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Eating the Screen – Film East

Feeling peckish? Have we got a treat for you!

Eating the Screen is a brand-new film criticism anthology that investigates the multitude of ways food is depicted on the screen. The book features twelve original articles, each with a unique tasty perspective, and a curated collection of films to sink your teeth into.

The anthology is published by Film East, a multi-award-nominated film programming group that aims to educate and inspire the next generation of film enthusiasts by offering unique opportunities to connect through thought-provoking cinema. We were big fans of their first anthology, Screen Dreams, so let’s see what our writers thought of the sequel!

The front cover for the anthology, Eating the Screen. The cover is a still image from Killing Eve that features Villanelle biting into a sandwich. Her eyes are closed in pure enjoyment. Overlaying the image is the title text, Eating the Screen a Film East anthology Edited by Shelby Cooke.
yum

Sophie

An innovative and exciting idea, Eating the Screen introduces the reader to the world of food on film and provides multiple perspectives and avenues through which to explore the topic. Who knew food had such an imperative role in storytelling?! The Chef’s Note at the beginning of the menu style anthology provides an insightful introduction into the use of food in film and how each collection of reviews in their ‘starter’ ‘mains’ and ‘dessert’ sections approach the several ways in which food and consumption are presented and utilised on the big screen. 

Jumping right into the thick of it I skipped most of the starters and headed straight for the ‘meatier’ options and sunk my teeth right into the mains (I will not stop with the food puns). Shelby Cooke’s essay ‘Feasting on Females’ had me by the throat right from the title. Having loved Mimi Cave’s debut feature film Fresh (2022) and being the raging feminist that I am, there was no way I wasn’t going to devour this review in its entirety. Cooke presents a really interesting and unique perspective on the representation of the male gaze right from the offset. Being a film student, I am constantly discussing the female object being consumed by male audiences…but not the actual physical consumption of female bodies. It’s a fascinating discussion on Mimi Cave’s use of camera angles and specific shots to convey this metaphor that Cooke presents in an eloquent and easily accessible manner. Basically, it’s not filled with a bunch of unnecessarily long words that make it impossible to understand. 

Delving further into her exploration, Cooke explores how the film depicts the issue of women’s contribution to the ingesting of the female form and highlights some really important details I actually missed during my first watch. She discusses the main villains and their role not just in the film but how this translates into our society, with a prime example being the wife of Steve, the main villain of the film. Cooke wonderfully explains how the audience is led to believe she is another victim of this cruel system, however the climax reveals her to be acting on her own volition and for her own personal gain. This is a really interesting metaphor to explore the role of the female in the continued application of the male gaze and other patriarchal structures in place within film. The final line of the review reminds the reader what is actually so terrifying about this film, that it reflects the real-life horrors of the patriarchy. 

Cooke’s analysis is a clever and succinct exploration of how Cave has subverted the male gaze to ‘make us hyper-aware of how our eyes look at others’ and she explores the tactics and metaphors Cave has presented in a clear and concise manner. Cooke practically serves us the metaphor meanings on a plate in an easily digestible and understandable manner. With this essay being my introduction to the menu, I couldn’t stop myself from gobbling up the rest of them. I had no idea there was so many interesting and unique avenues through which you could analyse the use and presentation of food in cinema, and here I am expanding my palate and taste testing every single one.

A still image from Fresh (2022). The image is taken from table height with the focus up close, gazing over the meatball and spaghetti that are in crisp focus at the woman about to eat it. Despite her face being blurred, she looks nervous, even revolted. There is tension in the air.
dinner time

Alec

Disclosing my bias first, I am a fan of Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking. It’s a well written  satire considering the time of release and has aged well over the past decade. The film looks at  corporate America’s role in the marriage of patriotism and consumer clout, this acting as a  smokescreen, hiding illegal dealings and political influence. It’s very much in the same vein as The  Big Short in that it’s an entertaining corporate satire with a devil-may-care sense of humour and a  love of shocking the viewer. Having now rewatched a second time, I can say it still holds up as a  solid American comedy from an otherwise unfunny era of endless Rogen/ Apatow-led ‘dudes  getting laid’ movies. 

William Schofield’s essay explores, I’d argue, the scene that really sums up the film. 

Schofield talks about the scene in which the film’s protagonist Nick and his business confidants  Bobby and Polly, meet to discuss the exposé on Nick by the reporter that seduced him. It’s then  revealed that Bobby has ordered one of the most disgusting appetizers ever put to celluloid – an  apple pie garnished with a slice of processed cheese. 

I like Schofield’s point about these scenes acting as “punctuation throughout the film” and how  they serve to explore recent events. He goes on to describe the “microcosmic moment” of this  scene and how it encompasses the very on-the-nose themes. Saying that, on the nose is kind of an understatement, perhaps bludgeoned in the face with the point of the movie would be more accurate. 

Schofield uses the juxtaposition of cheese and apple pie to explain the age-old, right-wing rhetoric  that no matter the condition of the thing in question, the fact that it is American warrants praise  alone. I like how Schofield goes one step further with the food metaphor and actually examines  the link between American pride and the presentation of American food culture.  

