Monday, August 31, 2009

'Chocolat': Oui Oui

Thanks to my four fans :) who voted in my poll. The winning movie (3 to 1) was "Chocolat," with Juliette Binoche. Or, according to one person who voted for the film, "It has Johnny Depp in it."

It's becoming clear to me that these votes were less about the food and more about the "eye candy." So, since I aim to please, here's a little concoction just for you three "Chocolat" fans:
And, to put an end to my month-long obsession with food since seeing "Julie and Julia," my mustard-cayenne pepper chicken breasts were a hit with our dinner guests this past weekend, as was the tortellini spinach salad. As for the recipes ... I'm happy to share. :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vote Early and Often

OK, OK, I know it's back-to-school time, but I know there are more than three of you out there who are willing to take my food film poll :) So I toast those of you who have done so and encourage the rest to pick up your forks and cast a ballot.

And in my continued inspiration from the goddess Meryl and her marvelous performance as Julia Child, I am perusing our cookbooks for new recipes and made a garlic roasted pork loin tonight. And it was delicious, if I do say so myself.

Will have a non-food related post this weekend. Sorry I don't have more time to write; Saturday I gave a presentation on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at the local library -- went very well, if I do say so myself.

Until my next post, as we say in Chicago, vote early and vote often! And become a follower of my blog. I'd like at least one friend (does that sound desperate?). Random thoughts ...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Swifter, Higher, Stronger

This week, the 2009 World Track and Field Championships are being contested in Berlin, Germany, at the stadium used for the infamous 1936 Olympics (above). The stadium has not been the site of a major international track and field championship since.

If you're not familiar with the 1936 games, here's the brief summary: Adolf Hitler was using the games to promote German supremacy. But the lasting memory is of the great Jesse Owens, an African-American who won gold medals in four events -- 100 meter dash, 200-meter dash, 4x100 meter relay and the long jump. If I'm not mistaken, he set world records in all four events. Owens remains one of the great Olympic champions of all times, and his accomplishments invalidated Hitler's claim of the Aryan race (a.k.a. white) being superior.

Why the history lesson? Because director Leni Riefenstahl made a magnificent documentary of those games called "Olympia," released in 1936. The two-part film was meant to be propaganda for Hitler and the Nazis, but what's left is a record of these fascinating Games, coming right before World War II and the last games held until the war was over, when London played host in 1948 (and London is host of the next Olympics in 2012).

It's been a few years since I've seen "Olympia," so I won't go into it in detail. I remember it beginning with images of the sky and clouds, with forms of athletic German men and women -- semi-nude -- in the clouds, again a display of race supremacy. Rather racy and daring. Yet in a time before television, this document was a breathtaking example of how to capture sport on film, and Leni had unlimited access to the athletes and venues.

There is no narrative to speak of. The first two hours show off the track and field competition. The second two hours is of the other events, such as diving and gymnastics (very different from what we know today). There's little commentary, but there's plenty of shots of Hitler watching the action in the stadium. And the athletics themselves provides the drama -- the German women's relay race, the superior performances of Owens. Owens and German long-jumper Luz Long (above) became life-long friends, proving that the athletes can make a difference over politics.

And knowing the history of these Olympics is helping my enjoyment of the current championships, watching the various races and ethnic backgrounds competing on a track that once was being used for white superiority.

"Olympia" is a fascinating film if you're a sport or Olympics enthusiast. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Classicfilmboy and Betty?

Isn't Meryl Streep marvelous? If you haven't seen "Julie and Julia," rush to your local theater. Meryl is pure ambrosia playing Julia Child. After a few minutes, I felt like I was watching Julia, not Meryl, a great compliment to a well-known actress who, at this point in her career, sometimes has trouble hiding in her roles.

The film also stars Amy Adams, with Stanley Tucci (who co-directed another food-lovers film, "Big Night") lending able support as Julia's hubby. I don't want to get into the habit of commenting on current films, since I don't see that many, but I found this so charming that it made me think about food on films and my own joy of cooking.

Since my skills are less apt than Julie or Julia, I decided I'd be better off working my way through Betty Crocker. And I'm up for the challenge! This movie inspired me to make an easy fruit salad from Betty's cookbook earlier today. Perhaps I'll work my way up to the gigantic, intimidating Julia Child book that someone gave to us years ago. We've made one recipe from it, a delectable pork roast. I really should look into that one again. But Betty's my training wheels, so I'll stick with it for now.

Sidetracked, as usual. But several thoughts occurred to me after seeing "Julie and Julia": What would the movie queens of yesteryear think about Meryl? What old films (pre-1960) deal with cooking? And what are your favorite food films?

As for the first question, I think the answer is easy. They'd love her. Bette and Ingrid and Katharine and all the other would appreciate Meryl's impeccable skills, her unnerving taste in material, her independent spirit and her longevity, not to mention that she looks great at 60 and her glorious face has been unaltered by plastic surgery. (Perhaps they'd be jealous of that part.)

About 20 years ago I remember hearing a comment from a former boss about how she was tired of Meryl Streep always being so good. I thought, how strange -- penalizing someone for excelling at their craft. Frankly, I never felt that way. When movie lovers have the best at their disposal, why not cherish every second of every performance? Then we can tell future movie lovers "I remember seeing Meryl in 'Julie and Julia' when it first opened ... what a performance!"

As for the second question, I am having a hard time thinking of an old film that celebrates cooking or baking the way "Julie and Julia," "Big Night" or "Babette's Feast" does. The only one that comes close would be 1945's screwball comedy "Christmas in Connecticut," with Barbara Stanwyck playing a magazine writer whose recipes are beloved by her readers -- who are unaware that she can't cook at all.

