' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Loyal frustrated readers know well the fondness this blog retains in its heart for Jan de Bont’s “Twister.” That softness stems not from the CGI tornadoes nor the ostensible thrill of those chasing all those twisters, but from the peripheral Midwestern atmospherics. You see these in the movie’s opening, which we have written about before, as well as in the truly remarkable shot where Bill Paxton stands beneath a stormy Midwestern sky and runs some dirt through his fingers, like so many idiot men in the central Iowa neighborhood where I grew up who would defiantly go outside whenever a tornado siren wailed on some glorious June evening to gaze at the threatening sky. The film’s atmospherics, however, were not simply limited to the outdoors; they were also felt indoors.

Midway through the movie, after a close call with death and an impressive brushing off of this glimpse of the pearly gates, the whole storm chasing gaggle, captained by Jo (Helen Hunt) and Bill Paxton’s Bill, retires to the nearby home of Jo’s Aunt Meg, played by the legend Lois Smith. “Red meat!” declares Dusty played by pre-immortal Philip Seymour Hoffman in a performance that packs as much glorious wind as any of those fake tornadoes. “We crave sustenance!” That they do, and once at Meg’s, steaks fry in the pan, right alongside eggs, and eventually wind up on ginormous plates alongside glorious mounds of mashed potatoes (with Hoffman getting his pronunciation of potatoes just right, saying “po-ta-TUHS” not, “po-TAH-oes”) slathered in gravy, images that suggest Cézanne Still Life by way of a truck stop diner.

As a character, Aunt Meg mostly exists to be placed in peril, which is why we have to be introduced to her in some sort of friendly scene to ensure we want to see her saved. As such, the steak and eggs and potatoes might merely have been edible background noise. And, in a way, they are, though also, like the movie’s best parts, the food sort of thrusts itself to the forefront anyway, like an oversized Midwestern plate of food should, Whatever else de Bont wants you to be paying attention to, it’s nigh impossible not to have your eyes drawn back to the food.

Food has an illustrious history at the movies for appearing as metaphors when it comes to love, from Luca Guadagnino’s atply titled “I Am Love” to “Like Water For Chocolate.” And one might be tempted to extract metaphorical sustenance from the steak and eggs and mashed potatoes of “Twister.” That is because Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz), the fiancé of Bill, does not seem all that eager to eat the steak and eggs and mashed potatoes when placed in front of her. Her character, of course, might be engaged to Bill but she is nevertheless still The Other Woman because Bill and Jo, once married, now about to officially get divorced, have, as they must, re-kindled their affection. And Dr. Melissa Reeves’s refusal to eat this food might well have worked to indicate that she does not have the, uh, shall we say, necessary emblematic appetite.

But then, we already knew that. And for a movie that is all on the surface, so, thankfully, is the steaks and the eggs and the potatoes. As any hearty Midwesterner will tell you, food is food.


Alex Withrow said...

This is so great. I'm a fan of Twister as well, and I've always loved the hell out of this scene, particularly Hoffman's work in it. I also LOVE when you highlight scenes like this from movies - great work!

wildheart said...

Wow, this was amazing. I love this scene, my favourite in the whole scene. I love the horror on Melissa's face when they're telling the story about "the extreme" throwing the bottle of Jack into the twister and she realises she knows nothing about her fiance, I love the hearty food that she sneers at, I love how comfortable they all are in aunt megs floral wallpapered home like they've been there a million times, and Jo upstairs, silently crying after her shower (with the perfect Lisa loeb song playing in the scene) listening to them reminiscing downstairs-outwardly the tough difficult boss, but deep down the soft little girl who lost her dad because of a tornado, and then the love of her life because of her obsession with chasing them. Perfect film.

wildheart said...

*my favourite in the whole movie

Nancy In Boise said...

Great post! We just rewatch The Movie on DVD and we always love that scene too. Really did capture the midwest. I talked my mom into seeing the movie when she was still alive as she went through twisters in Nebraska and she said the storm Cellars were pretty crazy scary