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Disneyland Ex Machina

Irons & Wine: Seasons of the Vine, in review

Wine Fugue

Jeremy Irons, we knew you when. We knew you when you worked on indie films with Cronenberg and Soderbergh. We knew you when you gave the needle to Sonny von Bulow. We knew when your name wasn’t synonymous with crap like “Die Hard 3” and “Dungeons and Dragons.” We knew when you gnashed your teeth and bit the recess lady’s breast. How can we forget?

And we knew you when you went to Disneyland. Irons has done three voice acting jobs for Disney of which I’m aware — the voice of the Von Bulow-like Scar in “The Lion King,” the narration of Spaceship Earth (now replaced by Dame Judi Dench), and the narration of “Seasons of the Vine,” a now-defunct short film at Disney’s California Adventure. (He also appeared as H.G. Wells in “From Time to Time,” a Circlevision 360 film that ran at the Magic Kingdom parks in Florida, Paris and Tokyo. Sadly, I never had the chance to see it firsthand.)

The first two voice jobs are listed in Irons’ CV on the IMDb. The third is not, even though it is an actual, live-action short film. Let’s clear about this: Irons’ IMDb listing includes instructional videos, video-game work and even his “Comic Relief” appearances, but not a film that ran at a Disney theme park for seven years.

The reason for this apparent oversight is simple, and embarrassing: No one knew it was there.

“Seasons of the Vine” had the dumb luck of being in the most anonymous part of Disney’s least-attended and most-maligned American park. It had little in the way of visible signage, was barely mentioned in park maps and promotional materials … and no thanks to some truly baffling operational choices, it was almost never open. (“Seasons” wasn’t run by the attractions division, but by foods — which meant that in order to get into the attraction, most days you had to find someone from the nearby wine bar and cajole him or her into letting you in.)

“Seasons” is gone now. Its former space is soon to be occupied by a “coming attractions” showcase like that which used to sit on Main Street (next door to the Hills Bros. Coffee House/Town Square Cafe, which really needs to come back). While I readily understand why a short film about wineries didn’t appeal to a crowd that was largely too young to drink it (and the prospect of a new Disneyland Showcase is exciting indeed), I do miss the film terribly. It offered a respite from the day, it put me in the mood to hit up the nearby wine bar, and by golly, it was a good Jeremy Irons movie. Much better than “Kafka.”

Gorgeously photographed in the heart of California wine country on Robert Mondavi’s nickel (the winery dropped its sponsorship of the attraction soon after DCA opened), “Seasons of the Vine” is a perfect example of Disney’s gift for the candy-coated sell. It reminds me of the films that debuted with EPCOT Center — the lyrical “Impressions de France,” the fanciful “Magic Journeys,” the epic “Symbiosis.” Every one of those films sells something — paycheck environmentalism, Parisian vacations, Kodachrome — but they do so in such an artful way that the golden glow of the medium lingers after the message had faded. As “Impressions de France” does for Le Tour Eiffel, “Seasons” makes you feel simply great about living in a world with winemakers in it.

See the film here. Obviously the effect is somewhat diminished when viewing it at home without the promise of a glass of wine in your future, but at least one of those problems is easily rectified. Enjoy Irons’ relaxed, avuncular narration; it’s the warmest reading I’ve ever heard from him. “A celahbraaation of liiiife.” To achieve it, he surely must have had a few.

Also, give a receptive ear to Bruce Broughton’s score. The Emmy-winning composer has penned his share of memorable themes fro the American West (most notably for Lawrence Kasdan’s “Silverado”). “Seasons of the Vine” is very much part of that tradition — after all, the vintners who took California’s wineries to victory in the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” were also cowboys after a fashion. And though the film never mentions that fateful wine tasting, the Spanish and French elements of the score tip their hat to it as they weave in and out of one of the Copland-like Yankee Doodle compositions at which Broughton excels.

The music, available on the official Disneyland/DCA soundtrack album, is all that’s left of “Seasons of the Vine.” Most people don’t miss it; even the rose-colored lens of Yesterland dismisses it as “just a film.”

Maybe so. But I’ll tell you this: I now hear Broughton’s lively score in my head every time I walk into a wine shop or cellar. And when I savor a glass of wine on my palate, I now think of the journey it took to get there. I almost never think of “Dungeons and Dragons,” no matter how drunk I get.

Comments

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2 Comments

  1. Wow… I don't even really like wine, but I suddenly want a glass…

  2. I really like Disney's "pastorals". In 2003 I was able to conjole somebody into showing me Seasons of the Vine, which was nice, and I intended to repeat that in 2005 but I simply never was in DCA much. The film was honestly one of the best executed things about DCA, and I loved the doors in front of the movie screen – worthy of some of EPCOT's presentational devices.

    Around the time O Canada was about to be changed I was seeing that film about once a week, and I liked that one a lot, much more than the China film. Of course neither hold a candle to Impressions de France, honestly the best film ever made for a theme park.

    Le Visionarium / From Time to Time / Timekeeper was pretty neat and I'm glad I was given the chance to see it repeatedly. It does have the unique distinction of being the only narrative film made in Circle-Vision. It's been a goal of mine to make a narrative in circle-vision, not a pretty picture film, but something where each screen is mostly doing something unrelated to all the others. Character would be able to converse across the theatre on separate screens and all sorts of other stuff. If only Brakhage had made a circle-vision film!

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