Friday, December 31, 2010


Directed by Ryan Page, Christopher Pomerenke

Starring Maynard James Keenan, Eric Glomski, Tim Alexander

Take a moment to conjure into your head your favorite song. Close your eyes and really listen to it - mentally peel away each layer and savor the different textures each movement of the song brings. When you take the time to experience music that way, it can be an edifying experience. The best musicians compose tunes that slowly let their flavors unfold and echo in the mind long after the listener has stopped listening.

A similar experience can be had, or so the thesis of Blood Into Wine goes, when one takes the time to consume a glass of fermented grape juice. Wine, like a song, needs to be nurtured and cared for, composed using different, and sometimes opposing, elements. The more thought and care that goes into making a wine, the better the wine will be, and the more pleasurable the drinking experience for the consumer.

A documentary that explores the complex process of wine making, Blood Into Wine is a love letter to those who spend years of their lives choosing the landscape, cultivating the ingredients, protecting the crops, harvesting the fruits, mixing the flavors, and ultimately bottling the aromatic alcoholic beverage. At the same time, it also peeks into the private life of one of rock and roll's most private and enigmatic front-man: Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of the progressive rock unit (and one of my personal favorite bands) Tool.

Notorious for shunning the press and shunning perspicuity when it comes to questions about their music, Tool have spent almost two decades letting their four full-length albums speak for themselves. As the lead singer, Keenan has spent that same amount of time cryptically fending off those who seek to find the answers to how and why he does what he does. In the mid '90's, he moved to Jerome, a small town smack dab in he middle of Arizona where, in order to tackle new challenges, he decided to become a wine maker in addition to being a platinum selling music artist. Teaming with fellow wine-enthusiast (and experienced wine creator extraordinaire) Eric Glomski, Keenan spent years juggling the rigorous nature of touring with Tool (and A Perfect Circle AND Puscifer, two other Maynard-fronted rock bands) with the difficulties of owning and operating a small winery in a location not usually thought of as being conducive to success in such an industry. Using the same techniques that he utilizes to create Tool's unique and complex songs to invent new and exciting flavors of wine, the film tracks Keenan and Glomski's failures and fortunes, with injections of witty humor for fun.

Knowing that Keenan would rather approach aspects of his private life in a darkly comedic way allows directors Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke more access to the man while offering up laughs to the viewer. After one instance of giving a very thought-provoking answer to a very tired question, it's revealed that Keenan is sitting on a toilet, and voices concern about the camera crew following him around everywhere he goes. One gets the feeling that the exchange for allowing insight into this part of Keenan was to let him do whatever he wanted to do, and have it be left up to the viewer on whether or not what he's offering up is authentic or not. This is something Keenan explicitly states during the documentary, although it's questionable as to whether or not he's being truthful or trustworthy with that declaration as well.

This is a theme that fits right in to Blood Into Wine, although it certainly may be frustrating to some viewers. You take out of a work of art what you want, much like tasting a wine. The more time you take to taste the layers and flavors of the art/wine, the more you'll get from the experience. To wit, the documentary has its own layers and flavors that need to be uncovered with a thorough and attentive viewing. At times it becomes enraptured with the science of how the DNA structure of grapes work and the chemical process of breaking down that structure and creating the fermented juices that go into making the wine. The clinical information is always conveyed, though, in an earthy setting - much of the documentary takes place outside, with beautiful Arizona landscapes as backdrops. Much of the time the subjects are down in the dirt while discussing their processes, and the film wisely eschews a talking-head format, much to its advantage.

Throughout its running time, Blood Into Wine also drops on the viewer some fun, sometimes obscure cameos. Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, Resident Evil) spends a few minutes onscreen, as does comedian Patton Oswalt and Primus drummer Tim Alexander. As a fan of these individuals, it was a treat to see them interacting with each other while either adding a humorous aspect to the film or conveying narrative information.

Fascinating for both wine connoisseur and Tool fans alike, Blood Into Wine is an intriguing and hugely satisfying documentary film. It provides insight into an industry and process that is much more complex than most people realize, while providing a parallel to that complexity in a musician that many people thought would remain inaccessible to the end of days. 

 Addendum: I offer up Tool's song "Lateralus" as an example of the musical equivalent of a fine wine, dense with many layers and textures, and simply a grand experience. Even if you have an aversion to rock music, slide on some headphones, close your eyes, and prepare for a dramatic and spiritually uplifting experience here.

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