Limes, Carambola, Action!:
The History of Food in Cinema

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Limes, Carambola, Action!: The History of Food in CinemaEat My Globe
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Cinema Episode Notes

In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, looks at the history of food in cinema from the early days of the very first moving pictures, through the days of the silent megastars such as Charlie Chaplin, all the way to the modern movie obsession with “food films” such as “Like Water For Chocolate” and “Big Night.” Oh, and if you want to know why popcorn is so popular, in movie theaters, listen right to the end of the show.

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TRANSCRIPT

LIMES, CARAMBOLA, ACTION!: 

THE HISTORY OF FOOD IN CINEMA


SIMON:

Hey, April.


APRIL:

Yeah, Simon.


SIMON:

I’m making a movie.


APRIL:

Oh, really? What’s it going to be about?


SIMON:

It’s a documentary. It’s going to be about the history of the hot dog.


APRIL:

Ooh. That’s a weird subject.


SIMON:

Well, it is. But I’m hoping it’s going to be an Oscar weiner.


APRIL:

[Laughter]


SIMON:

That’s good. That’s a good one.


APRIL:

I like that one.


SIMON:

See? See? Every now and again, I’ll throw in a good one. A bit like you with your production of the podcast.


APRIL:

[Laughter]


[Record scratch]


SIMON:

Right.


[Laughter]


Should we start?


INTRO MUSIC


SIMON:

Hi everybody.


And, welcome to a brand-new episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about the things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.


And on today’s very special episode, we’re going to be combining two of my favorite subjects. Food, of course. This is, after all, a food history podcast.


And, cinema – where we are going to look not only at the use of food in motion pictures, but also briefly touch on why the physical buildings of movie houses depends as much on the food and drink they sell for profits as they do on the movies they are showing. Ironic, as so much of the food they sell seems to have been designed to make as much noise as possible. Take a bow, popcorn.


[Popcorn chewing sound]


[“Shhh.”]


Along the way, we will of course mention some of the most important films on food, or where food has played a significant part in a key scene, and I shall be sharing some of my favorites. And we might have some special guests further along the way.


Of course, given the length of this podcast, we can’t mention every film that we possibly could talk about. So, if you think at the end of this podcast, we have missed out anything you might have wanted to hear about, do let me know and perhaps we can think about doing another episode soon. And, if you want a really full run down of great food scenes in the movies, go and buy a copy of Steve Zimmerman’s, “Food in the Movies,” which discusses almost four hundred of the great food scenes in movies.


In the meantime, please settle back as the main feature is about to begin. No talking and please, do eat quietly.


[“Shh.”]


BREAK MUSIC


SIMON:

Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began over three years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can get out and about to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, and this is really important. This is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you’ve enjoyed the episodes of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So, thank you very much, and keep listening.


[“Lights, Camera, Action”]


SIMON:

I think, if we are to start at the very beginning that we should look at how motion pictures were developed.


The word, “cinema,” is short for “cinematograph,” which, in turn, is derived from the Greek term, “kinēma,” which means movement, and the French term, “graphe,” which is also derived from the Greek word – graphos, meaning, writing.


The ability to create photographs had been part of human life since Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, took the first known picture from the window of his family home in 1826. And, by the time of the American Civil War in 1861, it was such a regular part of people’s lives that this brutal war was the first to be extensively covered by photographs.


After that, as photographic technology began to develop across the world, inventors began to develop ways of showing a series of films in rapid succession that would at least create an illusion of movement.


The first of these was known as “Zoetrope.” Invented in 1834, it is a cylinder with vertical slits on the side, with photos inside the cylinder arranged in sequence. When the cylinder is spun, the photographs appear through the slits as if they are in motion.


In 1878, another development in cinema occurred. An American businessman, Leland Stanford – yes, that same Stanford who founded Stanford University – theorized that, at some point, when a horse gallops, none of the legs would be on the ground. He enlisted an English photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, to take 12 images of a galloping horse in rapid succession. These not only proved that his theory was correct but caused quite a stir. In 1879, they designed a projector called the “Zoogyroscope” to show 12 images of the horse in full gallop to a wowed audience in San Francisco. They’re easily wowed in San Francisco.


