Winner of the award for Best Story from the Los Angeles Animation Film Festival, The Magical Mystery of Musigny is a short film that tells the story of John, a man whose life has been irrevocably altered by sipping a glass of Musigny wine. However, because his experience is so powerful, he struggles to communicate its meaning to his wife, causing drama between the two spouses. When asked where he got the idea for the story, director John Meyer says his inspiration came from his own personal experience.
“It was an epiphany that I had thirty years ago when I drank this extraordinary wine called Musigny,” he begins. “The minute I took a sip of this extraordinary wine, I was transported in my imagination all the way to Russia and the Don River—a river I’d never seen and a country I’d never visited—but there I was with the moon shining reflected off its surface and the onion spires of the Russian cathedrals across the river. It was extraordinary and it lasted about thirty seconds. All of a sudden, it vanished and I was back at the table, quite dazed and dazzled. When I got home and I told my wife about it, she said, “Oh, you were just drunk.” It took me about five years to convince her and, as you saw at the end of the video, she finally had an epiphany of her own.”
Though profoundly affected by the moment, it wasn’t until Meyer responded to an ad in a wine magazine that the story for Magical Mystery began to come together. Once he recorded his experience and found his kindred spirit in animator Emmett Goldman, he knew it was time to bring his journey to life onscreen.
“This all started as a response to an ad in the wine spectator for a story about wine,” he recalls. “The Wine Spectator, which is a magazine concentrating on wine, asked for your most thrilling experience and I wrote it up. [After] they accepted it, I said, “Let’s make an animated video out of it.” I found [animator] Emmett [Goodman] through a mutual friend and he just went to town. I managed to document the experience in a humorous fashion… He was able to just take a look at me and capture my kind of owlish balding appearance and he presents this little quest to convince my wife of the validity of the experience. It comes out very amusing… Now we’re going to do another three or four of them and make an anthology film of animated stories…”
From the outset, Meyer knew that animation was the manner through which he wanted his story to be told. With its variety of style and character, Meyer believes that there are similarities between animation and wine and carry over well onscreen.
“Animation certainly has its own character—as does wine—and when you marry them in a comic way, then you get our video, The Magical Mystery of Musigny,” he explains. “Pinocchio, I think is the ultimate expression of animation, at least during the Great Disney period. I think many animators have learned many of the lessons that Pinocchio has to teach, such as close ups of faces and all kinds of stylistic tropes. They each have their own character, of course, animation and wine.”
Although it may be difficult for one who hasn’t partaken of this particular vintage of wine to comprehend, Meyers speaks about his experience in such profound terms as to suggest that it has affected the deepest areas of his soul.
“It really is life changing because, from then on, your view is filtered through the experience,” he blows. “Every interaction is colored by the fact that there’s another dimension to your life that you’ve experienced a glimpse of. It’s really quite extraordinary. Now, every time I approach a wine, I wonder to myself if something similar going to happen. Of course, it never does. It may be peculiar to this particular vintage, to this particular wine called Musigny. It was very expensive. I was invited to this tasting. I could never afforded it by myself. Tickets to it was something like $1,500 a seat, you know?”
“But I was lucky to find an animator who shared my particular comic vision. It’s a vision I developed with Paul Bartel. He wrote and directed a comedy called Eating Raoul. He and I developed a method of storytelling that I call Cartoon Noir, which is funny and suspenseful both at once. Kind of a satiric version of Alfred Hitchcock, if you will… That’s what I used in doingThe Magical Mystery of Musigny.”
One of the more unusual aspects of the promotional campaign for the short is its tagline, “A comic look at obsession.’ Although the term ‘obsession’ may seem strong, Meyer insists that the word is used in a humorous tone to depict his journey to repeat his experience.
“This experience was undeniable and, by ‘obsession’, I mean that I keep looking for the similar reprise of the experience, which [I’ve never found]. So, it must be unique to this particular wine or maybe it remains in the future somewhere. That’s what obsession means and it’s an amusing way of expressing it.”
Interestingly, wine tasting is a cultural phenomenon that we have rarely seen depicted onscreen. Other than 2004’sSideways, few films have attempted to explain the complexity of a culinary pastime that is also viewed as one of the highest forms of art. Asked why he believes wine tasting is viewed in this manner, Meyer immediately perks up at the chance to explain the intricacies of his passion.
“Well, when you drink a wine of a certain level, you experience complexity because the wine approaches your tongue with layers,” he beams. “The initial burst of pleasure is then superseded by all these layers of flavors and you can taste things like pencil lead, cigar box aroma in addition to the array of fruits and flowers that a particular wine will present. You’ll have to get to a certain level of wine to experience this complexity but, when you do get there, it’s like reading a novel with all the various characters interacting. It’s more than you could experience. All of a sudden, you’ve drank two thirds of a bottle and you haven’t written down even half of your impressions. I hope that can help turn the folks listening onto investigating wines. Mainly, my experience has been that the French wines present this complexity, but you could also get it in Italian and Spanish wines. In fact, if anybody wants to write me, I can recommend some of the wines.”
Those interested in receiving advice from Meyer about wine-tasting or his work can receive his contact information through our email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear full audio of our conversation with John Meyer, click here.
The Magical Mystery of Musigny is touring festivals now.