If people are prepared to make films about ballet dancing Geordie children, or remake uninspiring 60's caper movies with all star casts, it's not surprising that so many films have been made about food. How the subject is handled varies wildly, the only common theme seems to be how bad they are at making it look sexy. You only have to look at Elle McPherson "seductively" sucking on cheese in Sirens. Hmm, sucking on cheese, sounds like a euphemism…
Some people seemed to like Kim Basinger being covered in honey and milk in 9 1/2 weeks, sounds fine in principle but throw in Mickey Rourke and it becomes as erotic as a tour of a sewage farm (have you noticed erotic thrillers are never thrilling or erotic?).
Of course sometimes the food is used strictly for grotesque comic effect. Not subtle but the Mr Creosote sketch in The Meaning of life - "Just one little wafer thin mint Sir "- is certainly memorable. John Waters' black comedy Serial Mom features Kathleen Turner bludgeoning one of her victims with a frozen leg of lamb, later cooking and feeding it to the policeman who has come to investigate. The overly titled Francis Ford Coppola's, Bram Stoker's Dracula cuts from the gruesome staking and beheading of Sadie Frost to an extremely bloody piece of beef being roughly hewn in a very genteel restaurant. Strangely, the same movie tries to depict blood sucking as a very sexual experience. And when you think about how he treated the saucier in Apocalypse Now and Al Pacino's first murder in the restaurant in The Godfather, I think Mr Coppola may have some issues with the preparation of food.
Then of course, there is always the laughing at Jonny Foreigner approach. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom we get to see eyeball soup, chilled monkey brains, big black bugs and snake surprise (the surprise is the big snake is filled with lots of little snakes) all on offer in Pankot Palace.
Genuine food lovers help us to bond with characters on screen; cooking and eating are things we all do, even if we are not super cool gangster types. Ray Liotta's concern over the pasta sauce, built up by his own drug induced paranoia, while the FBI are trying to catch him drug dealing in Goodfellas is vaguely hilarious. The conversations in Pulp Fiction, particularly about burgers, make you hungry in the middle of the film and perfectly happy to overlook the fact the John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson are in the process of killing a lot of people.
Another engaging and charismatic villain who takes time and care over his meals is Hannibal Lecter. In The Silence of the Lambs, we know he eats his victims, we laugh at the fate of the census taker whose liver is served with some fava beans and a nice Chianti and chuckle merrily at the prospect of him having an old friend for dinner. His actions are not only condoned but almost celebrated by the audience. Unforunately, Hannibal sucked the big one dry. We don't feel the same about Helen Mirren forcing Michael Gambon to eat her dead lovers cock in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (beautifully filmed movie, doesn't hold up too well to close scrutiny). Our morality is heavily subjective of course, Sam Neil even says that the dinosaurs are just doing what they do in Jurassic Park but we still know the velocoraptors are evil lizards. Godzilla on the other hand, is just misunderstood.
Now the shark in Jaws is neither evil nor misunderstood, its just a very cool, rubber fish with a talent for biting heads off and spitting them back into boats so they float into view just as Richard Dreyfus is swimming around under the boat and still makes everyone jump many years later even though you know its coming. It also happens to be one of my favourite films and I'm not going to criticise it in any way.
Another film I'm particularly fond of is Fight Club, which reminds us in no uncertain terms as to the power of waiters. Brad Pitt always seemed like such a nice boy, you can't help but feel he's just being a naughty little scamp while he's standing with his flies down next to a large silver bowl. Of course, he then engages in a class action lawsuit against the hotel over the urine content of their Lobster Bisque. Bless him. Other kitchen activities make you wonder about waiters in general ("may I suggest madame does not have the clam chowder…")
Big Night is a gratifyingly indulgent celebration of food and starch in particular where Life is sweet not only has Jane Horrocks with an eating disorder, it also gives us the alarming liver and lager style menu of Timothy Spall's restaurant (which, being in a Mike Leigh film, inevitably fails miserably).
Babete's Feast. Eat, Drink, Man, Woman and Like Water For Chocolate all present food and the love of it beautifully. Blazing Saddles and Every ever American teen comedy in the world ever present food as an avenue to hilarious bodily functions. And I understood The Usual Suspects the first time I saw it but had to concentrate very hard through Memento.
So what have we learned. Probably not very much but movies being movies, you should try and look out for a Hollywood star who actually eats anything on film. You will often see food on the table but the really big names usually have a no onscreen food clause in their contracts. Except for Kevin Spacey who is very cool. I'm glad we cleared that up. King Mob