Soon, new developments started coming to create a camera that could take these rapid succession images that would lead to the first motion picture camera. In England, there was a gentleman called William Friese-Greene. In the United States, there was the legendary inventor, Thomas Edison, and his assistant, William Dickson, who came up with the notion of the “Kinetograph” camera to record the images, and the “Kinetoscope” projector to replay the images. This allowed Edison, in 1894, to create “Kinetoscope Parlors,” which allowed one person to watch the moving images.


And, in France, there were two famous brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, who created the “Cinématographe” in 1895. Their device – one that could record images, develop them and project them onto a screen – showed 16 images per second that absolutely left the viewing public entranced. And, on December the 28th, 1895, they held what is considered to be the first public screening of a motion picture for a mass audience at, fittingly for our purpose, the Grand Café on Paris’ Boulevard de Capuchines. They called their film, “La Sortie des Ouvriers de l’Usine Lumière,” or “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory,” which was about – you guessed it – workers leaving their factory.


At first, the very notion of moving images in their own right was enough to draw an audience. These were known as “Actualités” or “Actuality Films.” In effect, the very first documentary films. The brothers later made other films such as  “Blacksmiths,” “The Gardener,” and the intriguing sounding, “Jumping Onto A Blanket.”


And, it is to the Frères Lumière that we should look for the first example of food in a motion picture that we currently know of because one of these “Actualités” was known as, “Repase de Bébé or “Baby’s Breakfast.” It’s a 30-second or so motion picture that show Auguste and his wife making sure their baby is going to follow suit. We’ve put the link to a restored version of that motion picture on You Tube on the website.


Soon, however, we begin to see the start of narrative filmmaking – that is, films that actually told stories. Perhaps the most famous of these early motion pictures is a movie – and that’s what I am going to call them from now – made by Georges Méliès known as, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” or “A Trip to The Moon,” which is a 13-minute masterpiece released in 1902.


However, some four years before that, in 1898, we see the very first food related film short that we know of, which carried the unlikely title of


Quote

How Bridget Served Salad Undressed.”

End quote.


The narrative of the comedic story is described on the Internet Movie Database as


Quote

The serving girl is asked to serve the salad ‘undressed’ so she takes her clothes off before entering the dining room.”

End quote.


It is sobering to see that movies were just as prone to objectify women from the very beginning of the form. Which may well be the reason that it is also around the same period, just after the turn of the 20th century, that we begin to see another aspect of movie making rear its head, and that is of film censorship. 


In 1903, a British film documentary made by Charles Urban and directed by F. Martin Duncan, faced some of the first calls for a film to be banned. The film was neither a horror film, nor one containing any graphic sex or violence toward any human being. Instead, the film, which was called, “Cheese Mites,” showed the bacteria in cheeses at microscopic levels. By all accounts the cheesemakers of Great Britain were appalled, fearing that this sight of bacteria crawling its way across a living food might put people off eating it. 

And, under considerable pressure from them, British censors banned the movie. It is one of the first films of any kind to be banned. By 1907, when the city of Chicago enacted the first American censorship law, censorship was as much a part of the game as the making of movies themselves.


Sound in movies did not arrive until the release of “The Jazz Singer” in October 1927. Before then, while they might have some accompanying music, movies depended on their visual appeal to bring audiences to the theaters.


From a food point of view, before we move on to talk about some of the most memorable food scenes of the silent era, I would like to make a stop to talk about one of the comedy staples of not just the silent era, but well, in fact, every period of movie history. And that is the subject of food fights or using food in a classic comedy manner such as the classic pie in the face.


Food fights as a method of expressing ridicule or distaste have been part of history for centuries. And there are many examples such as in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” when Petruchio throws wine on the sexton’s face. Or, Robert Speed’s 1648 poem called, “The Counter Scuffle,” where there is a full on food fight.


Quote

Now in the dark was all the coyle.

Some were bloody in the broyle,

And some lay steept in Sallet-Oyle

and Mustard.


The sight would make a man afeard:

Another had a butterd Beard,

Anothers face was all besmeard

with Custard.


Others were dawb’d up to the knee

With butterd Fish and Furmitee;

And some of the men could scarcely see

That beat ‘em.

