Lazy River: the cinematic inspirations behind Adele’s camptastic ‘I Drink Wine’ video

“The steady pace at which Adele drifts down river is the result of two stunt guys in scuba gear tugging her along.”—Joe Talbot — Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis
“The steady pace at which Adele drifts down river is the result of two stunt guys in scuba gear tugging her along.”—Joe Talbot Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis

The Last Black Man in San Francisco director Joe Talbot turns to Disneyland and Esther Williams to create Adele’s hazy, campy, wine-fuelled new music video. 

My brother casually said ‘I kind of imagine Adele just, like, floating down the river, sipping wine in an inner-tube like girls from Modesto who go day-drinking on the Russian River.’ My brother is very smart.

—⁠Joe Talbot on his smart brother, Nat Talbot.

Superstar crooner Adele just released a new music video for her 30 single ‘I Drink Wine’, and it’s directed by none other than Joe Talbot, director and co-writer of the highly rated The Last Black Man in San Francisco (a film that made our 2019 Year in Review). To celebrate the occasion, Talbot has shared a list on his Letterboxd profile titled: ‘I Drink Wine—Disney Rides & Technicolor Mermaids’. It features twenty films that inspired, in his words, “the campiest music video Adele has ever made”, with insidery notes from Talbot, who wrote the video’s script with his brother, Nat, and poet-novelist Olivia Gatwood.

Mostly filled with films from the 1930s to the 1950s, Talbot’s list gives us a glimpse into the pre-production of the ‘Rolling in the Deep’ singer’s latest visuals, which depict her in a gold dress, nonchalantly floating down a lazy river on an inner tube, the sun slowly setting. Along the way, she breezes past a variety of characters: masked dancers, hunky seamen, water ballerinas who refill her wine glass, etc, brought to hazy life by Talbot, production designer Liam Moore, costumier Pierpaolo Piccioli and many more artists. 

“All these magic makers hidden from an audience’s view.”—The Aquabatix get last looks. — Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis
“All these magic makers hidden from an audience’s view.”—The Aquabatix get last looks. Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis

The main reference for ‘I Drink Wine’ comes from a swimming sequence in the middle of the 1953 technicolor musical Easy to Love, which was choreographed by camp king Busby Berkeley and stars swim champ and actress Esther Williams. “En route to transforming the drab parking lot into a dreamy riverbed, Easy to Love became a north star for us, from the just-too-rich-to-be-real teal water to the floating flower petals,” Talbot writes.  

Minus the endless booze, the whole thing is reminiscent of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride, so it makes sense that Joe studied the 1956 documentary Disneyland, U.S.A., which offers viewers a tour of the goliath theme park. “Adele loves Disneyland,” Talbot writes, which was “a big reason we elected to build a set that, in the end, sort of became her very own Disney ride, fit with animatronic bluebirds and singing silhouetted choruses.” There’s just one thing missing, he adds: “We felt that Disney rides were lacking in chiseled sailors, so we added some hunky seamen to our video, including Kendrick Sampson, Jordan Firstman and my dear friend, Jimmie Fails.”

“Disney rides were lacking in chiseled sailors.” Jimmie Fails, left; Kendrick Sampson, center.  — Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis
“Disney rides were lacking in chiseled sailors.” Jimmie Fails, left; Kendrick Sampson, center.  Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis

Other notable entries in Talbot’s list include 1955 classic The Night of the Hunter, the Disney Renaissance’s Hercules, Kenneth Anger’s leather-bound gay short film Scorpio Rising and something called Million Dollar Mermaid. Turns out, it’s based on the real-life Annette Kellerman (Esther Williams, again), who, after overcoming polio, achieves fame and creates a scandal when her one-piece bathing suit is considered indecent. Matheus’ Letterboxd review calls it, “The film the expression ‘splashy musicals’ was made for.” Adding to that theme, Adele’s video features the Aquabatix synchronized swim team, who also appear in the Williams-inspired sequence in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!.  

“Piccioli and his team somehow built Adele’s one-of-a-kind sequin dress by hand in just under two weeks.” — Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis
“Piccioli and his team somehow built Adele’s one-of-a-kind sequin dress by hand in just under two weeks.” Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis

Further inspirations include Rampo Noir for the backdrops, King of Jazz for its practical magic and The Truman Show for, well, its “Truman Shot”: “As Adele sails beyond the beautiful set, I wanted the audience to see the real workers behind the artificial landscape. And in the process to hopefully convey some of the chaotic joy and occasional tears that went into all of that meticulous labor along the way.”

“When Adele initially wrote me, I was a little intimidated.”—Joe Talbot on set.  — Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis
“When Adele initially wrote me, I was a little intimidated.”—Joe Talbot on set.  Photographer… Caroline Hunter Wallis

So what’s next for Joe Talbot? How does he top a collab with one of the all-time most popular songstresses? By working with one of our favorite actresses, The Worst Person in the World’s Renate Reinsve, on his sophomore feature The Governesses, co-written with Gatwood and greenlit by A24 earlier this year

Perhaps The Governesses will take us somewhere we’ve never been, just as Talbot writes in his note for Extinct Attractions Club Presents: The Haunted Mansion Story (2005): “As a kid, this ride made me want to make movies as much as any movie I saw… So much of filmmaking for me ever since is about creating an evocative sense of place. When I’m watching something, I want to be somewhere I’ve never been. When I’m making something, I want to create a place I’ve always wanted to go.”


‘I Drink Wine’ is available to watch on YouTube. Adele’s album ‘30’ is out now from Columbia Records. ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is available to rent or own on demand, and is streaming on several platforms including Kanopy and Showtime. 

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