought over bootleg booze, Private eyes swallowed glasses of rotgut whiskey, and Cowboys needed a shot before they fired shots. Alcohol took care of business. Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master (1978): kicked ass and forgot the names the next morning. The action hero was renowned for his tolerance to 100 proof wine and for standing up to assassins. I’m on board with any training regimen that requires alcohol intake. The Legend of Drunken Master (1994) was a heavier poured second round, nothing wrong with that.

Barfly (1987): was penned by Charles Bukowski (previously discussed on Stupid Opinions Written Poorly). The heavy drinking writer kind of wrote his own biopic and is played by Mickey Rourke. He doesn’t just need to drink to write, he needs to drink with lowlifes in a dive bar to write (one of those lowlifes is Bukowski himself in a cameo). I love his philosophy “Anybody can be a non-drunk. It takes a special talent to be a drunk.” Maybe that same special talent to drink is the same talent it takes to be a great writer…Hasn’t worked for me though.

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Sam Peckinpah’s, entire filmography is in the language of alcohol, the man was a genius, and if you’ve never seen one of his westerns for shame. It is so hard to pick just one of the movies he directed so I’ll go with his most famous one Wild Bunch (1969). Everyone drinks in this movie all the time, the outlaws gulp whisky and tequila, and swim with prostitutes in a vat of wine because, well, they’re a wild bunch. During a deep psychological moment William Holden the leader of The Wild Bunch is conflicted. He can take his loot and have a great life, or risk his neck to go back and rescue his comrade. He stares into that bottle looking deep into the liquid and his soul. Makes the hard choice, chugs the entire bottle and tosses it aside, now set on saving his friend. There’s no dialog or music just that bottle, nuff said. Sam Peckinpah was the embodiment of drinking to take care of business. On the set of one of his movies his bar tab alone was $40,000! But the man was ahead of his time. Movies back then averaged about 600 cuts, Wild Bunch has 3200+ it took decade for movies to catch up to his style.

So where are we now? Well drinking to take care of business almost doesn’t exist. I mean James Bond didn’t get one martini in Skyfall. There are a few great drinking comedies in the 21st century. Bad Santa (2003): is such a supreme combination of raunchy humor and emotional impact. As a tradition I watch it every Christmas, it makes my alcoholism seem less raging.
Beerfest (2006): is exactly what it promises, but you can’t watch it by yourself and you have to be drinking. Of coarse my opinion is based on the first time I saw it. When the warning at the beginning of the movie comes up that says “If you drink this much beer you will DIE!” My friends shouted “Come on guys we can do it!”
SuperBad (2007): was a much more realistic portrayal of high school than American Pie was. Before Micheal Cera and Jonah Hill were overexposed and annoying, this movie made me laugh so much my face hurt. I guess it bridges the gap between a drinking comedy and drinking to take care of business since the whole premise is underage minors getting alcohol in an attempt to get laid.

So if you’re looking for a movie to get you psyched up for celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day maybe these will help.

Cheers,
Carl Wells

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