Guest post by Rob McCallum
The concept of food on film being the drive for the film, or being the leading star, is not a new idea. It’s something that has been around for a long time. However it’s not something that you may have noticed as it’s been overshadowed by the Brad Pitts and George Clooneys of Hollywood. What I plan to do here is to show you how the food can be the star of the show. This article may say a lot about me, or my taste in films that I have seen – and I have seen many – however I have decided to choose a film that makes me smile and laugh as my first choice for analysis.
The film that contains the food scene I’m referring to is a comedy Western starring the epic talents of Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn with the direction of Mel Brooks. I’m talking about ‘Blazing Saddles’, a film with lashings of comedy talent and slapstick humour. The scene I remember the most when thinking about food is the moment when everybody is gathered around the campfire eating. Now this is a Western, so what are they eating? Beans! To say that this produces a lot of wind around the campfire would be an understatement. It would be like comparing the wind needed to throw all those sharks around in Sharknado (I was asked to get a shark reference into this article by one of the Bitten team, job done!). However the wind around the campfire is solely from the cowboys, and very vocal it is. My point here though is that the star in this scene is not the cowboys, not the wilderness, but the beans. The food makes the scene . “More beans Mr Taggart” says one of the cowboys as the orchestra of wind sings around the campfire.
That is the point of this article, to show that sometimes you don’t need a Pitt or Clooney to make a scene in a film memorable. Sometimes it’s all about the food.
Let us move onto a film with a more in depth use of food as a main character. However I will say that the film does warrant some examination on its title, as it suggests that the factory in question only produces one item. It describes in its title a factory that produces the food that can make peoples ethics wither; that questions you and talks to you like a cheeky little devil on your shoulder; that you eat either proudly, openly and enjoy in front of others who can’t; or that you eat secretly, quietly and savour the sin. It can only be… chocolate! I am of course talking about Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory, again starring Gene Wilder (complete coincidence). Now I will admit before you all start shouting at me that the way into the factory was via chocolate. Or to be more accurate through a golden ticket hidden in a chocolate bar. Anybody who has seen the film though knows how many other amazing, remarkable sweet surprises the factory creates. These go far beyond the devil on your shoulder that is chocolate. The story is one of truth and trust. About Charlie not selling out and giving away all the Wonka secrets. That Willy Wonka can find his successor and hand the factory on to a deserving sole. Again though on analysis the food is the pivotal character in the film. It is what everybody wants and desires. It is the drive behind the evil competitor trying to steal Wonka secrets. It is everything that Wonka has lived for and created, and it is the dream that he wants to pass onto Charlie. The food is the star!
For my last film, I have chosen a sequence that revolves around how an instantly recognisable item of food in one country can be called something completely different in another. As the scene in the film says, it’s all about the little differences. However there is utter complexity of trying to come to terms with how such a nationalistic food item can be called anything else in another country. Fortunately, the two super smooth actors Jon Travolta and Samuel L Jackson’s characters having the conversation are very relaxed and chilled about their nation’s food being called something different in Europe! There is no, we invented it, it’s ours, we want the world to know it’s American with pride. So why change its name? This is I understand an anecdote in the film and for once the food item here has little to do with the plot. However whenever the film Pulp Fiction is discussed there is always one quote that everybody knows: “Royale with cheese”. What this sequence in the film does is actually something very clever, it works its way into your mind. It becomes something that all filmmakers probably love to have, a line from their film that is ‘quotable’. Whenever somebody starts talking about Pulp Fiction you can guarantee that somebody is going to say “Royale with cheese”. This one sequence or even just that one phrase becomes a memorable part of the film and stores itself away in one of the cabin trunks in your mind. It sits there waiting for the day that Pulp Fiction is mentioned and then the cabin trunk flies open and the quotable line pops up in your mind. For a film to do this is amazing in itself. But here. in this case, the film did it with an item of food!
Hopefully what I have managed to do here is to show you that it is not always the actors who take the spotlight. Sometimes, and actually more often than you think, it is the food on film. Hopefully I will be allowed to continue to bring to you more films that you may or may have not seen that show this. Then, who knows, you may be interested enough to watch them. Because amongst the cast of glittering stars sits another star, an actor with no credit… the food.