But the emotional catalysts behind those numbers leave some baffled. In particular, more than a few film connoisseurs resist raising their glass to toast the Sideways frenzy. "The three-year supply of cocktail napkins at the Hitching Post was gobbled up in a few months. I can't understand why moviegoers are so fascinated," says Elias Savada, director of the Motion Picture Information Service and an online film critic for Filmthreat.com. "Since they can't sit down for a meal with a movie star - not to belittle [Paul] Giamatti and the other fine actors that service the delicious script - why not get close with Hollywood by touching the bar stool, sitting at the table, drinking the wine, and enjoying the scenery observed in the film." Moller calls this the "People magazine thing" and notes that visiting a place made famous by a film satisfies a voyeuristic tendency we all share.
Locals caught up in a cinematic treasure hunt are often (understandably) resentful. As I stood in line recently at an airport, I exchanged pleasantries with the couple in front of me. The conversation led to hometowns. When I asked where they lived, the husband took a deep breath, paused, and said he owned a harbor in Amityville, New York. That admission followed a series of complaints about tourists who still come to the town in search of the infamous home featured in the horror films. (The remake of the first film, released in April, surely worsened that situation.)
The residents of Burkittsville, Maryland, feel his pain. Rabid Blair Witch Project fans overran their town in search of evidence of the ghost story. "I suspect any inconvenience resulting from people's attraction to any location exposed on film or television can be interpreted as either a blessing or curse," Savada says. "The kindly spinster in Burkittsville was probably upset with all those inconsiderate invaders trampling her garden while the entrepreneurial teenage kid down the street sold makeshift stick witches at five or 10 bucks a pop."
Savada wonders if the media marketplace's blurring of fiction and truth affects travelers' abilities to discern a fictional ghost story from a location shot in Maryland. For example: At the now-famous Hitching Post II, the real-life wine-serving restaurant in Sideways, customers occasionally ask if Maya, the sweet, wine-savvy fictional character played by Virginia Madsen, is working that night.
As long as you don't think movie characters really exist, you shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to sip Pinot in the same spots where Miles and Jack did. Movies are stories, and the best stories create settings that remain with us.