THE BLOG

Happy Thanksgiving: Food On Film

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET

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For many of us, especially those of us who love
movies, there are four pleasures in life: Food, sex,
books and cinema ... though not necessarily in that
order.

Of the four, cinema is the pleasure which can
consistently roll food, sex and countless other
feelings, themes and experiences into one interesting
batch of tiramisu-- and, more imporantly, you can
look at it (I always crave steak when Glenn
Ford bites into that slab of meat in The Big
Heat;
Lee Marvin's special serving of steaming
hot coffee, not so much). Food on film elicits
all kinds of reactions and yearnings that underscore
just how much emotion we sometimes invest in
day-to-day eating or... binging or whatever sensible
eaters do. I wouldn't know, especially around
Thanksgiving because I just want to eat something. And
watch something too. So with that, I've thought of
some of my favorite food on film moments -- moments
that make me hungry, sick, amused and ready to try
new, exotic things (see Ravenous). Dig in.

Food Fight: The Miracle
Worker
(1962)

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Though Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker
received acclaim in its day, it now seems relatively
underappreciated - especially in terms of how
strikingly visceral and in many ways, avant-garde it
is. The story of Helen Keller, a woman who found
herself in the unfortunate position of being blind,
deaf and mute is directed by Penn with a refreshing
lack of hokey sentimentality and a lot of in-your-face
realism. Penn (who also helmed Bonnie and
Clyde
) prefers to showcase the real life account
in a shockingly straight forward manner mixed with a
lyrical sadness and beauty. It's an unsettling
combination that's surprising even today, especially
when we get to the infamous dinner table scene. A game
Anne Bancroft plays Helen's teacher Annie Sullivan,
who tries valiantly to teach stubborn Helen (a
remarkable Patty Duke) how to sit down and eat at the
table like a regular little girl. The lesson results
in not only a food fight, but a smack-down that would
make Vince McMahon envious. I mean, just
watch...it's actually amazing how much these
women wrestle, slap and fork food in their mouths
without missing a beat. It's sad but also (and I think
this is intentional) a little hilarious. Jesus, how
many times did they shoot this scene?

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Best Restaurant
Order Ever: Five Easy Pieces

(1970)

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Sorry. I'm not going with the obvious -- When
Harry Met Sally
. First off, contrary to popular
opinion, Meg Ryan's fake orgasm, "I'll have what
she's having" -- diner display is the least funny
moment in the otherwise charming romantic comedy. And
secondly, no one beats Jack Nicholson in terms of
inappropriate, though completely understandable
restaurant behavior (think of other great Nicholson
at-the-restaurant-moments: making Randy Quaid order
his food the way he wants in The Last Detail
and his endless, OCD eating specifications in As
Good As It Gets)
. And though the masterful
Five Easy Pieces (directed by Bob Rafelson)
really has little to do with food, but it makes my
list simply for Jack's iconic way of ordering a side
of toast. Nicholson plays a slumming oil
rigger/talented pianist who embarks on a trek to visit
his dying father with a saucy girlfriend (Karen Black)
and, at one point, two memorably surly female
hitchhikers in tow. The four make quite a tall order
when a seen-it-all waitress won't bend the rules
("no substitutions") on a breakfast order of
a "plain omelette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead,
a cup of coffee, and wheat toast." When the
waitress insists she can only bring Nicholson a roll
or an English muffin, he asks the perfectly reasonable
question, "You make sandwiches don't you?"
and proceeds to order a chicken salad sandwich, hold
the butter, mayonnaise and lettuce. But where to hold
the chicken? "Between your knees," Jack
famously and disdainfully coos. I never tire of this
moment. And right now I'd really enjoy some wheat
toast.

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Prison Food:
Goodfellas
(1990)

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From stirring the Sunday sauce just right (no
matter if helicopters and cops are on your tail), to
dinner with Joe Pesci's ma (actually Scorsese's), to
shoving the mailman's head in a pizza oven, to Ray
Liotta's telling diner meeting with Robert DeNiro,
there's no shortage of delicious and murderous food
sequences in Martin Scorsese's perfect
Goodfellas. But the primo moment has to be
when the bosses go to a prison so cushy, not even
Martha Stewart could have conceived it. As Ray Liotta
genially narrates, we watch the delivery of a
ridiculously plentiful assortment of food --
delicious, hearty Italian food -- to the delight of
the drooling but discerning jailbirds. The topper is
when Paul Sorvino slices strips of garlic with a razor
blade to such thin, such translucent perfection that
when you see it gently combine with the olive oil and
sizzle in the pan, you can practically smell the
delectability. Makes you want to go to jail for one
second...as a gangster. And, to enter the club in the
most romantic way possible, through the kitchen.

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Service With a
Cackle: What Ever Happened to Baby
Jane
? (1962)

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Bette Davis could be the queen bitch of all queen
bitches. As the aging child star Baby Jane Hudson
caring for her ex movie star, wheelchair bound sister
(played with aching martyrdom by Joan Crawford), she's
the picture of creepy cruel -- spackled white makeup,
overdrawn mouth, baby doll ringlets, ratty old robes
and little girl clothes (Davis insisted on looking
this way -- even director Robert Aldrich was concerned
about how scary she appeared). But this isn't about
how Bette dresses, this is about how Bette serves a
lunch. With gusto and flair! Everyone should prepare
this kind of a meal at least once.
Right?

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href="http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/2007/11/for-thanksgivin.html">Read
the rest of my finest food moments, including
Ravenous, Big Night and Tampopo at
href="http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/2007/11/for-thanksgivin.html">Sunset
Gun.

Read more Kim Morgan at href="http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/">Sunset Gun.