Archive for the ‘Rumblings’ Category

“I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles with ketchup”

September 17, 2012

Prison dinner–Paulie (Paul Sorvino) slicing garlic with a razor blade

Goodfellas is a brilliant movie not only because of Martin Scorsese’s vision, or its performances, but because of Nicholas Pileggi’s script. The dialogue is peerless–bracing and savagely funny. And of course, food is a big deal. Through all the double-crossing, scheming, and murder, people have to live their lives, and the care which they lavish on food is a contrast to the nastiness of the line of work they’re all in.

There’s a scene towards the end, when Henry (Henry Hill, who died this past year) is trying to mastermind a major drug deal while coordinating an elaborate family dinner:

I had to start braising the beef, pork butt and veal shanks for the tomato sauce. It was Michael’s favorite. I was making ziti with the meat gravy and I’m planning to roast some peppers over the flames and I was gonna put on some string beans with some olive oil and garlic, and I had some beautiful cutlets that were cut just right, that I was going to fry up before dinner just as an appetizer. So I was home for about an hour. Now my plan was to start the dinner early so Karen and I could unload the guns that Jimmy didn’t want, and then get the package for Lois to take to Atlanta for her trip later that night.

Pileggi’s script goes beyond The Godfather‘s scenes of camaraderie (Clemenza to Michael, “Michael, you never know when you’re going to need to cook for twenty guys”). The food, the money, the thrill that comes from taking someone down, the satisfaction in making easy money, is all a part of the pleasure of living in Henry Hill’s world. And when the excitement is gone, the food turns sour too. At the end, after he’s ratted his friends out, and placed in witness protection, he looks out at the audience in his shabby bathrobe and says,

Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. (He stares directly at the camera.) I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

Dinner with Tommy’s mother-played by Martin Scorsese’s own mother, Catherine


Eating and Cooking in Your Apartment

November 20, 2010

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter in Billy Wilder's The Apartment, making something cheap and easy--spaghetti--with his tennis racket

When you’re living in a confined space, and the kitchen is really small, it takes a lot of ingenuity to think up good meals. Even cooking something simple can be a chore because there’s hardly room to move. So what do you when you want to vary your apartment cuisine from Ramen and instant Mac n’ Cheese? This is where I find those scenes from Julie and Julia pretty entertaining and à propos:  Amy Adams trying to make lobster thermidor and consommé in her pokey kitchen (where sous chefs have a hard time making them in large restaurant kitchens!), and trying to get something bigger out of her life by transcending the confines of her occassionally tedious existence with wonderful food.

Also, the scene in The Apartment with Jack Lemmon improvising with a tennis racket, because he doesn’t have a strainer, is great. It really sort of captures city living.

As Thanksgiving approaches, The New Yorker puts out their annual food-themed issue.  This year they have the writer Judith Thurman, who has written the definitive biography on the writer Colette, making a tantalizing pistachio-encrusted turbot:

Last year, it was Jhumpa Lahiri’s father making pulao, a fragrant Indian pice dish:

The Ritual of Dining in The Age of Innocence

July 4, 2010

Is there a dinner scene more sumptuous than any in The Age of Innocence?  The attention to detail in Martin Scorcese’s faithful film adaptation sort of takes your breath away.  The flowers, the table settings, the delicately assembled meals, the elegant guests, constitutes your dream of what a Wharton novel should be.

Dinner is, of course, highly ritualized. Beneath the complex etiquette of their formal dinners Wharton saw people gnawed by rivalries and intrigue. Dining afforded Wharton opportunities for satirizing the social elite and the nouveaux riches–the former intent upon preserving their exclusivity, the latter upon penetrating aristocracy’s Fifth Avenue dining rooms, its restaurants, receptions, and balls.  Moreover, in the context of domesticity, the dining scenes also reaffirm the family as a “tribe” wherein mutual protection is reinforced by the act of eating together.

Just look at the scene of the van der Luydens’ dinner for Countess Olenska: a social coup de grace intended as an act of mercy–to reassure the respectability of the Welland family by accepting the wayward Ellen Olenska deep into the bosom of New York, Old Money society.  The plates that come forth in succession, the braised cucumbers, the glistening seafood and game, the ripe vivid fruits, the refulgent bright flowers tumbling over as centerpieces, are dazzling icons of wealth and abundance.

Here, food is the conduit to conversation and power, and a totem of affluence.  The Age of Innocence is one of those rare period films that really is a tableau vivant, full of fleeting, and beautiful images that catch the eye and linger your memory.

Audrey and Katharine in the Kitchen

May 2, 2010

Remember the idea of sexual politics in the 1940s and 50s?   There’s always that image of the immaculately coiffed young woman, in full makeup, wearing an apron and standing over a pot roast, shooing the man away from the kitchen.

That image was stigmatized in the 70s and 80s, where there was a general trend for women to charge through in the workforce and order in takeout.  Then, around 2001, the children of those women started to un-stigmatize the image.  There was a plethora of books and shows about cooking and being proud of doing your own cooking: Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa, and a whole lot I can’t even begin to think of…

So, someone on YouTube, afrenchindublin (I assume an Irish expat in Paris??) was enterprising and creative enough to put together a montage that show various clips from classic movies of Katharine Hepburn (Woman of the Year), Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire), and Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina) cooking, or attempting to cook.  And there’s that brilliant scene of Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, trying to strain spaghetti with his tennis racket.

Spanglish and “The World’s Greatest Sandwich”>

April 30, 2010

a very intimidatingly dense, rich, runny egg sandwich, made by Adam Sandler in Spanglish

The 2004 James L. Brooks movie Spanglish isn’t really a great movie. It’s not even a great romantic comedy. Adam Sandler seemed kind of awkward in a role that demanded a little more smoothness and grace in a leading man. The star of the movie was really Tea Leoni as a controlling L.A. socialite/mom, who took passive-aggression to new comic heights. The other star of the movie was the sandwich that Adam Sandler’s character (a successful chef and restauranteur) makes one night when he wants to enjoy a quiet meal alone.

The ingredients are some good, dense bread, mayo generously spread on both sides, lettuce, (some other stuff..?) and a meticulously runny egg.

I don’t know what it is about this sandwich that fascinates me, why it haunts my dreams, but I think it’s the egg. It’s a perfect example of slightly relaxed, seemingly sloppy, but methodically crafted food that’s really so good.

A Good Year and the intoxication of Provence

April 24, 2010

Dinner table scene in Ridley Scott’s A Good Year, based on the Peter Mayle book

A Good Year is probably not a movie people will readily associate with Ridley Scott, or remember him by, but it’s a movie that does a remarkable job of creating a sense of mood and atmosphere. When Russell’s Crowe’s character Max, walks through his uncle’s sun-drenched vineyard, the old swimming pool, the gardens, you get a wonderful sense of place and a palpable feeling of the land.
That candelit dinner scene was also really well played out.

In a recent Anthony Bourdain episode where he goes to Provence and has this incredible meal of handmade, pungent garlic aoili, with boiled potatoes, fennel, carrots, and lightly baked fish, he says (slightly callously) “This is classic poor people’s food.” His host, gets slightly indignant and replies, “Yes, but in Provence, everybody was poor.” The resourcefulness and ingenuity of Provencal cooks to take simple farm produce, seafood and poultry and flavor them with local herbs and pair them with incredible locally produced wines, is so outstanding that the style of cooking is replicated almost everywhere in the world.


Movie Food

April 24, 2010

Kirk Douglas hamming it up for Sophia Loren over a plate of spaghetti, c. 1954

Who doesn’t love movies, and who doesn’t love food? Over the course of a couple of posts, I’m going to be looking at certain scenes from movies involving food, that have stayed in my mind. The visual impact of movies in regards to eating, pleasure, and the emotional significance of certain meals and foods, is so compelling and sometimes overlooked. The presence of food and eating in movies is often so seemingly innocuous we tend to pass it over. Thinking about it, I was surprised at all the examples of great “food movies” that came to my mind.