End quote.


The food fight also began to be seen in entertainment for comedic effect. Nowhere can this be seen more than in the quintessential act of American slapstick, that of pieing. That is, taking a crustless pie filled with chocolate or strawberry if the receiver is wearing a light outfit, or lots of whipped cream for a darker outfit – all to amuse an onlooking audience.


As an act of comedy that had been part of American slapstick for as long as there were Vaudeville theaters, it does not seem terribly surprising that these food fight antics would soon find their way in to this new form of entertainment, the movies. The first example of it we have on record came in 1909, with a silent film called, “Mr. Flip.


From that point on, food fights have been the mainstay of movie comedies right up to the present day. And at a time when we are quite rightly concerned about people’s struggle to feed themselves around the world, the notion of a food fight in a movie, can be quite troubling and off putting, and I am often quick to fast forward through them when I see them now. But I cannot deny that I have watched some in my past movie watching history and, back then in less enlightened days, some of my favorites included the 3000-strong pie fight in Laurel & Hardy’s 1927 film, “The Battle of the Century,” the food fight finale at the end of “Blazing Saddles,” and the battle commenced by John Belushi’s scream of “food fight” at the beginning of “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”


Now, let’s talk about some of my other favorite food scenes from the silent era of movies.


Perhaps the obvious place to start is with the performer who, I would say, is arguably the most famous movie star – not just silent movie star – of all time, Mr. Charles Chaplin.


Charles Chaplin came to the United States from his homeland in England in 1910. He came as part of a renowned touring comedy troop run by a gentleman named Fred Karno. Interestingly, for fans of the early days of movies, one of the other people on this boat from England who was to be Chaplin’s understudy was a gentleman by the name of Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who would later take on the screen name, Stan Laurel. But, we’ll come on to Laurel and Hardy in just a moment.


With his athletic comedic ability, Chaplin soon came to the notice of the silent film moguls, and by 1913, he had signed a deal with Keystone Pictures, releasing his first movie, “Making a Living.” The famous character of “The Tramp” that still remains unmistakable today first appeared in 1915.


Food played a major part in all of Chaplin films. At first, it was very much the classic “pieing” approach that he had learned at the slapstick school that had been Fred Karno’s troupe. But later, he used food as a way to express what an article in The Smithsonian Magazine called


Quote

illuminating elements of the Little Tramp's character, namely his compassion for his fellow underdogs.”

End quote.


There are many examples of this throughout Chaplin’s career, but I want to touch on two scenes that appear in one of the greatest movies of the silent era, “The Gold Rush,” which was made in 1925. “The Gold Rush was partly inspired by Chaplin reading the rather dark story of a large party of prospectors called the Donner party, who had become snowbound during their expedition. About half of the expedition members ended up not only eating their shoes, but also, um, each other during their perilous journey.


In the first iconic scene in “The Gold Rush,” Chaplin sits at a table with four women and impales two bread rolls on forks. He then proceeds to perform an elaborate dance where the rolls become the shoes of the dancer, and the forks, their legs. The impish glee of Chaplin’s character, “the tramp,” combined with the joy he is bringing to others at the table is an absolutely unforgettable part of cinema history. So much so that it has been parodied throughout subsequent movie history, including Johnny Depp in the 1993 movie, “Benny & Joon” and even Grampa Simpson in an episode of “The Simpsons” called, “Lady Bouvier’s Lover.”


In the second iconic scene in “The Gold Rush,” Chaplin makes an even more direct relationship to the horrors of the Donner party as he settles down to make himself a Thanksgiving meal for him and a fellow prospector. He makes a gourmet meal out of the one and only ingredient he has, one of his boots. The scene shows all of the Michelin level pretensions Chaplin gives to preparing his meal and follows it with his enjoyment of the repast as if it was the finest food ever presented to humanity. The bootlaces become spaghetti, and the sole of the shoe becomes a fine Dover sole, the nails of the shoe becoming the bones. For the record, the scene took three days and 63 takes to complete. And, in case anyone was wondering about Chaplin’s dedication to realism, the shoe that he ate on set was made entirely of licorice, which apparently had, uh, shall we say, some interesting effects on Chaplin’s digestive system.


