Friday, August 19, 2022

A HITCHCOCK CULINARY GUIDE


The "Master of Suspense" is having his 123rd birthday this week. A self-professed "fat man", Hitch enjoyed his food and a good cigar. His love for grub was also featured in a number of his films as explained in this online article from Far Out magazine.

A culinary guide to Alfred Hitchcock's films
By Sam Kemp | August 13th, 2022 | faroutmagazine.co.uk

   
Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema is riddled with food-based anxiety. In Notorious, a nice cup of coffee becomes a murder weapon; In Psycho, a simple sandwich becomes a sinister omen; and in Rear Window, a lavish meal of lobster and fries becomes a source of guilt and shame.

In a way, Hitchcock’s view of food as a unifying and deeply unnerving material is unsurprising. As a young – and already rather fat – man, Hitchcock had a complex relationship with food. When his parents left him alone at their house one night, he awoke all of a sudden, only to be found two hours later, cramming cold meat from the fridge into his mouth and tears streaming down his face.

As an adult, Hitchcock loved the experience of dining but loathed its impact on his body. But rather than hiding this troubled relationship with the world, he made it an essential aspect of his public persona. As a self-confessed “fat man”, he made numerous jokes about his over-indulgence; he spoke openly about the horrors of calorie counting; and, as you will discover, placed the rituals of mealtime at the very forefront of his filmmaking.

But before we get to that, it’s worth noting that Hitchcock’s adoration and continual interrogation of food would not have been possible without his wife, Alma Reville, a woman he once described as “as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen.” As well as helping him with scripts (she was a filmmaker in her own right before), casting, editing and promoting his films, she bolstered the director’s sense of himself as a foodie – a man who loved a simple home-cooked meal as much as he did an extravagant dinner party.

A culinary guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s films:

Lobster and empty plates – Rear Window (1954)
Food is given a starring role in Hitchcock’s 1954 film Rear Window. Hitchcock devotes an unbroken shot to the memorable scene in which Lisa Carol Fremont, L.B Jeffries’ socialite girlfriend, attempts to recreate a formal dinner at the revered 21 Club, arriving with a be-suited waiter, who delivers the incapacitated Jeffries a meal of Lobster and fries. By night seven, however, the luxury has faded to agitation. ‘It’s perfect as always,” Jeffries snarls, echoing Hitchcock’s own anxieties about overconsumption. Ice cream was something ‘The Master of Suspense’ found especially hard to resist.

This lavish nightly meal stands in stark contrast to the simulated dinner-for-two acted out by “Miss Lonelyhearts,” one of the characters Jeffries has been spying on through his window. Food and eating play a vital function in this particular film, often revealing characters’ inner lives without the need for dialogue. It says a lot about Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife that food and intimacy are practically synonymous in every example.

Quiche Lorraine – To Catch a Thief (1955)
The French Riviera had a special place in Hitchcock’s heart, as did its cuisine. The director honoured both in his 1955 film To Catch A Thief, in which reformed cat burglar John Robie introduces his insurance adjustor to the pleasures of Quiche Lorraine.

The dish, made from shortcrust pastry, savoury egg custard and chunks of ham, was one of Hitchcock’s all-time favourites and just one of the many recipes he and his wife Alma picked up during their extensive travels. By 1955, they had dined at some of the best restaurants in Europe. Alma was incorporating influences from Germany, France, and Russia into her home cooking in much the same way Hitchcock was incorporating them into his cinema. While Alma’s quiche was a source of comfort in stressful times, the perfectly formed specimen in To Catch A Thief has a more sinister dimension, having been made by the hands of someone who once strangled a Nazi to death.


Morrocan Chicken – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
For Hitchcock, a good meal often meant a simmering joint of beef, the waft of baked goods turning gold in the oven, and the gentle clang of champagne flutes being placed on a long dining table. He was far less familiar with the aromas, flavours, and indeed the etiquette of dining in places like North Africa. Some of the director’s consternation in this regard worked its way into his 1956 picture The Man Who Knew Too Much.

During their vacation, Dr and Mrs McKenna from Indianapolis sit down at a bustling restaurant in Marrakech, where Hitchcock makes good use of the famously lanky James Stewart by placing him on a low-slung dining couch. After shuffling his long legs around, the McKennas tuck onto a meal of spiced chicken and flatbread, all served in a gigantic tagine dish. After being warned to eat only with his left hand – “It’s messy but worth it” – the good doctor finds himself faced with a giant chicken leg, which can’t seem to wrap his mouth around. “I’ll practice on an olive,” he says, putting the meat back on its plate. You can actually visit the restaurant featured in this scene as it’s still open to this day. Dar Essalam is located in the heart of Medina.


Sandwiches and Milk – Psycho (1960)
While there’s a diner ten miles away, Marion Crane, who has just checked into Bates Motel, decides that she’d rather stay in. Keen to avoid the storm raging outside, she accepts an invitation for a modest meal of sandwiches and milk with the hotel’s awkward owner. As Bates himself notes, his table is in no way “fancy”, but it’s certainly “homey”.

While Norman’s comment that Marion eats “like a bird” hints toward his view of her as pray, the child-like simplicity of the meal he offers tells us a lot about his warped psychology. It’s true, though, Marion does eat like a bird. Rather than eating the sandwich whole, she first eats a piece of ham, then she takes a slice of bread and butters the upturned side, which she eats as an open sandwich. Her dissection of the meal reveals a lot about her character, but it also foreshadows her demise, specifically, how she is about to be hacked to pieces in the shower.

Soupe De Poisson – Frenzy (1972)
While Hitchcock may have liked to think of himself as a man of fine tastes, he was also a sucker for simplicity. In 1972’s Frenzy, for example, the director’s prevailing hunger for Yorkshire puddings and Sunday roasts is reflected in the character of Tim, who returns home to find that his wife – who has just taken on a course at the Continental School of Gourmet Cooking – has made him a gruesome dinner of Soupe de Poisson, although to Tim it looks more like muddy water with bits of sea creature floating in it.

In her home cooking, Alma aspired to the kind of sophisticated cuisine that Julia Child pioneered in her books and TV shows. It would be fair to conclude, therefore, that this particular scene may well have been based on one of Hitchcock’s own experiences of his wife’s early forays into the art of French food. If that’s the case, it would be a little harsh of Hitchcock, especially given he was always more of an eater than he was a chef.


No comments: