Sideways is the latest example of the big screen's ability to inspire popcorn pilgrimages.
It was early January when Peter Moller and his friend decided to escape the gray. Moller, a Syracuse University film professor, and his West Coast friend left behind L.A., which at the time was enduring a record-breaking rainfall, for an adventure in the Santa Ynez Mountains. "As soon as we got there, I started to recognize locations and streets from Sideways," Moller says. "Being a film buff and a wine lover, I said, 'I want to track down every spot that they were in, and let's see if we can find some good Pinot Noir in the places they went.'"
Moller was part of the first wave of tourists who created "the Sideways phenomenon," travelers who seek out every winery and restaurant featured, reenact key moments from the movie, and boost tourism to the region. (Sideways maps, which were produced by the Santa Barbara Tourism Bureau, have been printed, and the area now bills itself as Sideways Country.) Moller and his friend enjoyed the entire Sideways experience: Moller bought three cases of wine; a waiter showed them a Polaroid of his bit part in the movie. One local winemaker sat down with them, shared her breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, and explained why the area produces such good Pinot Noir. Just like Miles and Jack, the film's protagonists, Moller found the region's superior wine, friendly people, and charming beauty a seductive mix. "One day I got up early and walked out to a street that led to a field and an outlook where you could see the whole valley," he says. "At that time of year, there's this fog that descends and cloaks everything. It was breathtaking. "
Sideways is the latest in a long line of movies that prompt travelers to explore the beauty and romance of locations featured in film and to document those places through their own experience. Lost in Translation led people to Tokyo. A River Runs Through It transformed Missoula, Montana, into a bustling hot spot known for its Hollywood outlaws and writerly enclaves. Cinematic stories played large in hidden spaces incite our imagination, fuel our need for romance, and assist in our collective blurring of fact and fiction. "I think films present us with icons, and whatever we see of the place is not really the place but a romanticized version," Moller says. "It's a journey that you want to go to and be part of."
Such connections happen more and more. Sideways showcased a moody grape and a little-known, picturesque region. Witness the 33 percent sales increases of Pinot Noir in California. A River Runs Through It launched a flood of fly-fishing schools. Easy Rider ignited a love affair for two-wheeled travel that still tugs at the American psyche. "The other thing that is interesting is that it also captures a national collective imagination," says Jason Mittell, professor of media studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. "I think for a lot of people, pop culture puts something on the menu as an option," he says. "People who know the movie, who like the movie, go and attempt to re-create the moments - hopefully the more celebratory moments and less the motorcycle-helmet-in-the-head moments."