A Review of ‘A Two Hearted Tale’: “Cheers!” to the art of a strange old ale

An artist takes us on a journey of his vocation and his creation of a weird label on a popular beer bottle brand.

Jun 15, 2024 - 14:12
Jun 19, 2024 - 09:46
A Review of ‘A Two Hearted Tale’: “Cheers!” to the art of a strange old ale

‘A Two Hearted Tale’: “Cheers!” to the art of a strange old ale

Cast: Ladislav Hanka, Bruce Soderstrom, Jana Hanka, Steve Berthel, Martin C. Burch, Kevin Romeo, Roy Deal (all as themselves)

Critic’s Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Director: Rory McHarg and Bret Miller

Duration: 39 minutes

Genre: Documentary Short

Language: English

Release: 2023

What’s it about? 

An artist takes us on a journey of his vocation and his creation of a weird label on a popular beer bottle brand. 


“What makes a good beer label? That’s a tough one!” are the opening words that set up this pretty entertaining and curious documentary short. Here is an examination of the work and musings of artist Ladislav Hanka and his pivotal role in the marketing of Bell’s Brewery Beer. This resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan describes himself as a naturalist, but his sketchings and drawings have taken centre stage in his life. So much so, that his peculiar artwork has apparently benefited the sales of the beer company to which he’s relentlessly rendered his services. 

Though Hanka has contributed numerous images to Bell’s beer bottles, the one that has garnered the most attention (and which figures on the most consumed specimen), is that of a cryptic trout. Indeed, this fish has been hooking drinkers for decades, as has the strange name of the Bell’s product to which it is affixed – the Two-Hearted Ale. This label has evidently overshadowed others by Hanka which feature images of tormented pub-visitors. The subjects are real life persons whom Hanka would get to pose for him. So the film sets out to get to the bottom of the “fishy” mystery.

Several respondents give their interpretation of the idea behind the name and picture of the trout label. Does it have something to do with a popular leisurely pastime and the ideal location for it? After all, a top Michigan resident actually quit his highly respected vocation to devote his time to the activity. Inspired by that gentleman’s transformation, Hanka even produced a sketch of his face for another label... which oddly enough, was considered uncomplimentary. Still, Hanka’s many renderings found resonance among art collectors like his friend and associate Steven “Bert” Berthel. 

The film also introduces us to the brewery’s former employee Bruce Soderstrom, who sheds light on the establishment’s “eccentric” founder Larry Bell and the latter’s efforts to get a brewing licence as well as including bizarre ingredients in his various products. Then, film-maker Kevin Romeo offers his insights into the attractive power of Hanka’s beer labels while Hanka finds himself pitted against the “professional” viewpoint of Professor of Design Martin C. Burch. Thus, the film sets up a debate between art as an expression and advertising as a business.

The directorial duo of Rory McHarg and Bret Miller do a fairly admirable job of telling this unusual story in engaging fashion. Since beer is popular in itself, such a “tale” is sure to “go down well” with most of the audience. However, the filmmakers could have compared the non-connect of image and product with other popular consumables. Also, the inputs of Larry Bell himself are sorely missing. Still, the film’s substance is adequate to sustain attention and the placing of some monologue over the varied cinematography is effective. It is also clear that Hanka speaks from the heart. In summary, as he tends to say, this film is “not half bad”. Bottoms up!

Ronak Kotecha Senior Journalist and seasoned content creator with 18-years-experience at channels like Times Now, NewsX, Zoom and Radio City. Now, Rotten Tomatoes accredited global critic for the Times of India and BBC India Correspondent in Dubai. Talk show host at Talk100.3, tune in weekdays at 11 am on talk1003.ae