I had a cat named Maynard when I was a teenager. I would pick strands of his orange fur from my forest green “Ænima” t-shirt, banging my head to “Stinkfist” all the while. Tool was one of my top five favourite bands for a good number of years, considering their output has been so sporadic. They’re one of the biggest metal bands in the history of the genre, due in great part to the naked emotion of Maynard James Keenan’s voice. It’s not a metal voice. It’s too sensitive, too vulnerable, while Tool’s music is anything but.
“Blood Into Wine” is a movie because of Maynard James Keenan. It is observed by a journalist in the film that Tool has never been a band to play the media game. This has made Keenan a bit of a mystery, especially given the outlandishness of his stage personae, which have involved the application of body paint, flowing wigs and, in the case of most recent project “Puscifer,” a wardrobe of costumes. Shown performing onstage with Puscifer, Keenan decks himself out in a perverse cross between a Grand Ole Opry MC and an alcoholic televangelist. He’s a complex guy.
“Complexity” is a word used often in “Blood Into Wine.” It describes the process of making wine, the care taken to improve it, even the grape itself. What does Maynard Keenan have to do with wine? He owns and operates Merkin Vineyards and the Caduceus winery in Arizona. Co-directors Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke know that that’s odd. When most people think of Keenan, they think of the angry rock n’ roll frontman. Who would have thought that the guy who sang “Prison Sex” would be into methods of preventing bunch rot?
Along with partner Eric Glomski, Keenan also co-owns Arizona Stronghold. A couple of years ago. the two men took their product on a tour of sorts, and there’s a funny moment in “Blood Into Wine” when young Tool fans, shaking in their boots in anticipation of getting to meet their hero, are led into a curtained area where Keenan and Glomski wait to autograph bottles. Keenan recognizes that his name will put the wine he manufactures into the hands of people who aren’t necessarily wine drinkers. His hope is that it will peak their curiosity about something wholly new, in much the same way it peaked his. For Keenan, wine was the internal click heard on the path of self-discovery that told him he was home.
But why wine? The film dips its toes into Keenan’s history as a gifted rock vocalist. He comments on the anger of his music, and in a rare revelatory moment declares that his work on the vineyards serves as a resolution of the primal screams he has emitted in the studio and on stage for the last 20 years. There is a fulfillment in the hard labour that is clearly important for Keenan’s humanity, and the story behind Nagual del Judith, a wine named in honour of Keenan’s late mother, is heart-wrenching. As for Glomski, his observations about the way wine reminds him of our relationship with the earth are palpable, and staff on the vineyards offer interesting views on why people use certain words to describe a wine’s odour and taste – most are simply semantic abstracts, since a “nutty” wine has nothing to do with nuts.
Keenan and Glomski are proud of their location. Indeed, when one thinks of the lush greenery of vineyards, Arizona does not spring immediately to mind as ideal terrain. But grapes don’t require as much water to grow as other fruits; a lucky thing, since Arizona Stronghold and Caduceus had to do political battle over the Verde Valley’s water reserves, which have been under control of the mines since before Arizona achieved statehood. There are other battles to be fought, including those against animals and the elements, as one season gives way to the next. And there is the pressure of being scored by critics, who are acclaimed for their palates, sample thousands of wines every year and deal out scores out of 100 that could make or break a region commercially.
“Blood Into Wine” is a scattered documentary often in search of a dramatic pulse. A lot of the facts about wine, and there are a lot, went over my head. I imagine it will appeal most to aficionados. For those interested in Keenan’s music, he doesn’t give very much away. But the film is shot well and has a sense of humour about itself that makes it compelling viewing. Fans of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” will be grateful for the film’s repeated cutaways to a faux brutal interview staged with Keenan on a show called “Focus on Interesting Things.” And there is a scene in which Keenan asks the camera crew if they’re going to follow him absolutely anywhere. The sight gag payoff is bold, nutty and complex.
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