Some of my favorite performers of the silent era, who also then went on to have just as big a success in movies with the arrival of sound, were Laurel and Hardy. I mentioned Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who was later to become Stan Laurel, arriving from England with the Fred Karno Comedy troupe a little earlier. After several solo films, he was introduced to Oliver Hardy, who was born Norvell Hardy. That became, I think, truly one or the greatest introductions in entertainment history. They went on to make over 100 films together. It was unsurprising that food played a role in their films as Hardy was a great cook who even had a spaghetti sauce recipe that took him a day to prepare. And Laurel apparently loved to eat barbecue.


In the silent era, perhaps their most famous food film is “From Soup to Nuts,” also one of my favorites. It’s a short film – usually, that is a film that lasts for less than 40 minutes – made in 1928 taking the title from the American expression of the time “from soup to nuts,” meaning from start to finish, which in turn is derived from a meal’s first course of soup to a last course of a bowl of nuts. In this movie, our heroes play down at heel partners who persuade a host that they are experienced wait staff and can handle a particularly swanky dinner party. Inevitably, as the meal progresses, it is clear that they are not. For me, this film is most interesting as it shows the real formulation of the Laurel and Hardy relationship – that of two people who are both very dumb, but one of whom mistakenly thinks that he’s smarter than the others.


Perhaps my favorite moment in Laurel and Hardy history comes in the film “County Hospital” in which Ollie is recuperating in hospital with a broken leg and is visited by Stanley who has brought him an unlikely gift of some hard-boiled eggs and nuts. Although the mayhem that follows, particularly that involving the weights and pulley system attached to Hardy’s leg, only briefly revolves around the odd gift, the term, “hard boiled eggs and nuts” has become so synonymous with their quirky relationship that there has even been a book about the pair bearing that title.


As the movie industry developed from the 1920s and 1930s through to the 1960s, food did play a part in cinema. However, as Steve Zimmerman points out in the excellent book I mentioned earlier, “Food in the Movies,” there were limitations to how food could be used, in part, because of the technology involved. It was hard, particularly in the days before the lighting of movies became such a fine art, and before movies were produced in color on a regular basis in the 1950s, to show food in its fullest impact.


And, in part, this was because the relationship of the public with food, particularly in the United States, but also all over the film producing world, was very different from how it is now. There were less opportunities to dine out, except for the relatively wealthy, and food was seen by many as more functional than celebratory.

He argues that


Quote

When food did show up in a scene it was often involved as a prop, occasionally in a close-up shot to register or emphasize a specific point, but most often to simply help move the plot along. These scenes were hardly ever about the food itself, and they were almost never intended to celebrate food.”

End quote.


He argues that in the first eighty years of movies, filmmakers have used food in three ways.


The first, as we have mentioned, is as a prop. Food is just there while people do other things, or talk about their lives, or make plans. Food is also a prop when used in the slapstick pie-in-the-face scenes we talked about earlier.


The second way food is used in films, according to Zimmerman, is as a transition, or as he puts it a


Quote

time-compression. . . device.”

End quote.


That is a way of showing a food event, usually a meal, as a way of showing time passing. An actor beginning a meal, and then the next frame is him or her refusing dessert or pushing a dessert plate away from them indicating that a significant period of time has passed. Sometimes the meal itself might never even see the screen, with Zimmerman using an example another film I love, “The Ipcress File,” starring the one and only Michael Caine – [Simon doing an impression of Michael Caine] “My name is Michael Caine” – where at one point he utters the line to his guest –


Quote

I’m going to cook you the best meal you’ve ever eaten

End quote.


– only to cut away to a shot of the two of them in the living area where his guest declares that it had been a delicious meal.


The third use of food that Zimmerman observes is where food enhances the story by attaching symbolism to it. The type of food someone eats, or how they buy their food or indeed how they eat it, is used to show aspects of the character’s lifestyle, social class or personality. If they walk out of a local store with a bag of chips and two bottles of vodka, they have a drinking problem. If they sit at a table in dinner dress for supper, but are some distance from their parents, they are comfortably off, but brought up in a home where there is little emotional relationship, which could lead to problems in the future, etcetera, etcetera.


