Commentary - Toast

Thursday, October 20, 2011

There's a scene in this film where young Nigel Slater, (played with wonderful pathos by a young actor named Oscar Kennedy) is in his room under the covers moaning and breathing heavily, his father hearing the suspicious sounds, barges in to stop what we all assume is a prepubescent self-exploration. Turns out Nigel is pleasuring himself, but not with his hands, rather with his eyes. He's actually devouring a food magazine, with a flash light, under the covers.  The sights of beautifully prepared dishes and desserts is what has him so excited.

This same excitement and enthusiasm for all things culinary would follow Nigel Slater into adulthood and into British celebrity.  The film Toast is the early biography of Slater's life growing up in Wolverhampton, England with a very sweet, but sickly mother, who relied heavily on serving toast for meals when her meager attempts at preparing dinner would turn out unappetizing and often inedible.  It would seem his mother's shortcoming became an endearing part of Slater's childhood as even today he writes this about toast and cheese:
There's nothing quite like cheese on toast – and the endless variations make for truly sumptuous snacks.

I can trace my need for some sort of toasty cheese fix to the day my mother cut up soldiers of toast for me and spread them with Dairylea. Talk about love at first bite. The recipe itself may have moved on more than a bit, but to this day there are few things I like to hear more than the sound of crunchy toast and oozing cheese. I still order Welsh rabbit in restaurants if it's on the menu. (Still around if you know where to look.) Cheeses may change, and the bread moves on, but I suspect cheese on toast in some form or another will always be with us. No matter how simply or fancifully we interpret it. - The Guardian The Observer - Nigel Slater (Sept. 2011)
Unfortunately, his dear mum (Victoria Hamilton) passed away from asthma while Nigel was still a boy, leaving him to be raised by a distant and gruff father. (Ken Stott). Soon Nigel's father hires a cleaning woman to help out around the house, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who must have put on 20lb to play the part, and boy does she have fun with it!  I read this description of the role and feel I must reprint it as it captures the character to a tee:

...the arrival of ‘Miss  Potter’ – a coarse but beguiling cleaner on the make, who bewitched Slater Sr with her saucy outfits and seductive home cooking. Dressed in crimplene housecoats and seamed stockings, a cigarette permanently dangling from her rouged lips, Miss Potter, becomes the second Mrs Slater, leaving a desolate Nigel out in the cold -By Elizabeth Sanderson and Christine Challand. (This article featured Nigel's real-life stepsister, not mentioned in the film, who is livid over the making of Toast both the book and the movie, as she feels it's a libelous depiction of her mother and her mother's marriage to Nigel's father).

But on a lighter note, who would think housework could be so suggestive? There is a very clever montage underscored by the song "The Look of Love", where Nigel's father can't take his eyes off of Mrs. Potter's ample behind, as she scrubs and polishes, then gets turned on when she runs the vacuum cleaner in and out between his legs.


As far as Nigel is concerned the only good thing about Mrs. Potter is the fact that she can cook. And cook she does, the film treats us to another montage, this time of fattening, artery clogging, caloric dishes popular in the late 60's early 70's. But as Nigel discovers his own talent for the culinary arts, Mrs Potter feels her place in the family is being threatened and a rivalry develops between Nigel and his step-mum, causing anguish for Nigel's father.

While watching the film, I felt the tone was reminiscent of  Billy Elliot, and soon discovered the reason being, it was penned by the same screenwriter, Lee Hall.  I liked the movie, not just because it represents food in film; but rather because of its subtle humor mixed with melancholy; the nice handling of Slater's sexual orientation; there's some gems of wisdom by Nigel's precocious boyhood friend, and yes, plenty of feasting for the eyes.

I contacted Katherine Tidy, the film's food stylist for an online interview earlier this week. She has yet to respond, but check back, as this post may be expanded to include her insights.

3 comments:

The Bicycle-Chef October 20, 2011 at 9:34 PM  

YUM! Another great food movie I must add to my list of growing movies I have to see! Thanks for the review!

Style Maniac October 25, 2011 at 3:34 PM  

I've been wondering about this movie -- flicks about food can be fun to watch. Sounds like it's one I'd enjoy. Thanks for the review.

tinseltine.com October 27, 2011 at 1:42 PM  

You both should see it! The problem being these films don't stay long at the Ritz. Thank goodness for Netflix.

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

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Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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