The Sneak: Champagne Wishes and Sneakable Dreams

Categories: The Sneak
thesneak.jpg
Fernando de Sousa, Wikimedia Commons
Dara Strickland is a leading expert on sneaking food and drink into the movies. She reports on her exploits for Gut Check (from an undisclosed location) every Monday.

Show: Oscar-Nominated Shorts, Animated

Food: Delightfully cheap sparkling wine, originally purchased for making mimosas.

Here's a tip: the cheaper the champagne, the better the mimosa. Want to appreciate the complex interplay of mineral and toast flavors in bubbly? Don't pour it into orange juice, the palate's Evil Knievel jumpsuit. Instead, use something simple, even a bit rude, that costs half as much so you can drink twice as much. Mimosas are only appropriate for matinees.

Difficulty: Advanced. Bulky item, prone to clinking, requires additional equipment. Makes possibly the most recognizable food-packaging sound in human history when opened.

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Nagarazoku, Wikimedia Commons
Champagne, or its stateside equivalent, is a beverage as full of subjective meaning as it is of bubbles. Its objective qualities, on the other hand, make it a fine sneakable food:
- It's an easy-to-drink wine that pairs well with just about any snack foods that don't involve Sriracha sauce, but it can also be enjoyed by itself.

- It's generally accepted as a stand-alone beverage by people who don't like a wide variety of wines.

- It doesn't require a corkscrew.

- It's incredibly impressive to non-sneaks.
(I would be absolutely remiss as a sneak, however, if I gave the impression that it was appropriate for every show. Going to every single movie you see over the next year with Cook's secreted about your person is the sneaking-food-into-movies equivalent of going to a concert wearing the t-shirt of the band you came to see. Everyone implicitly understands your fervor, but it's far more interesting when tempered by a consideration of time, place and projecting an interesting and varied persona.)

Cheap champagne is the perfect pairing for the Oscar-nominated shorts. First, it invokes the same glamour and celebrity (in the most retro sense of the term) as the Oscars, its molten-gold color and whiff of commercial overproduction a lovely complement to a certain statuette's coveted curves. But let's not overstate: Best Animated Short may not be relegated to the company of the middle-of-the-day, polo-shirted technical awards, but it's still sitting at the kids' table, glumly flicking tater tots with the tinelets of a spork while the Best Director rips into ahi tartare. Good champagne should be enjoyed in a movie theater with irony alone, a snack likely to go stale before the credits roll.

Down to brass tacks. Here's how you get this thing snuck.

First, you need the right equipment. I highly recommend a messenger bag for sneaks of all genders or a large hobo bag* for the ladies. It's not that I think a gent can't carry a bag that doesn't clearly state in size and shape that it was designed to carry important work materials. That's a limited and sexist view of the value of adornment and utility in clothing. No, a man can't carry a hobo bag into a theater because it stands out too much.

Along with the bag, you're going to need a hand towel in a dark color. My sneaking towel is black, though navy blue is also acceptable. You will also need cups. I used the short, clear, plastic ones you generally find at art openings. Go fling rabid foam somewhere else, glassware purists. This is a bottle of sparkling wine that costs less than a single admission to the show. Nobody's missing out by not using glass flutes -- and plastic glasses vastly cut down on bulk and clink factor.

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Second, you need a simple plan and some crackerjack timing. The reason you need a dark towel is to wrap the bottle: no clink, no unmistakable green glass glare if you have to open the main part of your bag. (It will also help if the wine, when opened, makes like Old Faithful.) Once settled in your seat, wait for the house lights to go down. This not only provides you the cover of darkness so essential to minor infractions, it also ensures you're not creating a hurdle for people who still have a reasonable expectation of finding their seats unhindered. Remove the outer wiring and drape the towel over the cork and neck of the bottle to absorb the sound and assure that you, leaning directly over the pressurized cork, won't have a bright, monocular future of children asking if you were Captain Morgan's roommate at Arrrrrr University.

Now comes the hard part -- timing. In most features, you'll have the luxury of coming attractions and pre-show commercials. It will be fairly simple to ease the cork out with patient thumbs and let it pop during a cinematic explosion. This show, however, opened with zero preparatory fanfare on a sweet, romantic, lighthearted Russian film (yes, you read that correctly, it was practically Anti Karenina) with a plinky piano score, no dialogue and, most importantly, no explosions. Its captivatingly simple black line art on a vast white background cast the whole theater in a sterile, accusatory paleness.

There were two ways I could have gone: patience or humor. Both are available to the sneak with champagne. I went with patience, waiting until a more frenetic moment in the short to free the bubbly surreptitiously. The other method works in this situation because of that same strong subjective meaning I mentioned at the beginning. If you have the confidence for it, just open it at a quiet moment in the film. The pop of a cork is so iconic and unexpected in a movie theater that simply opening the thing will cause instant recognition and shocked bemusement at your audacity. When was the last time you heard a cork pop in a movie? As an added benefit, the bottle should fit neatly into the cupholder of your seat, swelled as it is for ever more gargantuan sodas.

*Note: A hobo bag is not to be confused with a hobo bindle. A hobo bag is a popular style of large purse, generally half-moon shaped, made of cloth or softer leather with little internal structure, ideal for sneaking. A bindle is a stick-and-handkerchief construction that I'm not sure actually exists outside of cartoons and Lee Marvin movies. If you walk into a movie theater with the befoiled neck of a champagne bottle poking out of a polka-dotted bindle, you deserve to be caught and buried alive in stale popcorn.

Bonus note: A bindle is also called a "swag," just like the bags of free recession-denying goods provided to our stars.

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