While we're hammering through all the in-points and out-points of post-production (which is kind of tedious and not especially report-worthy most days) I thought I'd post something a little different than the garden variety production diary entry.
As an exercise, I tried to put together a list of memorable food moments in cinema. I came up with ten scenes from nine films. And they’re mostly not from categorically defined “food movies”...
As I may have mentioned here before, I’m not a big fan of what usually gets termed a food movie. I do think it’s a genre (or sub-genre) unto itself, but without naming names, most of the standouts are sickeningly sweet, romantic, metaphoric messes that commit a cardinal sin, in my opinion—they get the cooking wrong. I suppose you could argue that most of these films are about the eating rather than sourcing, prepping, and cooking—since eating is a pretty common activity that most people enjoy.
But in American culture, cooking is having a pretty major renaissance. You can mention casually that you're into homemade charcuterie and suddenly be discussing the intricacies of caul fat and cold smoking with a total stranger.
(Maybe that's our new Now, Forager marketing campaign-- "By caul fat lovers. For caul fat lovers." Or maybe, "If you like rendering your own leaf lard, you'll love this film.")
And so, as a partial effort to help deconstruct and expand the genre, here's my incomplete list of memorable, influential, and/or traumatizing food scenes:
10) First Blood (1982) – Wood-roasted pork Stallone made a food movie? No, but I do think that this film is a totally under-appreciated marvel. In the course of its 93 minutes, you watch 70s cinema turn into 80s cinema. Apocalypse Now bleeds into Red Dawn. The subsequently caricatured “Rambo superhero” franchise has little to do with the original's somewhat character-driven story. But I digress… There’s a little scene, after John Rambo has escaped the bigoted small town lawmen and found shelter in an abandoned mine shaft tucked into the woods of the Pacific Northwest. He fashions himself a spear and soon procures for his solo dining pleasure a haunch of wild pig, which he then roasts over an open fire. I grew up hunting feral pigs with my grandfather—and there’s no better taste on this earth than a wild spring sow that’s been feeding on acorns all winter. Rambo has an excellent sense for sourcing ingredients.
9) Story of a Cheat (1936) – Wild Mushrooms Early French auteur Sacha Guitry uses wild mushrooms as the ultimate plot device. A boy is sent to bed without supper for stealing. Ironically, it’s on a night when his entire family is fatally poisoned by toxic mushrooms hastily gathered by another relative. Don’t worry, it’s a comedy. (Tip of the hat to my friend A.S. Hamrah for turning me on to this film.)
8) Cool Hand Luke (1967) – “Get mad at them damn eggs!” How many pickled eggs did Paul Newman actually have to eat for this sequence? By the look on his face, and the swell on his gut, I’d guess that he was employing The Method that day. A totally believable performance—but maybe that’s just because I don’t much care for hard boiled eggs.
7) Sid & Nancy (1986) – Baked Beans In the opening sequence, when Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten go to visit a dominatrix friend, she serves them up a lunch of cold baked beans. The two Sex Pistols proceed to shovel the ubiquitous English staple (mostly) into their gaping maws. They’re hungry and it gets the job done. What the fuck else do you need? It’s punk rock.
6) Saturday Night Fever (1977) – “Two. Gimme two…that’s good.” Like First Blood, SNF is remembered more for its subsequent cultural impact than for what it really is—a great piece of underclass drama. The Tony Manero strut that opens the picture includes a detour to a slice joint. The pizzaiola behind the counter asks him if he wants two or three. Tony moderately chooses the deuce, and proceeds to stack them up and chomp away as he completes his walking tour of Bay Ridge. The disco clubs and paint stores are mostly gone--but until you can’t find a serviceable slice in Brooklyn, the borough of my dreams will never die.
5) Babette’s Feast (1987) – Bird Brains Okay, this is maybe the crown jewel of the proper food movie genre. But you really have to invest time and patience with a very subtle period drama to get to the titular meal. And that anticipation is what makes the film masterful. It peaks for me when one of the dinner guests (the only sensualist at a table of Protestant ascetics) sucks the brains from the head of a whole quail baked in puff pastry, to the shock and secret delight of the others at table. That’s some juicy narrative pleasure.
4) Los Muertos (2004) – Honey This stark, extremely observational drama from Argentine director Lisandro Alonso follows a man (non-actor Argentino Vargas) as he’s released from prison and makes his way up a river to find his daughter. Most scenes are made of a single shot that documents a step in the process. Eating is a regular act of self-sustainment along the way. In Alonso’s hands, food is simultaneously mundane and complex. At one point, the man stops his canoe along the river and ventures into the woods. He listens at a dead tree—then proceeds to dig out an arm-long section of loaded honey comb from a teeming mass of live bees, bare-handed. This is in one shot—no stunt doubles, no CGI bees, no fakery of any kind. The performer is actually doing this. And when he squeezes the honey out into his thick, leathery hand and laps it up, you taste it with him.
3) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover (1989) - “…It’s a delicacy.” This NC-17 Jacobean melodrama by Peter Greenaway came out when I was just finishing high school. I didn’t know what a Jacobean melodrama was, but it sounded too titillating to pass up. Sex? Cooking? Murder? Count me in. There’s so much to love about this movie—including a great performance from Helen Mirren. But the grotesque revenge climax—featuring one of the main characters roasted whole, a la haute cuisine—that left me queasy for a few days. The power of cinema had taken hold and permanently warped my tender sensibilities. For the better.
2) Tampopo (1985) – The Egg Dance Another more literal example of a food movie, Tampopo is a fairly broad Japanese comedy about a woman trying to learn how to make the perfect bowl of ramen (from a cowboy truck-driver sensei). The main narrative is loosely held together with vignettes that play on different themes of food and eating. Two recurring characters are a gangster and his moll—who at one point pass a raw egg yolk back and forth—with just their mouths. It’s kind of like one of those stupid summer camp games, but only if you went to sexy Yakuza underworld summer camp.
1) Los Muertos (2004) – The Goat I’m going back to my man Lisandro Alonso for numero uno. Describing the scene would ruin it. It’s one of the most visceral cinematic moments I’ve experienced in recent memory. Let me just say that this film probably doesn’t have a vegan fanclub on Facebook. But in all seriousness—if you eat meat, you should be able to deal with how it lands on your plate. And what happens in this scene is a helluva lot more humane and understandable than what occurs in volume everyday inside the average agri-business abattoir. See this film.
I'm sure there are many other scenes and films worthy of mention, but I thought these offered a nice range of options.
In other news, we're getting very near a fine cut and should have a few bits of good news to announce very shortly, as well as the release of our first official trailer (huzzah!).
For now, I've attached a somewhat appropriate production still from Now, Forager--striped bass butchery (performed by yours truly).