Celest taught me to believe in box office ratings. She makes the argument that box office profits on opening weekends make a big impact on what sort of films get produced and released, and she spends her movie money accordingly. Obviously, the power of the purse persuades the powerful in Hollywood to make movies audiences rush to crowded, sold-out shows to see. So if you want to support a filmmaker or her particular project, it behooves you to influence the studio heads by buying a ticket on opening weekend. Because as the logic follows, each of us can change Hollywood one ticket purchase at a time.
As an ardent convert to Celest’s theory, I was crushed to read the Food, Inc. review in The New York Times five days late. I have an excuse that will suffice with any foodie, I was eating at The French Laundry the night the film opened, and have only just gotten back to New York and my daily pouring over of The New York Times. But still, if there was ever a film to throw my purse behind on opening weekend, it was this one.
Within 10 minutes of reading the review, I ran out the door to catch the next showing of Robert Kenner’s sure-to-be “new-classic” documentary on the corporatization of food in America. At Film Forum I realized I wasn’t the only one to miss out on the premier; there was a line of hopeful viewers wrapped around the block waiting to get in, and the evening shows were already sold out. This was on a Tuesday afternoon no less! I scored one of the last seats in the house and made my way (sans processed popcorn) to a perfectly centered single seat.
The film was stunning, in that it was both shocking and beautiful. Of course, the film is also gruesome and difficult to sit through at times, but the message delivered had the full house shrieking, gasping and applauding throughout the entire course of the movie…and this wasn’t exactly The Dark Knight crowd (though Celest and I did see that one on opening night)! Food, Inc. works in the same ways Michael Moore’s documentaries do. They disgust, they provoke, they might be propagandizing, but they always point to a fundamental truth about the world in which we live. In this case, it’s that fast food is killing us and our planet.
Alice Waters has called it, “The film I have always been waiting for.” She has known for much longer than I that America needs this film. I’ve had only a growing sense that Americans need to be turned on to the dangers of industrialized foods. And what better way to turn them on than by making slow food cool? Joel Salatin, an organic farmer featured in Food, Inc. makes my point when he asks, “Is cheapness everything? I mean, who wants to buy a cheap car?” Touché, farmer Joel! If cool is our cultural currency then both cheap cars and cheap food are decidedly uncool.
Bill Maher trades on cool and has been trying to build a popular cry for food reform for years now. On his HBO show Real Time, fast food is a favorite subject, and a few weeks back he even interviewed Food, Inc.’s narrator, the accomplished journalist Michael Pollan. But the problem with Pollan is that he isn’t cool; he communicates to the converted, but would have a tough time reaching corporate food’s most dedicated victims. I’m not sure all his reasoned logic and science could even influence my own Mamma, let alone the thousands of mammas raising families alone on less than we were blessed with. But movies have a way of making magic. Despite the odds, the crowds are queuing up for Food, Inc.; the power of the purse may yet prevail.
Which is why, for the first time in my life, I was joyously hopeful while enduring a long wait in line. I realize this is Manhattan, and short of San Francisco, likely the most targeted demographic this movie can expect to capture. And yet, today I can honestly say that my hope springs eternal for the progress possible tomorrow.
Because as they say in the film, and not unlike Celest’s own movie-going mantra, “Each of us can change the world with every bite.”