Food on Film: A Missed OpportunityMarch 11, 2013
The Weekend Australian’s film critic Evan Williams wrote an entertaining piece last year about memorable food films citing Babette’s Feast, Julie and Julia, Tampopo and La Grande Bouffe, among others, in his story ‘Reel Delicious‘ .
Culling my mother’s old LPs a few weeks ago, I stumbled on an album by brilliant Italian actor/comedian Walter Chiari. He played the lead role in the popular Australian film They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell) as Nino Culotta, a sports journalist who travels to Sydney by ship following the promise of a magazine job. Cut to the comedy of errors that follows and he finds himself digging holes as a brickie’s labourer working alongside three likely lads – all good-natured Aussie blokes who soon teach him the local customs.
What surprised me about the film was the lack of food scenes or Italian culinary references. If They’re a Weird Mob were made in today’s food-obsessed world, its plot of an educated Italian immigrant finding himself in an Anglo-Australian mid 1960s setting could have been milked by the filmmakers for all its worth. The only exception is a restaurant scene where Nino politely advises a couple of sheilas “you can’t eat spaghetti with a spoon”.
In another scene he’s at home with his workmates after a hunting expedition. All they’ve produced from the trip is a miserly rabbit, which is rejected by one of the wives and a dinner of baked beans on toast with extra tomato sauce is eaten instead. Nino looks on in amusement. But jump to 2013 and what a wonderful opportunity to have him jump up and offer to debone the rabbit and stuff it with garlic, breadcrumbs and capers. Perhaps with some grilled radicchio on the side.
Nino is such a likeable character that he happily accepts two mugfulls of milky tea (or is it instant coffee?) from a workmate after long hours sweating in the hot sun on a worksite. Today, he would have offered his workmates an espresso made from the stovetop Moka pot he’s set up in the shade of the truck.
And wine? No way. Our ‘New Australian’ tries to blend into his new lifestyle by drinking far too many beers with his mates at the local pub. Where’s the Prosecco? The Pinot Grigio? Or a Vermentino from Sardegna?
These missed opportunities are more than compensated for however with some great Australian idioms used throughout the film.
Meeting a new drinking buddy, Nino is asked “Whaddya do for a crust?”
He’s also told in no uncertain terms that he’s “not right in the scone”.
More praise for the film: http://blogafi.org/2012/11/22/why-i-adore-theyre-a-weird-mob/
Italian-Australian chef Stefano de Pieri’s stuffed rabbit recipe that Nino could have made: http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/17413/stuffed-rabbit
Images courtesy Roadshow Entertainment