In 1986, Times critic Patrick Goldstein puzzled over the chambers decision to bypass Chuck Berry even while less-influential inductees were green-lighted. Goldsteins article prompted an angry letter from a reader questioning why Tom Cruise had been inducted just weeks earlier, noting Cruise “must have all of five film roles under his belt.” Of course, in the more than two decades since, Cruise emerged as one of the all-time biggest box office draws. Berry, by the way, was inducted the following year. Among other big names missing from the walk: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Sean Connery, David Lean, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Leonard Dicaprio, Diane Keaton, Denzel Washington and Woody Allen. How do you determine dates of birth and death and locations? GET ME REWRITE: Research uncovered errors in Hollywood history, like Ben Alexander’s date of death. Times reporters consulted original obituaries as the starting place to determine birth and death dates. However, numerous stars lied over the years about their ages, using dates that made them either older or younger than they really were, depending on their needs at the time. In other casesas is true with Merle Oberon and Yul Brynner , among othersstars lied about the circumstances of their birth and ancestry. In Brynners case, a book written by his son after his death corrected several “facts” used by numerous news organizations, including The Times, in his obituary. Some commonly used dates also appeared wrong on closer inspection. One example can be found in the entry for Ben Alexander , who began as a child star but was best-known as Jack Webbs first partner on “Dragnet.” Alexanders date of death is often given as July 5, 1969 but the original obituary said that while he was discovered on that date, coroners officials determined hed been dead for at least a week. When additional information was reported by the family or biographers, The Times tried as much as possible to incorporate that information into the database. Almost certainly, more changes will be made going forward as additional information is uncovered or made known.
The film focuses on four exam candidates, all men, who at the time of filming were all based in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of them, Brian McLintic, is an athlete and former baseball player who observes lots of parallels between competing in this event and his former sports career. It’s his wife who deftly sums up Brian and his study group as, “like guys in a locker room, with wine.” Another candidate, Ian Cauble, insists there is a positive aspect to the intensive preparation for this exam, which requires participants to respond to questions about all aspects of winemaking and every wine region of the world; to demonstrate professional wine service in a very challenging environment; and to identify as accurately as possible the region, grape variety and vintage of six different wines in a 25-minute blindtasting. He claims human beings rarely stop to experience things deeply these days so that studying wine as required for this competition makes one “live life through your senses for that quick 25 minutes; it’s like nothing else matters except for this liquid.” The film also does a nice job of touching on the history of wine and its importance to culture, in part through short interviews with an eclectic group of winemakers. They include, from the U.S., Bo Barrett, Whitney Fisher and Pax Mahle, and from Europe, Wilhelm Haag, Paul Graf von Schonborn and Andrea Cecchi. One of the film’s most indelible characters is Fred Dame, who was the first American to pass, on his first try, the Master Sommelier exam in Britain where the Court of Master Sommeliers was established. It was Fred who, as the film makes clear, was instrumental in establishing an annual version of the three-day exam in the United States, and who also regularly participates in administering the exam and in coaching candidates for it. Fred is a highly intimidating presence. Those hoping to follow in his footsteps aspire to be able to “Dame” a wine, i.e., to identify the variety, region and vintage accurately by spending only a few seconds nosing its bouquet. All in all, this is the most suspenseful film about the world of fine wine I’ve ever seen, giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the Court of Master Sommeliers, whose examination and certification processes had never before been filmed. Even though its focus is a group of “self absorbed egomaniacs,” in the words of one of their wives, one does find oneself rooting for all four to succeed.