Wine and a Movie, Oregon edition: Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” and Cameron pinot noir

Today’s post is the next installment of my Wine and a Movie feature, and today I have an appreciation of the works of two acclaimed but probably under-discussed master craftsmen.  On the film side, we have Gus Van Sant, who you may know by his films “Good Will Hunting” and “Milk”, among others, although I want to focus on 2008’s “Paranoid Park”, based on a novel of the same name by Blake Nelson, and my favorite of Van Sant’s films.

On the wine side of things, I present 2010 Cameron pinot noir, from the Dundee Hills AVA, made by John Paul, one of the pinot pioneers of Oregon.  While “Burgundian” is a word mentioned in conjunction with a lot of pinot noirs from Oregon, Cameron is among the very few producers in the US whose wines truly deserve the label. Also, Cameron has possibly the coolest official winery bottle shot I have seen, here it is (with “Jackson Pawlick”):

Paranoid Park opens with a preview of what the viewer is in store for: risky and unusual music choices that don’t always work but keep the audience on its toes, eschewing the easy comfort of cliches for pieces that subtly portend what is to come in the story.  Nino Rota’s “Porticina Segreta” alternates between whimsical and foreboding, and Billy Swan’s 70’s hit “I Can Help” serves as unpredictable anthem to introduce us the film’s protagonist, Alex Trumaine, a sixteen year old skater kid in modern-day Portland, while simultaneously hinting through its lyrics at the drama set to unfold.

The 2010 Cameron pinot noir is also full of surprises.  The nose offers funky earth more often offered in wines from the Cote d’Or than Oregon.  The fruit has a racy, tart edge but is full with intensity that you expect from single-vineyard wines but not from an entry-level appellation blend.  There’s plenty of Oregon pinot noir typicity here, but the savory loaminess that I find too dominant in many Oregon pinots functions here as a lovely earthy accent.  I purchased my bottle for $35 and was quite happy, but certain retailers in Oregon often sell this bottling for under $20.  At that price, this wine is a sick, sick deal considering the Cameron wines are hand-crafted and sustainably farmed.  If you can find it under $20 this is probably the best American pinot noir in its price range.

While “Paranoid Park” employs dreamy visuals (courtesy of star cinematographer Christopher Doyle, also making an onscreen cameo) to tell its elliptical story, the real genius of this film lies in its sound: from score and source music to the inventive sound design that seals the viewer’s immersion into Alex’s world as the mystery surrounding the death of a railroad security guard near a skate park known as ‘Paranoid Park’ is peeled back layer by layer.

One of the few terms as overused as “Burgundian” is “Hitchcockian”, as applied to countless copycat films that mimic the Master of Suspense rather than taking his inspiration in new directions.  “Paranoid Park” plays to me like a film that Alfred Hitchcock would make in the modern day (with a splash of Kieslowski thrown in), which coming from as big a Hitchcock fan as I am, is a true compliment, especially considering that I’ve never been able to watch the shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” that Van Sant did early in his career.    The dialogue among teenagers here is largely improvised, coming across as how kids of that age really talk as opposed to the overwritten teens seen so often in modern TV and film.  Flashes of humor buffet the story’s progression, and Alex’s relationship with his vapid cheerleader girlfriend, and the choice of music underneath one of their arguments, is a real hoot.

If you think that poetry can’t be found in a movie about skate punks, or a humble appellation blend domestic pinot, sit back, hit the play button and let the shifting aromas and textures of the Cameron Dundee Hills pinot noir accompany the lyrical soundscapes and visuals of Gus Van Sant’s underrated Pacific Northwest drama.  The strains of Elliott Smith’s “Angeles” and Cast King’s “Outlaw”, together with the advice of the more substantive female in Alex’s world, his friend Macy, serve as an appropriate coda to the film, and perhaps, the last sips of the bottle.  Cheers,