Food movies

While you were out breaking your back gathering in the harvest, Jonathan Adams was inside on the couch rating his favourite movies about food. And he was drunk.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989). Peter Greenaway’s satirical allegory of the Thatcher era in Britain features a wealthy, mannerless philistine who bosses people around at a gourmet restaurant. Just like Margaret Thatcher! The philistine, or “Thief” of the title, is cuckolded by his Wife (Helen Mirren), who conducts her trysts in the kitchen with a sensitive, bookish man, while her husband gorges himself outside. When the Thief learns of this betrayal, he goes rampaging through the restaurant in pursuit; the Wife and the Lover must make their escape by hiding in the back of the garbage truck that comes to collect all the rotten food from the kitchen. Their hurry is such that they happen to be completely naked when they are shuffled into the truck beside all the rancid meat and maggots and so forth. And that’s not even the grossest part of the movie.

Tampopo (1985). Often regarded as one of the funniest movies ever made, Juzo Itami’s second film is a Japanese comedy–or possibly western–about a stranger who comes to town to teach a local, recently-widowed noodle chef how to make the perfect ramen. As the film progresses, noodles gradually become less a meal than a moral philosophy.

The Gold Rush (1925). Hunger is the key motivation in nearly all Charlie Chaplin’s films; hence the appearance of food is always an occasion for ecstatic rejoicing. In The Gold Rush, the Tramp and a burly prospecter find themselves trapped together in a log cabin deep in the snowy mountain wilderness. When hunger sets in, the prospecter becomes delirious and imagines the Tramp as a giant, luscious chicken (allowing for a brilliant costume piece). Meanwhile, the Tramp resorts to boiling up his boot for the two men to dine on. Later in the movie, Chaplin returns to civilization and tries to impress a girl with his famous dinner roll dance.

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980). Yes, he does. In a strange, real-life homage to Chaplin’s boot supper in The Gold Rush, German director Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) made a wager with the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. Herzog promised to eat his own shoe if Morris succeeded in completing his first feature, Gates of Heaven. Herzog made good on his promise at the premiere, and the director Les Blank recorded it all in this 20-minute film which you can now find on YouTube. Blank has also made documentaries on more traditional cuisine, such as Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers and Yum, Yum, Yum: A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking.

The Films of Jan Švankmajer. The Czech animator Jan Švankmajer has made an entire career out of playing with his food in his wonderfully surreal stop-motion films. In Meat Love, for example, a pair of steaks have something like intercourse in a bed of flour, and then are thrown into the frying pan as punishment for their fornication. It’s a lovely moral, really. Another short film called Dimensions of Dialogue features several visual metaphors for discourse, one of which involves an encounter between a human head made out of vegetables and another made out of kitchen utensils. The result of their meeting is a new head made out of chopped vegetables. The more modestly-titled Food is a short divided into three sections: one for each meal of the day. In the second section, Lunch , a couple at a restaurant express their dissatisfaction with the service by eating the restaurant itself, beginning with their table. Švankmajer’s feature-length movies (Alice; Faust; Otesanek) also feature numerous foody contortions of a similarly perverted spirit. Most of Švankmajer’s films are available on DVD.