Drink & Watch: Che
Got four hours to kill on a weekend afternoon? Then you should pour yourself a gigantic glass of Singani 63 on the rocks (the Subwoofer cocktail, as Steven Soderbergh would call it) and park yourself in front of the TV for both parts of Mr. Soderbergh's bio-pic drama Che. If you never read the original interview we did, it was on the film's set in Bolivia that Steven first discovered the country's premier spirit singani—distilled from locally-grown muscat grapes into a clear brandy of sorts. It was that first-hand cultural drinking experience that endeared him heavily to the beverage—enough to where he created a brand and import company just to get the stuff brought legally over the border. Why shouldn't I try to recreate that atmosphere in my living room via the comfort of my couch? The entirety of Che is currently available to stream for Netflix subscribers. I've always been interested in Guevara as a historical figure. It all made sense: I would drink an entire bottle of Singani 63 over the course of four-plus hours, pairing it with the epic film that lead to its very origin.
Believe it or not, I actually wanted get a PhD in Latin American political science at one point. When I was studying film at UCSD my sub-college required me to choose a regional specialization—an attempt to force multiculturalism upon us ignorant children. Me being a procrastinator at the time, I saved all of my requisite courses until my final two trimesters, cramming sixteen units of last-minute Latin American history into the final push towards graduation. Why Latin America? Because it fit in with my schedule. But what began with a shrug and a "why not?" would finish with a hunger and a fascination to learn more. I enjoyed those courses on Latin American history more than any classes I had taken over my entire time at the university. All of that passion came right back out of me when I started watching Che, a study of Guevara's two main military struggles: the first in Cuba and the second in Bolivia, separated into two parts for clarity. I poured my first glass after hitting play and watching the intro which maps out the landscape of the Caribbean island. The thirst took over me.
If you're going to do this whole thing right, however, you're going to have to pace yourself. If you're not careful, by the time you've met Fidel, the gang of revolutionaries, and made it through to the taking of Havana there's a good chance you'll be face down on the coffee table. Che isn't a race to the finish. It's a slow and meticulous examination of Guevara's character, philosophy, and political nature based on his multitude of experiences while working with soldiers, farmers, and peasants in the changing countryside. Steven had sent me a large box of these Singani cocktail books his team had worked out, complete with gorgeous photos and precise directions to the pleasure zone. He even autographed a whole bunch of them for our customers (which I still have at the store, by the way—if you buy a bottle send me an email and I'll get you one). I shook up one of the recipes during the intermission. The Spanish guitar plays in Part II as Che finally sneaks into Bolivia and makes his way out to the campesinos. It's all beautifully shot (as everything Steven does is) and it's as romantic as revolutionary theater gets. I was gulping down huge pours of my Singani martini by that point. If you've never heard me say it before: Singani is like the ketchup of the bar. You can put it into any cocktail and it works wonders. I had almost forgotten how much I like it during these last few winter months when whiskey tends to take center stage in my drinking habits. This little cinema/booze pairing was the perfect reminder.
Here's where things got really interesting, however. After watching the film I emailed Steven and asked him some questions about the picture, wondering if he could maybe add a few anecdotes from the set to brighten up my blog post a bit. Maybe one night Benicio got really drunk and said something funny, or maybe Franka Potente slipped up and started speaking German instead of Spanish after a few too many singani shots. Something like that. Here is the response he sent me yesterday—no joke. This is in all honesty the exact email from Mr. Soderbergh pasted below:
When you mentioned CHE, it jogged something in the back of my mind and I arranged for some interns to dig through our digital archives seven miles beneath the lunar surface. What we discovered was well worth the money, time, and lives it took to find it: the infamous "singani scene" from CHE Part Two, which caused so much internal debate during the editing of the film. My producers felt the scene was crucial because without it, why would Che even GO to Bolivia? I felt it was WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE and NOT COOL to use a scene from a movie about a real-life historical figure to sell my booze in so brazen a way. Fortunately, ethics prevailed and this scene was removed from the film. I believe history will absolve me.
Then he added the following link: http://singani63.com/media/
Did I really just see that or have I been drinking too much?
I'm opening another bottle of Singani 63 and pouring another Subwoofer. Let's see if that video's still there when I wake up.