Perhaps one of the most famous of these uses of food is in the film, “Spartacus,” in a scene between Laurence Olivier as Marcus Lucinius Crassus, and Tony Curtis as his slave, Antoninus. Ostensibly, the dialogue is about food. A preference between a passion for oysters or snails.


Quote

Crassus: Do you eat oysters?

Antoninus: When I have them, master.

Crassus: Do you eat snails?

Antoninus: No, master.

Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?

Antoninus: No, master.

Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn’t it?

Antoninus: Yes, master.

Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.

Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.

Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

End quote.


The discussion is highly suggestive about the sexuality of its protagonists, and because of that, the scene was omitted from the initial releases of the film, only being returned when the film was restored in the 1990s. Tony Curtis was able to dub his lines one more time, with Anthony Hopkins mimicking his one-time mentor, Laurence Olivier, who had died in 1989. Fascinating stuff.


It was not really until later in the 1960s and 1970s that we begin to see realistic food scenes being featured in movies. As with the reasons why food had not been featured so heavily in the past, this development came about, in part, because of technological developments which allowed for food to be shown in realistic colors and lighting. And also, because, as Aleksandra Drzal-Sierocka puts it in her essay, “Celluloid Flavors: A Brief History of Food in Film,” that there were also changes in the cultural aspect of how food was viewed and, in general, more interest in cuisine itself. Drzal-Sierocka puts much of the credit for this on the hands of Eat My Globe favorite, Julia Child, who declares in her first television show, “The French Chef,” that cooking could be fun.


With this, both Drzal-Sierocka and Zimmerman see that food began to move from its traditional usage as we discussed before to being something that was featured for its own natural assets. In 1973, an Italian/French movie called, “La Grande Bouffe” or “The Great Feast” was released. The film, which stars Marcello Mastroianni, plots the determination of four of the bourgeoisie to travel to the private villa of one of their number and to gorge themselves to death on the finest cuisines imaginable. It is, as you can see a very, very dark movie with, and no spoilers here, a dark ending. In a way, it is already a sign that the love of food was already becoming a dangerous obsession. One that director Marco Ferreri used in this rather excessive film. I should add here, that I was nine when it came out, and I didn’t get to see the movie until I was at college nearly ten years later. Just in case anyone thinks my parents were showing me that on a Sunday evening.


In the United States, one of my favorite films of the 60s and 70s is called, “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe,” which was released in 1978 and stars Robert Morley, Jacqueline Bisset and George Segal. In the film, as the title suggests, the finest chefs of Europe are being killed, each using the process that they use to prepare their signature dishes. I remember watching this film on a flight from London to India when I was 14. I loved the film, but also loved the whole nature of being a chef. I guess that stuck with me.


In her book, “Reel Food: Essays on Food and Film,” scholar Anne Bowers talks about “Food Films.” That is, films where a meal, a set of meals, or passion for food shown by an individual or a group are at the very center of what the movie is about. She describes it as


Quote

To begin with, food…. has to play a star role, whether the leading characters are cooks (professional or domestic) or not. This means that often the camera will focus in on food preparation and presentation so that in closeups or panning shots, food fills the screen. The restaurant kitchen, the dining room and/or kitchen of a home, tables within a restaurant, a shop in which food is made and/or sold, will usually be central settings. And the film’s narrative line will consistently depict characters negotiating questions of identity, power, culture, class, spirituality, or relationship through food.”

End quote.


We really begin to see this type of film emerging in the 1980s and right up to the present day. And it’s here that some of the films I heard mentioned when I announced on Twitter that I was writing this episode were mentioned. I thought, at this point, I would take the liberty of giving you my top five food films. I hope that’s OK.


[“Take One”]


SIMON:

One of, if not, the first great food films is “Babette’s Feast.” Now, I have to admit, that, as a film itself, I would not count this amongst my favorites. I find the bits in between the food scenes, well, if I am frank, rather on the dull side. But man alive, those food scenes don’t half make up for it. The film was released in 1987, and directed by Gabriel Axe, based on a novel by Karen Blixen. The Danish film tells the story of two women in a strict Danish religious community who take in a refugee from Paris, Babette Hersant, to be their house cook. She learned how to cook in France and in gratitude she persuades them to let her cook a French inspired meal for them and the community in honor of what would have been their austere father’s 100th birthday.