There's a scene in "Julie and Julia" where Julia is trying to flip an egg and misses, just like Elizabeth does in "Connecticut" while trying to flip flapjacks (Stanwyck, above, with the wonderful S.Z. Sakall, whose nickname was "Cuddles"). (EEKS! I just saw on IMDB that there's a remake of "Connecticut" in development slated for 2012 release! A recipe for disaster!)

There's also "Mildred Pierce," although the food portions are less about recipes and the art of cooking. (More news about "Mildred" later this week.)

Which leads into the third question. What are your favorite food films? I've put a poll on this page, so let me know. If you don't see what you like, e-mail a title to me. I'll compile a list and post it when the poll closes.

So, for all of you foodies, go see "Julie and Julia." Take my poll on favorite food films and let me know if you are aware of other pre-1960 food films! Meanwhile, I'll be perusing Aunt Betty's cookbook for another recipe to try this week.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Audrey of the Month

Good grief! I've let almost a week go by without posting. Lots of ideas -- no time this week. So, to tide you over, here's my Audrey of the Month. I love this one: Classic Audrey from the 1950s.

Friday, August 7, 2009

'Up': High on Life

This summer, Pixar released its latest winner, "Up," about an elderly man, recently widowed, who embarks on a journey that changes his life.

But there's another "Up" that takes the viewer on a spectacular life journey. In fact, it's the best documentary series I've ever watched -- and I've just finished doing so for the second time.

The "Up" series began as "Seven Up," in which a group of 7-year-old British schoolchildren in 1963 were interviewed as a glimpse into the year 2000, accompanied by the Jesuit motto "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

The hour-long special centered on questions asked of the kids, who were chosen based on their economic backgrounds. Some came from privileged homes, some raised in orphanages, some from the middle-class. They answered queries about love, school, money and the standard "what do you want to be when you grow up." As always, when interviewing children, you are surprised by what they say: the unintentional humor (Paul's comparison of marriage to being forced to eat greens, Andrew proudly announcing that he reads the Financial Times), the amazing insight (Jackie's take on race), and the joy of watching kids being kids.

What's amazing is that this supposedly one-time special has blossomed into something bigger. Following the Jesuit motto stated in the first episode, the series has continued every seven years since then. "Seven Plus Seven," showing the group at 14 during another hour-long show, is followed by feature-length "21 Up" (pictured above), "28 Up," "35 Up," "42 Up" and "49 Up" (released in 2005).

Michael Apted, who was a research assistant on the first program, has directed every entry since then, developing a rapport with his subjects, an invaluable asset that allows them to open up easily and provides a continuity of content from one entry to another. He admits that the children were initially selected based upon their backgrounds, and the producers wanted these backgrounds to be as extreme as possible.

The results are fascinating. In "49 Up," John refers to the series as a form of reality TV. To a certain extent, he's right, in that we're watching the lives of real people unfold before us. But that's trying to put this series into a modern context, and it doesn't work. If made today, the selected children would either want the fame, or their parents would want it, or there'd be a plastic reality-TV sheen to the whole proceedings, where entertainment and forced conflict would take precedent over any value that would come of it.

With the Up series, that's not the case. Several participants freely admit to the difficulty of reliving their lives every seven years and being thrust into a spotlight that would last their entire lives. Others seem to enjoy the opportunity of sharing themselves and creating this living scrapbook.

The other unexpected delight is that every participant has an interesting story to tell. There's Tony, for example (above). He's a character, to say the least, who as a child had dreams of being a jockey, and as an adult has successfully driven a cab in London, does some acting work on the side and clearly loves life.

Then there's the trio of Jackie, Lynn and Susan, friends as girls whose lives have taken unexpected turns, yet all remain positive take pride in where they are at.

To go on about their lives would spoil the joy of meeting and discovering these people.

When John, again in "49 Up," wonders what the meaning is to the series, it's pretty obvious: it's about life. If these children were selected based upon their demographics, then the series makes it clear that regardless of our backgrounds, our politics or our class levels, we all share common life experiences -- love, marriage or being in a partnership and navigating the sometimes difficult waters of staying together, the death of your parents, children (for most), careers.

It's these things that bind us together, and how the tapestry of life plays out for the men and women chronicled in this series is what's amazing. It's not that these people have lived spectacular lives, it's that they've lived -- and in doing so they are like us, whether the results are uplifting or heartbreaking.

There's no other movie or documentary that captures life any better. My only wish is that I could somehow meet Apted and these participants and thank them for taking part (if six degrees of separation is to be believed, then I should have a fan who knows someone who knows someone who knows one of these people, so pass this along to them!) I know it can't be easy sharing your life with the world, or saying something at age 14 that you might be embarrassed about now. But when this is done, the world will be left with an unparalleled chronicle of life, from childhood to old age, something that future generations will watch, enjoy and study.

It's an amazing endeavor, and one we should all take advantage of.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thanks for Voting!

Hi everyone, thanks to the six people who voted in my poll. As you can see, one person is fine with 10 best picture nominees, four said leave it at five, and one just wants to see the fashions.

Frankly, I'm impressed with the fact that six people are reading my blog :) After one month, I'm pretty pleased with how it's going. And I appreciate the comments so far, so keep them coming.

Next post will be Friday, and I'll be straying from the studio system this time around.

A quick note: Watched "Double Indemnity" again on Sunday. What a perfect film. Will blog about it later ... I have plans for it :) But here's a photo just to tide you over:

Don't you wish you lived in an era where, instead of supermarkets, you had neighborhood stores like Jerry's to go shop in? With the cans stacked in perfect little pyramids? And people plotting murder near the baby formula? Just one of the many reasons to love "Double Indemnity."