by Mary Burgan
This week the Borderstan Movie Fan makes some recommendations about food movies. Next week she will review health care-related movies (yes, really).
Julie and Julia is a very good movie, especially for those who bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the early sixties and tried to cook from it. I’ve gone back to look at my copy. The stains on its pages show that I cooked a few of Julia’s recipes a lot–the spinach, potato, and mushroom soups, the chicken breasts (suprêmes de volaille), the hamburgers.
And then every page of Julia’s recipes for tenderloin of beef is smeared. Early in my married life, I invested in a whole, expensive tenderloin for a big dinner, which we had to cancel on account of my finding myself with child and with complications attending thereto. And so my husband and I sliced the tenderloin as directed and ate it–every day a new recipe cooked out of Julia Child. I wasn’t sure what tournedos were and I had never heard of béarnaise before, but we were in heaven.
J & J films such food beautifully, and after watching it, I wanted a drink (there are a lot of martinis in Julia’s house) and something sautéed in butter.
Of course, you can get a lot of the original Julia Child videos on DVD from PBS, though I imagine it would take real devotion to view them all. Julia’s famous voice and awkwardness could wear you down, and Streep’s reproduction of them threatens to do that in Julie & Julia.
There are other food movies that could compete with this one, and if you Google “food movies,” you’ll find many lists. Babette’s Feast and Big Night are on all of them and are sublime. And the two chocolate movies–Like Water for Chocolate and Chocolat–are worth another look. I found Eat, Drink, Man, Woman a little too grisly in the depiction of butchering ducks and fish; food doesn’t come in neat. Bloodless slices, after all.
The dinner wasn’t much in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but Spencer Tracy does a wonderfully comic job ordering an ice cream cone at a drive-in, thus helping to make this path-breaking film about race something better than a sermon. Carrie Snodgrass’s effort to cook like Julia in Diary of a Mad Housewife shows how much Mastering the Art crazed the pre-feminists of the early sixties, while Clemenza’s showing Michael how to cook Italian in The Godfather reminds us to put a little sugar in the marinara.
And, finally, the enjoyment of a simple bean dish by hearty men gathered around a campfire is marvelously enacted in Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles. Food is not only sight in the movies, it can also be sound.
Next week: Movies about health care. By the way, although Bright Star presents the tragic story of Keats and Fanny Brawne beautifully, it is so sad that its audience may be limited to poetry lovers and English majors–an increasingly tiny group?
Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan. Each week she offers up her opinions on movie classics and other previously run movies. Burgan is a retired association executive and professor of English. She and her husband live in Borderstan.