The menu in “Babette’s Feast” is one that I would love to have the chance to replicate. It comprised dishes such as turtle soup mixed with Madeira, blini with sour cream and caviar, quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce, endive salad with a walnut vinaigrette, cheeses, and an epic dessert of “Savarin au Rhum avec des Figures et Fuites Glacées,” which is a rum soaked sponge cake with figs and candied cherries. All of this is washed down with very special wines.


“Babette’s Feast” is not, as I said, a film one enjoys for the whole film itself, which I think is rather cold and austere. But, I will admit to putting the film on every now and again and winding forward through to the scenes of food preparation, which are some of the best ever put on screen.


[“First positions, please”]


SIMON:

Now, one “food film” I do love from beginning to end is “Big Night.” It is a film set in the 1950s starring Stanley Tucci, Isabella Rossellini and Tony Shaloub. It is set in the American state of New Jersey and follows two recent immigrants to the United States attempt to save their excellent Italian restaurant, which is failing because it produces authentic Italian cuisine not the “spaghetti and meatballs” Americanized cuisine of their rivals. They attempt to do this by inviting renowned Italian singer Louis Prima to join them and hosting an hours long feast of the very best Italian food they can imagine. The evening does not, as one might imagine, go as planned, but along the way we see the brothers making some of the most exquisite, if over the top food imaginable, including the best of the best, a Timpano. It is a large pasta pie stuffed with meatballs, hard boiled eggs, salami and covered with a crust. The scenes in the kitchen, as they are making the pie, based on a recipe from screenwriter Tucci’s family, are some of the very best food scenes I have ever seen.


[“Quiet on the set”]


SIMON:

Now, let’s move to the world of animation for my next choice, and that of course is to a film that many chefs have told me is as close to real life in a kitchen as they have ever seen on screen, rat cooking not included of course. And that is, “Ratatouille.” The 2007 animation features Remy – voiced by Patton Oswalt – who on being forced to leave his childhood home in the suburbs to end up in the kitchen of the greatest restaurant in Paris. There, he befriends the lowest of the low in the kitchen, “Le Plongeur” – literally the man whose job it is to dunk dirty dishes in soapy water. Together, with Remy’s sense of culinary brilliance they create amazing food. It’s a cartoon, of course, but “Ratatouille is one of those food films that I can never scroll past if I see it on television, and I’ve watched it more than a dozen times on airplanes.


[“Cut”]


SIMON:

Next up is the wonderful “Tampopo,” a 1985 film directed by Juzo Itazi. That follows the efforts of a widow, Tampopo, to create the perfect noodle shop in Tokyo with the help of an all-night truck driver, Goro, and his sidekick, Gun. The film interweaves comedy, American noir and even American western culture to bring together one of the most glorious food films of all time. And, if you have never seen the famous – or, uh, infamous – “egg” scene in this movie, we shall put a link on our website. Just be warned, this is definitely NSFW – not suitable for work. So, just be warned not to have any young people around or be at work while you are watching it.


[“Back to one, everybody”]


SIMON:

Finally, in a slightly darker mode, I am going to pay homage to one of my favorite British directors, Peter Greenaway’s masterpiece, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” a film that was released in 1999. It stars Michael Gambon – famously known to a younger crowd as the second iteration of Dumbledore – who takes over a high-class restaurant in London and disgusts the clientele with his gross behaviour. He particularly disgusts his wife – played by Helen Mirren – who he hits and humiliates. She begins to have an affair with another guest and the film follows their dark descent through evenings in the restaurant. I won’t spoil the ending, but this is not a film for anyone with a sensitive disposition and the last couple of scenes may turn your stomach like a four-day old mackerel sandwich.


It is impossible, as I have said before, to list every food film that has had an impact on me over the years. And, I know that I am going to get some mean e-mails – maybe – for missing out some truly notable films. There are some, that I truly love, but just don’t have time to talk about in a podcast this length, and there are some that I, I really dislike but, I just don’t want to waste time berating films that I dislike, but others love.


So, instead, and because I always declare that the nation of Eat My Globe operates as a democracy, or at least as a benevolent dictatorship, I have granted my EMG colleagues a chance to tell me their favorite films too.


