Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bad Apples: Food, Wise Guys and Not So Nice Guys


This chapter is well-attended by fiction, film, drama and
a little music here and there.

A fuller account of each shall be posted in the near future. For now, here is the list and you undoubtedly already know several of these titles.

One might imagine that the inclusion of foods and beverages in a literary work would convey a sense of conviviality and well-being, would soften the blows that the narrative must deliver in order to be memorable and effective.

Instead, meals, food and drink create a stark contrast to the plot's direction and tone. The story's conclusion may be even more startling or it may turn out rosy. We only imagined the dire dangers.

A perfect example is Joseph R. Cannascoli's A Meal to Die For (2006), best known as Vito, the heavyset hit man in The Sopranos, who in real life, is a chef and restaurateur.

If you want my advice, you won't read this book in the same week that you see "Goodfellas" (1990) and "Dinner Rush" (2000), now on DVDs. Of course, they aren't the same story. Give me a break, but they have to do with the less-than obvious rigors of the restaurant business, family business, and "the family," if you get my drift. You're going to find yourself asking, "Now, what was that chef''s name? Udo? Benny? Louis? And: "What were they eating, pasta fajool? Gnocci?"

Don't bust my chops!

But, hey, all in all, it's a good tale and the squeaker outcome is benign. In fact it's very good. So don't be a chooch (from the Italian, ciuccio, meaning "dummy" but also, cucumber). Read it and enjoy!

Other Foodie-Meanies on Film and Television:

[NB: Don't overlook the fact that food films of this type are thick and fast from 1980-2000]
"Non-Fat," a one-minute film by Olive Manzi. I think that it's hilarious. Others will disagree. Available via
Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi" played by Larry Thomas. Greed, (1924) Silent film based on the novel, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899) by Frank Norris Five Easy Pieces (1970). Jack Nicholson's famous chicken salad thing.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Diner (1982)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Big Night (1996)

The Last Supper (1995) The Dinner Game (Le Diner de Cons)1999)
Vatel (in French, 2000)
Dinner Rush (2001)
A Matter of Taste (2001) Everyday People (2004)
Adam's Apple (Danish, 2005)

Literary Blackguards:

The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet (1893-1943). A sort story. The film version was directed by William Dieterle in 1941. A retelling of the German Faust legend,first published in 1937. It appeared as a musical or folk opera in 1938.
The food arrives (and disappears) at the conclusion, a mean trick played by Mr. Scratch (the devil).

Christopher Morley, "The Commutation Chophouse" (1927)
Ernest Hemingway, "The Killers" (1927)
Graham Greene, Brighton Rock (1936)
Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)
John Lescroart, Rasputin's Revenge (1987). This delightful tale is a continuation of the author's Son of Holmes, a mystery which involves a possible son of Sherlock and Auguste Lupa, a former WW I spy and a model, to some extent, of the American gourmet-styled detective, Nero Wolf. Many aliases and other surprises as well as delicious Russian meals.

A companion book here is:
Food in Russian History and Culture, edited by Musya Glants and Joyce Toomre (1997), from the University of Michigan's series in Russian and East European Studies.

T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain (1995)
Sara Kate Lynch, Blessed Are The Cheesemakers (2002)
Kate Christensen The Epicure's Lament (2004)
Boris Starling, Vodka (2005)
Olga Grishin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2005)
Joseph R. Gannascoli, with Allen C. Kupfer, A Meal to Die For (2006)


Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlands, circa 1450-1516) Allegory of Intemperance, Gluttony and Lust, 1500 [Oil on panel, 36 x 32, Yale university Art Gallery]
Above: Diego Rivera (1886-1918) Wall Street Banquet (1923). As a left-wing
artist Rivera theoreticlly despisid the notorious but productive financiers Henry Ford, J.P.Morgan and John D. Rockefeller,whom he painted at a banquet table with three women, drinking iced champagne and handling a ticker tape. They are surrounded by food, a bank vault and a statue of liberty lamp, all obvious symbols of their control and power.


willow said...

Hieronymus Bosch always makes for an interesting browse. I collect vintage copies of Christopher Morley's books, and rarely see him mentioned.

Merisi said...

Now I need food! :-)
Thanks for the list.