"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were.
After the second glass, you see things as they are not.
Finally, you see things as they are, and that is the most horrible thing
in the world."
-- Oscar Wilde, on absinthe
Absinthe. It was the muse that inspired artists and writers from Degas to Van Gogh and from Faulkner to Hemingway. Now, its mystique has moved six Greenwich friends to produce a film on the anise-flavored alcohol that has been blamed for everything from madness to murder to the decline of morality.
Chris Buddy, 1998 senior class president of Greenwich High School, directed the film, "Absinthe," and his brother, Seth, produced the independent work, along with fellow Greenwich High School graduates Chuck Facas, Kevin Conlon and executive producer Jarret McGovern.
The Citizen spoke with Chris about the allure of the drink known as "The Green Fairy," its colorful past, and the journey he and crew took to produce the film.
Absinthe is a powerful concoction of herbs and high-degree alcohol whose history and effects have long been shrouded in great mystery and intrigue.
What are the origins of absinthe? Where is its birthplace?
Absinthe evolved from herbal folk remedies originating in the late 1700s in a beautiful Alpine region on the Swiss-French border called the Val-de-Travers.
Amazingly, it arrived in Paris via North Africa. The French troops stationed in Algeria in the 1840s put the high-proof absinthe in their canteens as a fever preventative and to protect against diseases found in the polluted water of the region. The soldiers got a taste for it and continued to drink it when they returned to metropolitan France. Absinthe's popularity quickly spread geographically -- and to every strata of society.
What is it about absinthe that intrigued you enough to produce a film on it?
Our interest in absinthe began with the Impressionist artists. Absinthe is featured within the works of Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and is heavily wrapped up in the mythology of Van Gogh. My brother Seth, producer of the film, had done some preliminary research on absinthe as a footnote to a master's thesis in French literature, and I had obtained a bottle of bootlegged absinthe from Switzerland. The idea that this mysterious drink served as muse to some of the great artists in history and was now a banned substance had us hooked. What was absinthe? Whatever happened to it? It quickly became apparent that absinthe's history was rich and really, a wild ride, so we ran with the idea of creating the definitive documentary film on the subject.
What is the mystique behind absinthe?
Absinthe's mystique can be explained by the arc of its popularity and decline. By the late 1800s it was a pop culture phenomenon.
Why was absinthe made illegal?
A curious partnership between the wine industry and the temperance movement waged a decade-long campaign, demonizing absinthe. It was banned in most countries and practically vanished overnight. The mystique comes from this contradictory reputation of its being something fantastic and something dangerous at the same time.
For a long time, absinthe seemed to be something that most people had heard of but no one really knew much about. With so much misinformation circulating for so long, the popular consensus was that you would go mad drinking absinthe, or cut off your ear. This only added to its legend.
One of the amazing things about absinthe was that, even after it was prohibited in most countries, they never stopped producing it illegally in the small valley in Switzerland where it was invented. This bootlegged absinthe kept the tradition alive for 100 years before the prohibition was lifted.
Why have so many well-known artists been attracted to - and drink - it?
Absinthe was lauded as a muse by the great poets and painters of the late 19th century. Many artists at the time, from Verlaine to Van Gogh, felt that the effects of absinthe gave them an extra push into the creative realm.
What is the absinthe ritual?
The absinthe ritual has always been one of the things that makes the drink so intriguing. A dose of absinthe is placed in a heavy goblet, and a perforated spoon holding a sugar cube is placed across the top. Cold water is poured slowly over the sugar cube and into the absinthe below. The sugar cube dissolves and, as the water is added to the absinthe, it undergoes a transformation from a clear liquor to a milky, opalescent green.
Thus, the appellation "The Green Fairy." It is a magical process and truly makes drinking absinthe a unique experience. The antique fountains, glasses and spoons that are part of the ritual are much sought after and collected objects of art.
Let's talk about the filming process. You worked with a group of friends from Greenwich on the project. How did that enhance the filmmaking?
Working so closely with my brother and a great group of friends who I grew up with in Greenwich to create "Absinthe" was a ball. There's a great shorthand that comes with working alongside people you know so well and, for me, it enhanced the filmmaking process. If, for instance, things got heated and someone were to snap at me while we are setting up a shot or working in the editing room -- since we've known each other so long we can just move on. There never really has to be that five-minute apology conversation and explanation that grinds the creative process to a halt. We're over it before it even happened. These ties we all have really streamlined the effort and put us all on the same page from the get-go.
How did you go about filming?
We researched everything we could possibly find on absinthe for about six months and compiled lists of the locations we would need to film, along with modern day luminaries of the absinthe world we hoped to interview. From there we basically jumped right in. Producer Kevin Conlon secured us the cameras and all of the equipment, and Seth and I booked a flight to Paris. We spent about two weeks traveling in a rental car throughout France and Switzerland, sleeping in an absinthe green tent on local farms along the way in order to save money. Our enthusiasm and the shoot-first, figure-out-the-movie-later way in which we produced the film seemed to open a lot of doors and allowed for us to get some amazing footage. We showed up with a knowledge and great respect for the subject and obtained every single interview we had hoped for.
What were some major challenges you came across in making your film?
As with any independent film, money was the biggest challenge to completing the documentary, and we worked on no budget. I definitely put my enthusiasm well before any practical conversation of "Can this really be accomplished?" Luckily, I was partnered with a great group of equally enthusiastic people and, together, we found ways to get the film completed. We are all very proud of the final product, and I am thrilled to present this documentary as my first feature film.
What was the best part of producing the film?
The journey we went on throughout France, Switzerland, New York and New Orleans to film this documentary was an amazing experience. Getting to sit down and talk with the authors, historians and distillers who make absinthe their lives was truly an honor. These individuals are excited about absinthe's history and its current worldwide revival and that passion spilled over onto the screen.
For more information on the independent film, "Absinthe," visit www.absinthefilm.com