Movies About Food
One film honors Thanksgiving.
As promised, a column about food movies.
The perfect Thanksgiving movie is Barry Levinson's Avalon. Avalon is an ode to extended families and Thanksgiving dinners. It is the third in his trilogy about growing up in Baltimore, following Diner and Tin Men.
The opening scene shows a large noisy family of Jewish immigrants, first, second and third generations, squeezed around several tables. Thanksgiving is the unifying holiday and there are expectations. The turkey will not be carved until everyone is seated. But Uncle Gabriel, played by Lou Jacobi, and his family are always late. His brother Sam, the narrator, makes a fateful choice: to wait no longer and carve the turkey.
"What! You carved the turkey without me," shouts Gabriel as he enters the room. He lectures the family about manners, expectations, family loyalty and a number of other true but irrelevant issues.
Gabriel and family stomp out and he attempts, rather successfully, to end his relationship with the family. Of such unimportant expectations are family dynamics made and destroyed. The movie revolves around two themes: the family Thanksgiving dinner and the efforts of grown cousins to grow a retail business.
Avalon follows three generations from the first step down the plank in Baltimore Harbor in 1914 to the growth of the suburbs. The advent of television makes family dinners more difficult and the growth of the suburbs causes the older members of the family to wonder why anyone would want a yard so big you have to yell to talk to your neighbors.
The movie ends when grandson Michael and his son visit Sam in a nursing home. Fittingly, Macy's Thanksgiving Parade plays on the television.
On every level, this is a poignant reflective movie. And it is a movie about a loving family, Thanksgiving and giving thanks. Available at Video Signals, Acton.
In answer to my request for favorite food movies several people recommended Ratatouille. "That mouse slays me," wrote one friend.
Babette's Feast got several mentions, as did Big Night. I love the opening Christmas feast in Fanny and Alexander, and this would fit the food movie category only if you compare that feast with the fast that follows.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Life in the house revolves around the ritual of an elaborate dinner each Sunday, which the father prepares for his unmarried daughters.
Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat and Tortilla Soup were all mentioned.
My personal favorite, definitely not for the children: Tampopo, a Japanese noodle western. A young single mother runs a mediocre noodle restaurant. Enter a truck driver who resembles John Wayne, right down to the black hat and steer horns on the hood of his truck. A series of vignettes show us how to eat noodles, how to make noodles, how a bunch of hobos make soup from restaurant castaways. There is a villain, in a white suit and hat, and he is involved in a couple of scenes you want to keep the children from watching. They involve sex, not violence, and when we force guests to watch the film the guests are not always as amused as we are.
Speaking of traditions
There is one way to make sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Mash the cooked potatoes, put them in a casserole dish, heat. Just before serving cover the top with marshmallows. Broil until the tops are brown. Or, if you want to follow the tradition in our family, leave the casserole in the oven on broil and when smokes enters the dining room, remove from oven, scrape off marshmallows and try again.
That is a simple traditional perfect recipe. Why then, does it need to be improved on? The Nov. 19 edition of The Week recommends rubbing Chinese five-spice powder over the marshmallows. Need I ask why?