By Cathy Huyghe
Eat Drink Man Woman. (With Joanne Chang of Myers + Chang.)
The Cheese Nun. (With Ihsan Gurdal of Formaggio.)
All in This Tea. (With accompanying tea ceremony.)
Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers. (With filmmaker Les Blank.)
Ratatouille. (With Corby Kummer of The Atlantic.)
That is the very varied, very obscure, and very classic list of upcoming screenings sponsored by a young Cambridge-based organization called foodattwentyfourframespersecond (food24fps.com). Varied, obscure, and classic is exactly how they like it. Throw in a tucked-away location, introductions by prominent and local food celebrities, and edible accompaniments, and you’ll find that’s exactly how the audience likes it, too.
Last night, for example, food24fps screened a film called Comfort and Joy. (Twenty-four frames per second, FYI, is the standard exposure rate for 35 mm movie cameras.) The venue was a drained swimming pool in Adams House in Harvard Square; seats angled down to the floor of the “theater” as if they were wading into the shallow end.
Gus Rancatore of Toscanini’s Ice Cream and Brian Sway, executive chef of the Scarlet Oak Tavern in Hingham, introduced the film. They, in turn, were introduced by Dr. Merry White, an anthropologist from Boston University who specializes in the food and culture of Japan. Rancatore and Sway, friends united by food from way back in the day, bemoaned the loss of ice cream shops in Boston. “There are only two left in Cambridge,” Sway said, shaking his head sadly.
The audience, ice cream lovers all, sighed collectively.
It was an appropriate prelude to the film, Comfort and Joy (1984), which starts with a radio dj in Glasgow whose girlfriend leaves him. He follows a pretty girl in an ice cream truck, witnesses an attack on the truck (the inhabitants of which fight back by squirting raspberry sauce), and soon finds himself in the middle of a turf war between rival Italian ice cream vendors. Ultimately he negotiates a settlement between the factions by way of coded messages on his radio program and a very secret ingredient for ice cream fritters.
The seats for this odd film in this odd place were filled to capacity. That may have had something to do with the free Toscanini’s ice cream on offer. It may have had something to do with food24fps’ clever and creative programming. And it may have had something to do with the film itself, its content, and its Idea.
Ice cream vendors in Glasgow in the 1980s, it turns out, were in fact in conflict over territory and the suspected use of ice cream trucks as cover for the sale of illicit drugs. Which makes the film historical fiction and political commentary but the motif most able to draw in the audience — its Big Idea — was that of emotional repair. And the satirical treatment of despair. By way of ice cream.
Against the backdrop of radio broadcasts of bleak world news, the protagonist navigates the dark edges of ice cream’s underbelly. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) He comes out, eventually and after much emotional and physical wrangling, on the other side though not with any flashy Hollywood-moment life-changing revelations.
It is the simple essence of ice cream, after all, with its trucks’ trilling, its not-so-veiled innocence, and its daily pleasure, that drives the film and the audience toward its next scoop.
Food24fps’ next screening will be Thursday, March 25 at 7pm. They will be showing Eat Drink Man Woman, a film from 1994 by Ang Lee. Admission is free but contributions are welcome. The film will be introduced by Joanne Chang of Myers + Chang. For more information see http://www.food24fps.com/.