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Meals on Reels: Food As Metaphor in Film



If appetizers are meant to stimulate the appetite, then movies are one of the best hors d'oeuvres around. Picture this. You're sitting in a dark theater watching a film about America's favorite sport: baseball. Suddenly you get a craving for a hot dog smothered in onions, mustard and pickle relish. Or perhaps it's a slam-bam action film about The Mob. The guys are in the slammer. Someone's smuggled in pepperoni and wine. One of the "Goodfellas" is holding a knife, but he's not menacing a guard, just slicing paper-thin slivers of garlic for the tomato gravy. On cue, you hunger for a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

You'll sit out the rest of the film engrossed in plot, but on the back burner of your mind, something's cooking. Then, as the lights come up and the final credits roll, movie-munch-madness sets in. You turn to your significant film fan other gasping "let's go grab a bite" and head straight for a local eatery that more often than not is serving up something akin to what you've just been watching the actors wolf down on screen.

"The Wedding Banquet" sent me on a late night hunt for Peking Duck and Moo Shu Chicken. After "Tampopo", I made a beeline to my favorite Japanese noodle shop and demolished a bowl of Chuka Soba. Sometimes it's simpler fare. The only thing that would satisfy me after "Big" was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich washed down with a glass of ice-cold milk. No matter that one of the ingredients had not graced the interior of my refrigerator for years. It simply meant that first I had to find a 24-hour market.

The scenario's been repeated over and over again. More times than I can count, I'll leave the theater craving a snack. Dollars to doughnuts, you have too. In fact, it's probably a safe bet to speculate that cinemas began selling popcorn and candy just to keep the rumblings of several hundred tummies from drowning out the soundtrack.

But why does post-film food frenzy set in and turn mild-mannered movie mavens into desperate diners who seek out taste treats like so many possessed predators? Elementary, my dear Watson. As one of the few rituals that bonds humanity together, food is one of filmdom's favorite scenic ploys for grabbing audience attention.

The stage is set, characters are defined, plots turn and symbolism slithers into our subconscious by the food focused frames that fill the silver screen like so many tasty tidbits proffered on silver platters.


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