The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

mea­sure. Watch as your aw­ful child opens his jaws to re­veal a mouth­ful of only par­tially mas­ti­cated fish fin­ger. Leave a plate of stew on a ta­ble for an hour and it turns from a steam­ing temp­ta­tion into a con­gealed mass. Leave it a bit longer and it be­comes a fes­ter­ing heap of pu­tre­fac­tion.

Think of the gnarled in­nards and greasy or­gans con­sumed by an­other hor­rific fam­ily in The Texas Chain­saw Mas­sacre (1974). Even more ef­fec­tive is the rab­bit that Cather­ine Deneuve never gets round to eat­ing in Ro­man Polan­ski’s Re­pul­sion (1965). As the poor girl goes steadily mad, the un­for­tu­nate beast, curled hope­lessly on a plate, dries out, be­gins to stink and even­tu­ally ac­cu­mu­lates a posse of flies. It’s not the sub­tlest metaphor for mad­ness. But it cer­tainly adds to the grow­ing at­mos­phere of spir­i­tual de­cay.

No study of cin­e­matic eat­ing would be com­plete with­out a con­sid­er­a­tion of the con­nec­tions be­tween food and sex. Ter­ri­ble films such as 9½ Weeks (1986) at­tack the sub­ject rather too lit­er­ally. Con­sid­er­ing the amount of grub that Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger scoff from one an­other’s bod­ies in the picture, the cou­ple might as well have spent that tit­u­lar pe­riod mak­ing out in the fridge. The fa­mous scene in Tom Jones (1963), dur­ing which Al­bert Fin­ney and Joyce Red­man eye each other over a Georgian ban­quet, be­gins with sub­tle glances and ends with scenes that would (al­most) shame the rut­ting Rourke/bassinger axis. What can Red­man be up to when she slowly swal­lows an oys­ter and al­lows Fin­ney to see the slime squirm­ing within her mouth? A slightly more del­i­cate vari­a­tion on this trope oc­curs in an­other Polan­ski film. Re­call Peter Firth, rich cad, feed­ing straw­ber­ries to im­pover-


ished Nas­tassja Kin­ski in Tess (1979). Some­times a straw­berry is more than just a straw­berry.

Here’s the mes­sage. There is al­most no pur­pose to which food can­not be put in cinema. When, in Good­fel­las (1990), Ray Liotta ex­plains that his mother made spaghetti sauce with ketchup, he clar­i­fies that, un­like the ma­jor­ity of his gang­ster col­leagues, he has no Ital­ian blood. Quentin Tarantino’s musings on burg­ers in Pulp Fic­tion (1994) queasily re­veal the ex­tra­or­di­nary in­flu­ence that fast-food cul­ture has on Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. When eight truck-loads of baked beans de­scend on Ann-mar­gret in Tommy (1975) it be­comes clear that, well, the film must have been di­rected by Ken Rus­sell.

Ev­ery­one eats. Food can be dis­gust­ing and de­li­cious. What we eat and who we eat it with says a great deal about what sort of per­son we are. One­may as well dis­cuss the in­flu­ence of breath­ing or walk­ing in cinema.

We can, how­ever, have a stab at iso­lat­ing the per­fect food movie. Ev­ery­one thinks of With­nail & I (1987) as a film about booze. But grub plays an ex­tra­or­di­nary part in that Bruce Robin­son com­edy. The open­ing scene finds Paul Mcgann gri­mac­ing at a fried egg in a Cam­den Town cafe. Later, to em­pha­sise the pals’ im­pris­on­ment in seed­i­ness, Paul bran­dishes a saveloy in the bath. A pe­riod of rel­a­tive com­fort finds them din­ing on an ex­trav­a­gantly de­li­cious leg of lamb.

A chicken gets stran­gled and roasted. Pork pies and cake are drunk­enly wolfed. The qual­ity of the food mir­rors the des­per­a­tion (or oth­er­wise) of the char­ac­ters’ sit­u­a­tion. For­get the With­nail & I drink­ing game. Call up the butcher and set­tle in for the ul­ti­mate din­ing diver­sion.

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