[Foreboding sound]


So, first up is our patient producer, April.


SIMON:

So, April.


APRIL:

Yeah, Simon.


SIMON:

So, what’s your favorite food film?


APRIL:

So my favorite food film is Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s one of my favorite directors, um, “Phantom Thread.” And a lot of people don’t realize, the use of food in this movie is actually central to both the main characters, um, you have the designer and genius Woodcock, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. And then, you have Alma, who’s played by Vicky Krieps. And, whenever food is involved in any of these scenes, it’s a complete battle for control. And, you want to think that this breakfast scene at the beginning, uh, he lays eyes on Alma, of whom he falls in love with. And he orders this food and you think he might be flirting. But in fact, as you go through the movie, and you see how he deals with food around people, how he eats his food, how he watches other people’s food, how he orders for other people’s food, it’s all about whether she can cater to his every whim. And, um, I won’t, you know, I don’t want to spoil the film, but it’s really interesting. If you’ve seen the movie and you didn’t notice PTA’s use of food, go back. I would tell people to go back and watch it and watch how he shows the main characters’ anxiety and stress and need for control all just through what he eats, how he orders, things that he can’t do or he can do with food around the people that serve him or he wants to be served by. And I love it.


SIMON:

I will say that, uh, the scene where Reynolds Woodcock, the main character  Daniel Day Lewis orders breakfast at the beginning is one of the greatest food scenes ever in films. Just the way he orders it. And the way he, he, you know, “do you have sausages?” Or the lines that he’s using are just brilliant. And if people haven’t even just seen that scene, even if they don’t want to see the whole movie. . .


APRIL:

Yup.


SIMON:

. . . go online and go and watch the scene where he orders breakfast. And it is brilliant. It’s an actor… well, both actors working. . . .


APRIL:

Yeah.


SIMON:

. . . in full focus. It’s incredible.


APRIL:

And, it’s just sexy as hell.


SIMON:

It is. It is a very, very sexy. Ordering breakfast is one of the sexiest scenes I have ever seen in a movie. So, yes. That’s a great choice.


APRIL:

Thank you.


SIMON:

And now on to my lovely wife, and factotum on Eat My Globe, Sybil.


SYBIL:

Yeah, Simon.


SIMON:

What’s your choice?


SYBIL:

I’m going to cheat and say two – “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”


SIMON:

Two? You can have two. That’s fine. Carry on. Wha. . . Give me your reasoning. And I’ll see if I agree with you as your boss. The Eat My Globe boss.


SYBIL:

[Laughter]


SIMON:

[Laughter]


Yeah, even I didn’t believe that when I was saying it. Come on, carry on.


SYBIL:

Okay. So, for “Like Water for Chocolate,” I liked it because it was more of a life-marker for me. I was in school when I watched it actually in the big screen and I loved eating Mexican food. So that was really awesome. Anyway, watching the movie on the big screen spoke to the food I enjoyed eating at the time. And, um. . . . but for purposes of the pantheon that we talked about for Eat My Globe, the food was completely intertwined with the plot, right? So it was, um. . . . The food wasn’t just incidental. It was very, um, central to what’s happening in the movie. It basically depicted, you know, the protagonist’s anger, her lust, her love, her everything. Just how I feel about you. Aww.


SIMON:

Okay, that’s. . .


SYBIL:

[Laughter]


SIMON:

. . . very strange but carry on. Now, we’re sharing our deep darkness with everyone. Carry on.


SYBIL:

Okay, how she felt like, when she was preparing the food, like when she was preparing that quail with the rose petals. . . .


SIMON:

Yup.


SYBIL:

And then everybody was like falling in love, that was really amazing.


Um, let’s see. And then for “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” it’s really simple. When you see it in the movie, and you see, like, a big nigiri on the screen and you just want to lick it. Yeah, that’s awesome. So, yeah, that’s why.


SIMON:

That’s why. And we’ve actually – the two of us – we’ve actually seen Jiro, haven’t we? We were in Japan . . .


SYBIL:

Yes, when we were. . .


SIMON:

. . . and we saw him walking towards his restaurant. . .


