The discovery of a network of 100 billion neurons in the gut led scientists to nickname it our “second brain.” Like the brain in our head, it is engaged in perpetual contact with the outside world—via the food we swallow. It is the job of the gut to take in an extensive array of external matter, break it down to component parts, send it off to various organs, and turn it into us. Whether we use food to nourish, fuel, pleasure, punish, or heal, it is a part of our human experience. It is no wonder that in its incredibly wide-ranging forms, food is a subject rendered in every medium from paint, to music, to motion picture. This program is the second installment of a Magic Lantern series of food shows that examine different representations of foods on film. As the holiday meal leftovers empty completely from the refrigerator, consider a menu of films about systems new and old that put food in our bellies. Moving from educational films about the body as a machine and the produce canning industry, to an experimental film about a camera’s rude encounter with a breakfast table spread, to an abstract animation of a dancing stringy green vegetable, these works promise to stir up the appetite of our second brain, while bedding down that of our first.
“How the Fires of Our Body Are Fed: A Study of the Human Digestive Process,” Carpenter-Goldman Laboratories, Inc., 1926, 16mm film on video, b&w, silent, 10 min
In this early educational film, the human body is not unlike a steam ship. Both require a regular supply of fuel to work. The image of a man shoveling coal in the stokehole of a ship at sea parallels a shot of a hungry man eating a sandwich during his lunch break onshore. Early microphotography reveals peristalsis (wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract) in a nematode, illustrating basic the mechanics of the human gut. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archives.
“Bread,” Charles and Ray Eames, 1953, 16mm film on video, color, sound, 7 min
Images of men harvesting grain give way to a stunning montage of different kinds of bread. Before the Eames’s camera, bread appears as an especially common food linking diverse cultures of consumption that nevertheless assumes an extraordinary — and extraordinarily beautiful — variety of forms.
“Pick of the Pod,” California Packing Corporation, 1939, 16mm film on video, color, sound, 10 min
Opening shots of bustling city streets bathed in late afternoon light are injected with the narration, “5:15 American standard time, the day end rush is on as homebound workers throng the streets of every city, town, and hamlet. The Jane and John Does of the worker day world, all of them made kin by thoughts of home and that looking ahead to dinner gleam in there eyes.” So what dinner awaits them at home? Del Monte brand canned peas of course! Enough for the whole family, available any season of the year because of the new technological marvels of the canning industry. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archives.
“Breakfast (Table-Top Dolly),” Michael Snow, 1972/76, 16mm, color, sound, 15 min
A camera tracks across the length of a breakfast table, toppling over and mowing down any flatware, vessels, and fixings in its path. “Wavelength before breakfast.” – Deke Dusinberre
“Chicken Dinner,” Videofreex, 1971, video, b&w, sound, 6 min
Summertime in rural upstate New York, a group of young adults walk each other through the steps of tying, beheading, plucking, cutting, and cooking a chicken for dinner. An educational short from the innovative Videofreex video collective. “That’s good chicken!”
“Leche,” Naomi Uman, 1998, 16mm, b&w, sound, 30 min
On a small family dairy farm in Aguascalientes, Mexico, a ranchero practices rope tricks, a woman’s hands press liquid from cheese, children stand still in the frame as if posing for a still portrait, a calf nurses, an intolerable snake is decapitated, another set of hands pound tortillas, cows are branded, a dead coyote hangs from a tree, crickets mate, and finally an ailing dairy cow is loaded into a trailer and driven away down the road on her way to the market. Uman hand processed this film in buckets and hung it to dry onsite.