Hollywood and Vines

Burn Hollywood, burn.
Burn Hollywood, burn.

Though I had moved to Hollywood from the Bay Area in the early part of this century I remained a stringer for the San Francisco Chronicle (the ink in my veins apparently outshone the stars in my eyes). My contributions amounted to a handful of celebrity interviews (I specialized in what we called “Blisters,” a contraction of “B” and “list”) and annual coverage of the then- “Sonoma Valley Film Festival.” Every April meant a week basking in the Wine Country and ruing my inevitable return to LA. They were the best of times, they were the worst of times – I bet. “The purple haze all in my brain,” I attribute to some choice vintages from the Sonoma Valley appellation and, um, you know, the power of cinema.

The Chron articles were “advances,” pabulum constructed around the festival program bolstered with an occasional blister quote, and filed prior to my arrival in wine-soaked Sonoma. To wit, I’d struggle to paraphrase my lead from the previous year while sequestered in some studio commissary or other – counting down the days until my Sonoma sojourn. Invariably, the pieces would open with clumsy attempts at entendre like “Wine, women and film,” or card houses built on “pinot noir” and “film noir” and iffy references to Orson Welles’ sad end as a Paul Masson pitchman: “We shall sell no wine until I get my residual.”

Regardless, once the words were arranged in some semblance of English, all I had to do was remember the numbers 10-405-5-580-680-780-80-37-121-12 – the freeways, highways and occasional interstates I had to navigate from LA to Sonoma. I’d later realize the sequence was the locker combination to my heart. Sigh.

Upon arrival, I’d locate the press will-call, endure the bane of my byline with the poor volunteer thumbing through the credentials (this usually resulted in a 30-second course in Greek mythology) and accept a press kit that would remain on the floor of my car for the next six months in a nest of empty water bottles and coffee cups.


Two beats later, I’d begin carousing with colleagues past, present and future – promise to see their films, forget, wakeup wine-stained and wretched, reintroduce myself as necessary, then wash, rinse and repeat. For years.

The past three fests, mercifully, my wife has made sure that I see at least a few films (it apparently slows the momentum of merlot). She does everything short of pinning the number of Verne’s Taxi and our address on my lapel. Seeing as Raymond Scott Daigle and I have a couple of flicks in the fest this year, I have to at least keep my head together for the Q&A that follows (lest I say Daigle is “my monkey” again in public, which, for some reason, he’s not too keen on).

Of course, I had some practice with my cinematic patter last Friday, when, after an evening out with in-house music maven J.M. Berry enjoying the generosity at Glen Ellen’s Saffron, I had to get myself together the following morning and wend over the Oakville Grade to a press luncheon at Rubicon Estates.

I was an hour late, hung over and unaware that I’d be dining a few seats down from director Francis Ford Coppola. Suffice it to say, the “hair of the dog” poured before me came from a purebred of the finest pedigree, breeding and doggy finishing school – the 2005 Rubicon Estate cabernet. Permit me this indulgence: “I love the smell of Napa in the morning.”

Coppola was a gracious host and astutely observed the “Joyce” reference in my name (I spared him the Greek mythology lesson). Fortunately, I had caught the eye of a field producer from CNN who was doing a segment on Coppola and requested an on-camera tête-à-tête with me before my fanboy switch tripped and I began asking arcane questions about “The Godfather.”

I obliged the producer and, thanks to years working up gags for the Chron, I was able to sound vaguely coherent about Coppola’s films and wine.

Except for, perhaps, the part about “my monkey.”

About Daedalus Howell

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