Food in film

I’m in the fog that creeps in after I finish a script, when you wonder what to do next. Of course rewriting is a good idea, but then it also makes sense to get a little distance. I guess I could clean the garage and change the oil before starting the second draft.

But instead we’ve been holding a little German film festival. None of that oppressive Herzog stuff, but rather surprisingly light fare. We watched Goodbye Lenin!, Lives of Others and Mostly Martha. Lives of Others was a bit intense, but still ultimately uplifting. No dark chaos theory here.

Even though Lives was a brilliant film, Martha was perhaps my favorite. This is because I’m a sucker for movies about food. In this film, Martha is a chef who doesn’t eat and needs to learn how, along with the other important things in life, like how to raise a kid and be a lover. I think it has easily cracked my top five food film list, up there with Ratatouille, and Big Night, plus the aggregate of all of those great food scenes in the Coppola films.

This got me thinking about why food plays such a vital part in so many films. The best scenes take place in kitchens, restaurants or even cowboy campfires. Of course don’t forget the cafeteria food fight in Animal House. Capturing the spirit of food in a film is difficult given the fact that we can’t smell or taste what’s going on. Presentation is always part of a great meal, but it’s these other two senses that are critical to the process of enjoying food. It’s hard to get that across in a visual medium. But great films manage to make that happen.

Mostly Martha operates like a routine romantic comedy throwing in that tried and true vehicle–the orphaned kid who shows up on your doorstep. But despite the conventions, and despite its German Lifetime Network soundtrack, it is a brilliant food film. It opens with a narration by a chef in her psychiatrist’s office offering a description that is guaranteed to start your belly growling. And in a moving scene where the orphaned girl who hasn’t eaten since her mother’s death is coaxed into eating a plate of spaghetti, you’ll be in tears and then make a run to the fridge. I’ve made my own attempt to write a great food story with my novel Vintage (due out in 2015 from Touchstone Books). It’s ostensibly about wine, but wine is only so much fermented grape juice without food and conversation, which is the point of the screenplay. I don’t have the audacity to include it in this list of classics, it’s merely my humble attempt to get the essence of a meal onto the screen.

So thumbs up for Martha and now it’s time to get back to work.

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