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Omnivore Food Blog By Suzanne Podhaizer

Food in Film

February 11, 2008

Food in Film: Blade Runner

Finally, after months of waiting, Netflix delivered "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" to our mailbox. The movie was so popular upon its release last December that even thought it was at the top of our queue then, it arrived on February 8th.

Normally I'd just slide a movie down on the list and wait patiently until it was easier to get, but my sweetie and I are trying to watch AFIs "100 Greatest Films" (updated) list in order from #100 to #1, and "Blade Runner" is #97. And being purists, we refused to skip it and move on to "Do The Right Thing."


What role does food play in "Blade Runner?" An enigmatic one. First of all, there's a lot of food-related product placement, mostly for various beer brands and Coca-Cola.  In fact, BR was one of the first films to incorporate product placement: It came out in 1982, the same year that ET made his case for Reese's Pieces. Since the film takes place in 2019 and there are no Pepsi ads to be seen, are we meant to believe that Coke ultimately won the "cola wars?" Or were they just the first soda company to jump on the bandwagon? Were these ads part of Ridley Scott's vision, or just a way to finance the film? Who knows.

When we meet our dubious "hero," Deckard, it is at a noodle bar. In BR, the population of 2019 L.A. is largely Asian. My only stab at a narrative explanation for having to watch Deckard order and slurp down noodles is to drive that fact home.

Food also makes an appearance when Deckard uses a breath/heart rate/pupil dilation response test to determine if another character, Rachel, is human or a humanoid android called a "replicant." Because animals are all but extinct -- and are idolized -- this future world, several of the questions center around eating 'em. When Rachel reacts with strong disgust to the idea of eating raw oysters, but seems less perturbed by the idea of eating boiled dog stuffed with rice, it helps Deckard conclude that she's a replicant.

Finally, there's a scene in which eggs are boiling in a tall glass beaker, and one of the replicants reaches into the beaker and pulls out an egg. This shows how invincible she is, but also, eggs themselves are symbols of birth, and birth (vs. creation) is one of the films most important themes.

And that's it.

February 07, 2008

Sweeney Todd: Not as Delicious as I'd Hoped...

Every year for my birthday, my mother makes me a tourtière. Never heard of such a thing? It's a French-Canadian meat pie. I think Mom's version is made with ground pork and just a touch of tomato, and is baked in a buttery pie crust. It's savory, filling and delicious.

Perhaps it was my penchant for meat pies that made me so fascinated by the story of Sweeney Todd, which I discovered as an undergrad while working on a paper about cannibalism in film (think Ravenous, movies about Hannibal Lecter and campy offerings such as Eating Raoul, Bob Balaban's Parents, and Matt Parker and Trey Stone's weird and catchy Cannibal the Musical).

Supposedly based on a real person, although historical evidence is slim to non-existent, the version of the story that was made into a Sondheim musical recently adapted into film by Tim Burton, tells the tragic tale of a barber who is unjustly imprisoned after a powerful judge takes a liking to his wife. Upon his return to London, he finds that his wife is dead by her own hand and his daughter is the evil judge's ward. However his old landlady, Mrs. Lovett, is on Fleet Street right where he left her, churning out the city's most disgusting "meat" pies using god-knows-what as filling. Good meat was expensive and hard to come by in those days. And cats are very quick.

Todd takes up residence above Lovett's shop, and unleashes his anguish upon the unshaven men of London: Put it this way, when Todd suggests a close shave, he's not offering his clients fuzz-free cheeks. The bodies tumble down a chute into the basement, where Mrs. Lovett grinds up 'em up and pops 'em into pies, a move which seriously improves the quality of her wares.

Enough plot summary, though...While the movie gave me pleasant chills a few times, I just didn't feel any connection to the characters. Thus, any concern I had for the ongoing well-being of Sweeney or Mrs. Lovett was intellectual, not emotional. It's easy to make me cry, so if a movie doesn't, well, that's saying something. But I still found it enjoyable, just not great. My favorite parts? A couple ditties about meat pies, of course. Here are some excerpts:

Before: From "The Worst Pies in London"

...These are probably the worst pies in London.
I know why nobody cares to take them!
I should know!
I make them!
But good? No...
The worst pies in London...
Even that's polite! The worst pies in London!
If you doubt it take a bite! ...

...Is that just, disgusting?
You have to concede it!
It's nothing but crusting!
Here drink this, you'll need it.
The worst pies in London
And no wonder with the price of meat
what it is
when you get it...

After: From "God, That's Good"

...Are your nostrils aquiver and tingling as well
At that delicate, luscious ambrosial smell?
Yes they are, I can tell.
Well, ladies and gentlemen,
That aroma enriching the breeze
Is like nothing compared to its succulent source,
As the gourmets among you will tell you, of course...

What's my secret?
(To a woman)
Frankly, dear — forgive my candor —
Family secret,
All to do with herbs.
Things like being
Careful with your coriander,
That's what makes the gravy grander — !

I'd say watch it on DVD, if you're so inclined.

January 08, 2008

Food in the AFIs Top 100 Films (part 1)

My sweetie and I are watching the AFIs top 100 Films in order from 100 to 1, even the ones we've seen before. We are taking the occasional break for lighter fare such as the first season of Heroes. Because I'm constantly on the lookout for interesting foodie tidbits, I thought it would be fun to catalog the role that the culinary arts play in these films, if any.

So far we've bitten off only three movies: Ben Hur (1959), Toy Story (1995) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). The newly released version of Blade Runner -- I've already seen the "old" Director's Cut more times than I care to mention -- is at the top of our Netflix queue, but is in high demand, so we're in a holding pattern.'s the skinny on food in the first three. I'm being careful not to give away any plot points in my descriptions:

Ben-Hur: Not much going on. There are scenes in which one character brings food to lepers and one in which Jesus gives Ben-Hur a drink. The only other one worthy of note was when Ben-Hur shared a meal with a  Sheik who insists that he belch to show his appreciation. Table manners as a marker of cultural difference, I guess?

Toy Story: Unless you count the appearance of Mr. Potato Head as a culinary reference , this movie is pretty low on the food chain, too. The one exception is the trip to Pizza Planet, although I remember stuff about the arcade games there and pretty much nothing about the food. Oh yeah, the evil kid Sid does leave his room to get some pop tarts.

Yankee Doodle Dandy: There's a scene at a boarding house for artistes in which the folks who haven't been working much and can't pay their bills are relegated to one end of the table and only get to eat goulash. I don't think the denial of the goulash was merely a matter of economics: Not getting to eat the same food the others were eating probably felt shameful to the characters who were struggling financially, and  in the landlady's mind, served as a carrot on a stick (this is what you can have when you get yourself a job...then you'll deserve to eat well).

Next up: Bladerunner, Do The Right Thing and The Last Picture Show. I've seen the first two and know that there will be a bit more to talk about. I have no idea about the third.

Feed me now!

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