Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Food for Thought at the Movies

‘Tis the season to be eating. If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably just scarfed down a big Easter ham, or at least – let’s be honest – some marshmallow goodies brought by the Easter bunny. If you’re Jewish, you’re eating matzoh (and more matzoh). And down the street from me, the food trucks are blooming. These days L.A. is becoming a true moveable feast, with Korean BBQ trucks vying for space with vehicles vending Indian roti, Hawaiian spam-on-a-stick, kimchi quesadillas, and Philly cheesesteak. Today I even spotted a truck touting Trailer Park cuisine. You wait for your order (for Chicken & Waffles or Frito Pie) on an Astroturf rug, surrounded by plastic pink flamingoes. John Waters would definitely approve.

Food and movies just seem to go together. If you attend stage productions, even toting a water bottle to your seat seems like a violation of etiquette. But at the movies you’re expected to chow down, maybe with a tub of popcorn and a supersized cola. Some upscale cinema venues will even deliver to your seat a small meal, or perhaps a cocktail. All that chewing could prove distracting to the person beside you, especially if you’re watching a film about starvation, like The Pianist. And if you’re munching on a meat pie, you’re certainly adding a new dimension to someone’s enjoyment of Sweeney Todd.

Most of us find cooking magical, especially when someone else is doing it. If that someone is trained in the culinary arts, the effect can be poetry in motion. That’s why there’s a long history of movies about the expert preparation of food. Ang Lee’s Taiwanese film about a master chef and his lovelorn daughters, Eat Drink Man Woman, was so scrumptious that it spawned two knock-offs: Tortilla Soup and Soul Food. Equally mouth-watering is Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, involving Italian-American brothers trying to save their foundering restaurant by serving up, for one night only, a spectacular feast. Speaking of feasts, I can’t overlook a tantalizing Danish film, Babette’s Feast, in which a poor French refugee eking out a frugal life in an austere Danish village comes into a sum of money, and puts it toward the preparation of a magnificent repast

Food can be sexy too, never more so than in Chocolat, where Juliet Binoche (playing a mysterious candy maker who wafts into a small French town) proves that the best way to a man’s heart is via his sweet tooth. (I suspect that Julia Child will never be considered a sex symbol, but Meryl Streep certainly kept movie spouse Stanley Tucci happy in Julie and Julia.)

But for me the yummiest, yuckiest, wackiest food movie of all time is Juzo Itami’s Tampopo, which was described in press releases of the day as Japan’s first ramen western (akin to a spaghetti western – get it?) The plot involves two drifters who come upon a desolate roadside eatery and get involved in the life-or-death quest to create the world’s best noodles. But we cut away at times to odd vignettes involving food (and sex), food (and social class), food (and kinky fetishes). The movie ends, as I recall, with a lingering closeup of a young mother nursing her baby in a public park. After all the eating oddities that precede it, an infant’s hungry sucking has never seemed more profound.

Writing this has made me hungry. And it has also given me a lucrative idea. How about a kosher-for-Passover food truck featuring matzoh brei and stewed prunes?

For Hilary Bienstock Grayver, who is devoted to feeding her family, in any season, by any means necessary.


  1. A tasty post for sure! I am a popcorn guy at the movies - try to avoid anything else - as eating in the dark can be tricky - plus it just seems weird - plus the cost. I'm not an afficianado of the food films - though I did watch Julie and Julia. Of the ones you listed - I would be most interested in Big Night - because I've always like Stanley Tucci! Off for a nosh!

    1. I like Stanley Tucci too. A very tasty actor, wouldn't you say?

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