Schofield brings up the staples of American cuisine we’re familiar with like apple pie, burgers and  barbecues but goes on to talk about how this is nothing more than theatre. A piece of cheese on an apple pie is grim but perhaps more so when you remember how mass produced food in a  capitalist culture is largely processed crap. The dishes produced in this way are, as Schofield puts it, “callous imitations of their former selves”. 

I rewatched the film before reading this essay and for this scene specifically, I thought about the  opening scene of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet – a picturesque image of suburban American life atop a grotesque undergrowth of swarming insects. Different images but very similar themes.  

I enjoyed Schofield’s analysis, though it helps when you’re reading about something you already  like. I started trying to improve my writing with film essays at university and found it hard to not  be tonally dry or offer surface level takes. It’s something I’m forever trying to improve on but I think Schofield has done a brilliant job at making his work entertaining and in depth on such a snapshot moment from the film. I also value structure when it comes to writing and Schofield has made his beat-by-beat analysis of the scene flow so naturally that you don’t miss a thing.  

I’ve never thought about putting cheese on apple pie but I can say with certainty Schofield has convinced me not to.

The logo for Film East. A white circle with black boarder. Inside the circle is an overlapping lilac F and dark gray E.
Film East

Lois

The forthcoming Film East Anthology, Eating The Screen presents several delectable essays on food in film, so picking exactly what to talk about was almost impossible. The collection, edited by Shelby Cooke, focuses on the use of food as part of our cultural expression and identity. Its overall style appears more anecdotal than academic. So if you’re looking for reams of quotes from essays on other essays, you’ll not find them here. You will, however, get individual, sometimes fun interpretations of films from writers who genuinely enjoy the medium. 

I want to focus on Cooke’s own reading of Mimi Cave’s ‘Fresh’ (2022), because both it and the film left me wanting to say something.

But first, the premise: ‘Fresh’ leads us up the garden path with the lonely 20-something protagonist, Noa. She has a string of uninspiring interactions with males who objectify her and sits lonely at her computer eating snacks and forgetting to do a food shop – because unfulfilled women in film are synonymous with junk food and empty fridges. For proof, see Maddie Davies’ life-affirming ‘Women-Eating-Because-Fuck-You-Why-Not?’, also in this anthology.  

At the supermarket Noa has a classic Hollywood meet-cute with Steve, who presents as the old fashioned awkward-but-cute guy. The genius move of situating this moment in the fresh food aisle makes it look as if this is finally the one; a literal fresh start. Unfortunately, Steve is a cannibal. He procures “meat” for other cannibals; all wealthy; all male. Noa is his next acquisition.


Cooke focuses specifically on Cave’s utilisation of the “male gaze” trope to make the audience complicit in the societal objectification and consumption of our protagonist.  “And while we may not actively want to objectify her or view her simply as a walking dinner,” Cooke says, “we do so because our masculinised socialisation forces us into mirroring Steve’s cannibalistic point of view.” In short, we have no choice but to be complicit.

In combination with this, Cooke posits that the story’s exploration of female collaboration in systemic male-on-female abuse is as disturbing as the objectification itself because, spoiler alert, Steve has a wife called Ann. This is what I feel compelled to unpick.

 “Women,” says Cooke, “are just as complacent in perpetuating the consumption of the female body as men.” I would go further.  Not only is Ann complacent, (lacking awareness of or consideration for the pain her collaboration inflicts), but she is actively complicit. Ann shows not only “willingness to comply with this patriarchal fetish” but “a desire to serve herself.” Whilst this essay speaks very strongly to the audience’s implication in the male fetishization of the female form via the lens, what it doesn’t talk about is the role Noa assumes in the collaboration narrative.

Noa’s behaviour when faced with the dilemma of being routinely eaten alive demonstrates the difference between females who remain complacent and self-serving in their complicity and females who display complicity as a means of survival. It’s another common horror trope; the female captive placating her male captor to gain trust and eventually secure freedom. It’s effectively used here as an answer to the victim shamers; the “Why didn’t you fight back?” brigade that crawl out of the woodwork every time objectification and systemic abuse are confronted. Every time Noa fights or refuses, she fails. She only begins to gain the upper hand once she masters the art of obeying Steve; by taking, in Cooke’s words, “that fateful bite” of one of Steve’s cooked victims. Indeed, it is fateful because we’re not just “reminded of our animalistic gaze.” Our protagonist has just shown us that collaboration, and sometimes submission, is survival.

I second the conclusion that “the real horror of her [Cave’s] film is what is happening every day” The notion of implication in systemic abuse is haunting, especially, given the realisation that it isn’t a choice. How much more haunted, then, must the survivors be having discovered what it takes to survive?

“Food,” says Cooke in the collection’s “Chef’s note”, “provides an outlet for cultural expression… Each dish is a carrier of culture, bringing with it the heritage of a social and natural landscape.”  The collection drives home this point with considerable dexterity and it doesn’t stray off – menu. I found myself wanting – and seeking – more input after reading each piece, but I think that’s the point of criticism. It’s a snapshot of an infinite panorama through a zoom lens. It should incite us to examine the bigger picture and if it didn’t it wouldn’t be worthy of print. We should never be full up; never stop seeking intellectual nourishment; and relish the opportunity to absorb ideas; to think about what we’re being fed and, most importantly, whether we want to eat it.

You can download the Eating the Screen anthology via the Film East website or click here to be taken to the page.

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