Anyone who has seen and enjoyed Gravity will probably be delighted to learn that a sequel is planned in which Bullock and Clooney are reunited and we get to visit the insides of several more spaceships. Fewer people outside the US have seen Somm, the documentary that follows four sommeliers as they struggle to qualify as Master Sommeliers, but it’s good to hear that the producers are planning to make a similar film about students preparing to take their Master of Wine exams. And the makers of Red Obsession, the film about Bordeaux fever in China are, right now, working on a film about the British love affair with half-price California White Zin.
The Gravity script could easily and credibly be rewritten to place Clooney and Bullock underwater repairing a submarine (you’d get the same kind of physical movements from the actors), or in Antarctica or the Sahara. What is required is a hostile, alien environment devoid of other people. While Bullock, Clooney and the team behind Gravity were making their movie, in another studio nearby, another highly talented of film makers were producing All is Lost, about a solitary yachtsman in trouble in the Indian Ocean.
As someone once said, most good stories are a variation on a single arc: Introduce your hero – the protagonist – and stick him up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him out of the tree. (This last part is not absolutely essential; you could finish the movie or book with your hero reconciled to their fate, but you still need to wrap it up satisfactorily). To this point, ideally, part of reasoning behind the story might involve the way that the protagonist has been changed by the experiences they have been through. Now, if this all sounds formulaic, it is: a formula that has worked in stories ranging from Little Red Riding Hood to Hamlet and Great Expectations. There are successful exceptions to this rule, but they are just that: exceptions.
Of course, there are stories that largely rely on the familiarity of the characters – such as soap operas and the kinds of rambling “do you remember when Cousin Edith lost her hat?” type anecdotes that tend to be recounted by our kith and kin at Christmas. But most of us would acknowledge how tedious the family-and-old-friend tales are to outsiders, and it’s the job of the writers of soap operas to introduce story lines that catch the imagination and keep the interest of viewers.
Which leads me to one of the challenges facing the wine industry. It needs to tell more stories that involve a broader audience than the wine lover equivalent of the friends-and-family. “George was a lawyer before he bought his beautiful Languedoc vineyard” is not intrinsically an involving story. And nor is: “Jean-Pierre took over from his father Michel in 2008 and continues his tradition of making organic wine”. But these are the kinds of “stories” that fill the pages of wine magazines, and that some people imagine might actually interest viewers of television wine programmes.