SYBIL:

Yeah, he was very, uh. . .


SIMON:

. . . while we were about to go to another restaurant.


SYBIL:

He was very serious.


SIMON:

He was very serious.


SYBIL:

But we couldn’t get a reservation because it’s now a private restaurant or private dining area. . .


SIMON:

It’s a private club now.


[“Cut”]


SIMON:

Those were great answers. I like all of those answers very much. And I love all of those films.


So, don’t forget, when you listen to this episode, come on twitter, come on Eat My Globe and all of that and let us know what you think you’re favorite films are.


And, I think with that act of generosity on my part – hurrah for me – that’s a great place to end for this week.


Except.


I did promise at the very beginning of the episode that I would talk about not only food films but also about why people who visit cinemas seemed so determined to have the equivalence of a three-course lunch while they’re watching a movie.


From the cinema’s point of view, of course, this is obvious. The money they can make from their customers by selling food, shall we say, at the top end of its price spectrum raises their margins and adds to their profits. But what is it about eating a snack that apparently makes the latest superhero movie, or whatever, even more enjoyable?


Now, popcorn, particularly, has been around for a very long time – it’s been found in Peruvian tombs going back 1,000 years. Popcorn was already a popular snack by the mid-1800s. But it became even more popular in the 1890s after Charles Cretors developed the first popcorn popping machine. He later invented more machines that allowed corn popping with the seasonings included, as well as mobile popcorn makers that could be drawn by a horse. It was sold everywhere – at sporting events and state fairs and at travelling shows such as circuses. In the early days of movies, however, it was not to be seen in the new movie theatres. That’s because the owners of movie houses thought of them more like high end theatres, and designed them to be luxurious and owners didn’t want popcorn on their fancy carpets. Owners also wanted patrons focused on the movies and not distracted by the popcorn munchage action. So at this point, movie viewing was a rich person’s pastime.


It was in 1927, when sound first came to the movies, that movies became open to a wider audience. Movie theater owners, however, were still cautious about allowing snacks in the theater. But, smaller movie theaters, like converted stores that show movies, allowed snacks. An article from the Syracuse Herald in 1927 even mentioned the annoyances of popcorn snackage at such a small movie theater.


Quote

Inside the theater, there was little to convince that this was the year of our Lord, nineteen twenty-seven. Even the odor-laden atmosphere seemed to date back to nickelodeon days. So, too, the popcorn-eating proclivities of the fans. To my sensitive ears, it seemed that every other man, woman and child in the audience was feasting upon the crunchy tidbit. One bought a bag and joined the molar exercise in self defense.”

End quote.


[Popcorn chewing sound]


Around the onset of the Great Depression is when we see people who, though desperate, flock to the movie theaters.  That’s because movies provided an affordable diversion from their woes.


At first, vendors used to set up outside cinemas offering this already popular snack. Great for them and the customers. But not for the cinemas, who initially put up signs telling moviegoers that they would have to leave their popcorn with the coat check attendant. Soon, with many moviegoers going to the movies with their popcorn, the best vendors did a deal where they would sell their popcorn inside the lobby for a fee. It was not long before the cinemas realized that they could make all the money by cutting out the vendors, and the popcorn stand that we still see in modern cinemas became a thing. Indeed, cinemas that decided to sell snacks had better chances of surviving the Great Depression than cinemas that did not.


Nowadays, of course, cinemas sell just about every kind of snack imaginable, from nachos to even cocktails and glasses of wine. And, the act of cinema sneakage – that is, sneaking in one’s own snacks to avoid the sky-high prices in the cinema – has become something of an art form.


I know someone in this room, who shall remain nameless, that has definitely snuck in warm empanadas.


All I ask is that if you do eat in a cinema, please do be quiet when the main feature starts, and throw your rubbish in the trash can after the movie is over.


Okay? See you next week folks.


[“That’s a wrap” and clapping sound]


OUTRO MUSIC


SIMON:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.


And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider. That really makes a difference.

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.


CREDITS

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”


[Pah pah pah pah pah Sound]


and is created with the kind cooperation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.


SIMON:

That’s a fun one.


APRIL:

Oh, I love that one.

Published Date: November 1, 2021

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.