food in the arts

dir: Tony Richardson/ cast: Albert Finney, Susannah York/ 1963
Tony Richardson's adaptation of Henry Fielding's classic novel was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular comedies of its time, winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film follows Tom Jones (Albert Finney), a country boy who becomes one of the wildest playboys in 18th-century England, developing a ravenous taste for women, food, and rowdy adventures. Over the course of the film, Jones tries to amass his own fortune and win the heart of Sophie (Susannah York). Not only does John Osborne's Oscar-winning screenplay stay true to the tone of the novel, but the cast--including Lynn Redgrave in her first screen role--tears into the story with spirited abandon, making the movie a wildly entertaining and witty experience. For the 1989 reissue, Richardson trimmed the film by seven minutes. -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine

A bawdy, exuberant adaptation of Henry Fielding's classic 18th century novel, TOM JONES bears the enviable contradiction of being a timeless period piece. Boasting both a uniformly excellent cast and a screenplay by John Osborne that remains one of the cinema's most successful literary hatchet jobs, the film ushered in a new era for British cinema. Its unabashed commercialism (which had to be financed by United Artists after its subject matter was deemed too outré by British financiers) was key to the subsequent influx of American dollars into the British film industry, and it signaled the effective end of the darker, more politicized English Free Cinema movement.

The film was a landmark for a number of other reasons, first and foremost director Tony Richardson's presentation of the subject matter. Presaging MTV-style film direction by at least three decades, Richardson directed his film with impressive speed, employing rapid cuts, frequent breaking-down of the fourth wall, and a pace breathless enough to make audiences forget that they were watching what had been a 1000-page novel. 

Notable, too, was the fact that a story set two centuries ago could ring so true with a contemporary audience. The depiction of Tom's libidinous past was marked by the sort of carefree, liberated attitude that would soon become one of the defining attributes of the film's era. Moreover, it featured one of the most memorable demonstrations of the link between food and sex ever committed to celluloid, giving new meaning to the term "human appetite." With so many lasting qualities to say nothing of a star-making performance by a young and dashing Albert Finney it is little surprise that Tom Jones has stood the test of time as one of the 20th century's most enjoyable cinematic achievements. 

The famous, sex-drenched eating scene between Tom (Albert Finney) and, (all unknowingly) possibly his mother Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman) begins naturally enough with big steaming pewter bowls of soup, whereat Mrs. Waters leans well over the table and lustily slurps big round spoonsful, breasts tumbling out of her bodice, with a more-than-come-hither look. Tom, nearly overcome, involuntarily rips a claw off the langouste he has in his hand and sucks happily on it. Drafts of ale, turkey, oysters, pears, and wine are then dispatched with loving attention

Rebecca Flint


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