I saw a movie last night called Chef, a 2014 release starring Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johanssen, Sofia Vergara and about a dozen other people. It was pretty good, not great, but enjoyable mostly for the wonderful scenes of food being prepared, which is a kind of theater enjoyed by a certain type of viewer–namely, foodies.
Over the years there have been a number of great food movies. The first I remember is the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast, based on a novel by Karen Blixen (most famous for Out of Africa). There was also Big Night, from 1996, starring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci as brothers and partners in an Italian restaurant. In 1994 Ang Lee gave us Eat Drink Man Woman, about a Chinese restaurant owner dealing with his three independent daughters.
These were all good movies, memorable mostly for their scenes of what many critics call ‘food porn’: lovingly rendered closeups of cutting and sauteing and displaying food on plates in splendid, colorful, steamy profusion. For this alone, most of these movies are watched again and again by foodies.
I wonder if I’m missing any? Do you know of any other great food movies? How about great scenes of food in otherwise not foodie movies?
December 15 was Bill of Rights Day. It has never been a major day of observance, even though Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed it as long ago as 1941, acknowledging that December 15, 1791 was the day the first ten amendments to our Constitution took effect. I noticed that a few libraries had posted book lists for Bill of Rights Day: mostly books about the history of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights itself. There’s some interesting reading there.
I have to admit that I missed it, and we didn’t post any book list. In retrospect, I would say that even had I known it was Bill of Rights Day, and planned carefully for it, I would probably not prepare a list of books. I would only recommend that everyone read something that day. Sure, there are ten amendments, and various people and special interest groups cite one or another of the amendments as the cornerstone of American democracy. It likely goes without saying that to librarians, the First Amendment reigns supreme, particularly where it says, ‘Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . ’
To librarians, this means the freedom of everyone to read what others have said or written. The American Library Association sponsors a yearly Banned Book Week (usually late September), when we highlight all the many books that various individuals and groups have worked to censor or ban over the years. Works by some of our greatest authors are included, people like James Joyce, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain. During that week libraries encourage people to read one of these books, just to show that despite misunderstanding and narrow-mindedness, our Constitution still protects your right to read what you want.
People keep us on our toes too. In our very political times, we have patrons who question why we don’t have a book by this conservative commentator or that liberal social critic. We may experience the occasional lapse, but there is never an intention to censor.
I remember once, a patron had asked at the front desk to speak with ‘whoever was the person who censors our collection.’ They sent him to me. He was indignant that we had no books in our collection by Erich von Däniken, the author of such controversial tomes as Chariots of the Gods. What I found was that he had searched under ‘von Däniken, Erich,’ but the library catalog lists his name properly as ‘Däniken, Erich von.’ There were nine of his books listed in the catalog, but somehow that didn’t seem to assuage his sense that we had conspired to keep this information from him.
It is interesting how quickly people jump to the assumption that we purposely censor what they want to read, when the fact is, your average public librarians are probably the people in your town most dedicated to making sure you get to read what you want. So again I say, if you want to celebrate the Bill of Rights, whether it’s on Bill of Rights Day or any day of the year, pick up a book, any book, and read it. Remember, it is one of our most precious freedoms, and freedom is always a precarious commodity.