Big Hunks, popcorn and take-in pizza
Reflections on food and the movies
Throughout my childhood, Saturday afternoons were synonymous with the movies. My mother would drop me off in front of the marquee and I’d lose the next three hours mesmerized by the Big Hunk. Big Hunk taffy, not the man-candy kind.
As a young woman in Paris, moving pictures still had me enthralled, though by now it was the other kind of hunk making my knees weak. I’d sit in the dark and feel terribly moved, while the locals around me worked their snacks. Cellophane bags of individually wrapped candy, twisted one-by-one from their wrappers, loudly. Quelle histoire! What is it about film and food?
Maybe the films themselves feed our desire, seeing as how many of them use food as a muse. In Eat, Pray, Love (2010), Julia Roberts devours mounds of pasta in her global quest for truth and, of course, never gains so much as an ounce.
Nicole Kidman, too, finds solace in the kitchen. In Rabbit Hole (2010) her character’s culinary obsession is a mechanism for dealing with the death of her child. By facing the stove she physically turns her back on her husband, forestalling the agony that looms over them both.
The Help (2011) includes several scenes of southern maids cooking, using butter and sugar to cope with the their fates. We see food as a leveler, a basic human right; it serves as a metaphor for the things that make us the same.
In The Descendants (2012), George Clooney finds solace after the death of his wife by watching movies with his kids while gobbling mounds of ice cream. He sits on the couch and inhales pint after pint and, bit by bit, life becomes bearable somehow.
Edible treats were not sold in the original Nickelodeon theaters, so candy shops and snack bars cropped up next door. Popcorn and peanut vendors plied their wares down the aisles; shells littered floors and crunched under foot.
In the 1930s, the popcorn machine was introduced to movie concessions. Theaters also sold bonbons and hard candy apples, which gave way eventually to a pantheon of high-fructose treats: Neccos, Big Hunks, Baby Ruths, Jujubes, Raisinettes and Milk Duds.
Today theaters crank out nachos, pizzas, even alcoholic drinks; nearly half their income now comes from concessions. Scofflaws rebel by having pizza delivered, or buying candy at nearby stores; some even bring their own sandwiches from home. But this is cheating, of course, and therefore, discouraged. With so much of
a theater’s bottom line dependent on food sales, at the end of the day, it’s just not nice.
Some theaters have the good sense to offer good food to moviegoers. Bagels, lox and cream cheese, organic popcorn with real melted butter, kosher hot dogs, good coffee, Häagen Daz ice cream, the occasional banana in its natural wrapper. As we admire the lean beauties who frequent our screens, we inhabit the dark, jaws working, comforted that the next mouthful is but a few paces away.
Films that will make you want to mangia:
Bitter Rice (1949, Italy); Babette’s Feast (1987, Denmark); Chinese Feast (1994, Hong Kong); The Coca Cola Kid (1985, Australia); The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989, U.K.); Eat Drink Man Woman (1994, Taiwan); Delicatessen (1991, France), La Dolce Vita (1960, Italy); The Last Supper (1976 and 1995, Cuba); Monsoon Wedding (2001, India/U.S./Italy/Germany).
But one of the best food films has to be Big Night, (1996) with Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Stucci as two brothers trying to save their New Jersey restaurant by planning an orgasmic dinner for jazz great Louis Prima, who never shows.
The nearly pornographic meal ends up being the restaurant’s last supper. The movie introduced American home cooks to timpano, an Italian dish made with layered pastry, meat and pasta. In fact, Lisa Lavagetto gives a whole class at Sonoma’s Ramekins Culinary School on how to make timpano.
Food documentaries that might inspire you to just sip a glass of water instead:
Fast Food Nation; Food Fight; The Future of Food; Super Size Me; All in This Tea.