Monday, October 19, 2009

In the Kitchen by guest blogger Steven Head

I spent the weekend visiting my mother, getting her house prepared for the return of winter. A ritual involving furniture rearranging, stowing of hoses, stashing of ceramic pots in the garage, swapping storm window insert for screen in the front door, and a number of trivial but essential chores. Add a couple games of canasta and you just about know everything about the visit.

Most Saturday nights mom goes to a local supper club with a male friend and they dine and dance. This weekend the bandstand was dark so she looked for other possibilities. We agreed on going to see "Julia & Julie" at the old fashion theater from my childhood. I recall summer morning shows for elementary school kids there. For a dime you could win something in a drawing, watch local talent, sing God Bless America led by the theater manager, catch a couple cartoons and the feature. Life was much simpler then.

The striking features of this theater include the series of large repeating art deco panels insets on both walls featuring an M design. The four tier stacked lighting. Each a different color. And stenciled multi-colored design on terraced ceiling panels around the perimeter and right down the middle. It would be a perfect place for a slinky with steps from the projection booth down to the gradually slanted main floor.

My preference for seating in any movie theater is close to the front. I like to be assaulted by the screen, filling my visual field, without obstacles. But I deferred to mom and we sat a little more than halfway back on the main floor. Lots of heads in front of us but an unobstructed view.

I do not have a lot in common with "Julia & Julie" other than the possible exception of enjoying food. It is a rare and welcome occasion when French food, good French food, appears on my plate. I can count the French restaurants I have been to on the fingers of one hand. And there is only one friend who has served French food. Her mother is a French war bride. Say what you will about the French but their food is amazing.

J&J is the parallel story of Julia Childs shared authorship of Mastering the Art of French Cooking with a pair of French women, and Julie, a 20-something woman living in Queens with her husband and working for a government agency handing calls from individuals and families impacted by the twin towers attack. Julia's story reveals her marriage to a diplomat and how they met in the OSS, been stationed in China, and how the McCarthy era touched the life of her husband. Julie's story reveals college friends who have all gone on to 'big things' while she plods along as a government drone, her novel unfinished. All this leads Julie to start a blog with the goal of doing all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days.

As you can imagine, both of these stories are filled with challenges, disappointments, and crisis. The stories are both well told, the acting by Meryl Streep as Julia and Stan Tucci as her diplomat husband was superb. I did not recognize, and am too lazy to look up, the young actors playing Julie and husband, who were adequate but lacked the polish of the veterans. And of course the scenery of France was enchanting.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and recommend it to those who love food and those that don't. My only complaint involves the frequent intrusion of the overhead microphone in multiple scenes. How in the world can so much care and craft go into a project only to be diminished by a distracting microphone? Was the film editor drunk, on drugs, suffering from post-Lasik surgery complications, or the incompetent in-law of a producer? It makes me even more appreciative of all the films where all the little things get done correctly as well as the main business.

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