Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Julia

The purpose of the Green Paintbrush blog is to celebrate the art of recycling. However, I'm making an exception in this post and writing about something, rather someone, I am passionate about.... the legendary Julia Child.

Julia was a pioneer in the culinary world. Her T.V. cooking show, The French Chef, premiered a year before I was born. When I was just a little one, I remember watching her show with my Mom. (The Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, was also one of our favorites.) So I feel it is legitimate for me to say that I have known Julia Child my entire life.

When my sister and I were in Paris in February, 2008, we had both just finished reading My Life in France, Julia's book which recounts her introduction to France, cooking and the culinary arts. Julia, and her co-author Alex Prud'homme, who ultimately finished the book due to Julia's passing, created a product that makes a culinary enthusiast and Francophile out of all who read it.
While in Paris, Karen & I spent a day walking from the Place Vendome, to the Obelisk, down the Champs Elysees, down the Avenue Victor Hugo to the Eiffel Tower and finally to 81 Rue de la Universite.... Julia's first Paris apartment.

Here's our photo shoot at Julia's apartment, including Karen posing with My Life in France.

Since this last trip to Paris I have read many culinary focused books: Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon and Last House: Reflections, Dreams & Observations 1933-1941 both by M.F.K. Fisher. M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table by Joan Reardon (a fantastic overview of these three amazing women). And another book that you'll probably recognize: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. And this brings me back to why I'm writing this - and my question for you is: how do you entrust your precious, personal memories to Hollywood's rendition? The thin thread of recollection that still exists in my ever fading memory of watching Julia Child on T.V. from the white couch or green chair (classic 1960's decor) in our family room on Jomar Drive in Napa. Will those images get intertwined with the images from this movie? I'm not sure I'm willing to take that risk.
To help make my case, consider the book cover of Julie & Julia. When I read Julie & Julia, this is what the book cover looked like:
Now, with the release of the Julie & Julia movie, Hollywood has rebranded the book with the images of Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and the book looks like this... there's even two versions:

There wasn't anything wrong with the original book cover - I liked how it allowed the reader to create their own mental images. But when Hollywood gets involved, it seems to reinvent products with a self-serving strategy. If the cover had to be changed, it's too bad they didn't feature Julie Powell and her favorite image of Julia Child... I guess Julie Powell isn't famous enough, yet, to have her own image on the cover of her own book. I'd be interested to get an inside view of what happens when a book gets swept up by Hollywood... does a new, unknown author maintain any control?

So I'm worried, worried about seeing this movie. I'm worried about allowing Hollywood into my brain to rework my memories the way they reworked the cover of Julie Powell's book. I'm worried that the Devil Wears Prada and Mama Mia visions of Meryl are still too fresh to allow me to believe that I'm watching Julia Child on screen. And even more importantly, I'm worried that Ms. Streep's portrayal of Julia will erode my fragile 40 year old memories and I'll be left with the images Hollywood has decided I should have rather than the images I saw while watching Julia Child from the brown shag carpet on Jomar Drive.
Thanks for listening and...
Bon appetit
(UPDATE: I saw the movie. I'm very happy to say that my personal memories remain intact - for the time being anyway. What did I think of the film? Well, since you asked... Meryl Streep did a nice job - although her effort to mimic Julia's pattern of speech became a bit annoying. Ms. Streep sprinkled tsp after tsp of forced, hard enunciations into every sentence, when just a pinch would have sufficed. However, my main critique is not aimed at the actors but at the idea of combining these two books into one movie. My Life in France most certainly deserves to be the sole focus of a film and/or documentary. Similarly, if an entire script were dedicated to Julie & Julia, that would result in an enjoyable, charming film. But folding both books into one movie reminded me of how my very Italian Mother would allow us to take a sip of wine when we pleaded to do so as young children - she would put a quick drizzle of wine into a glass and then fill it with water. We tasted just the slightest hint of flavor from the varietal - and my sister and I would pretend we were drinking wine. The Julie & Julia movie-goers were given just a drizzle of the content of each book, diluted by the forced scenarios that were required to get the movie back and forth between story lines. And finally, most reviews of the movie mention that the audience leaves hungry - well this movie-goer left the theater hungry - but I was craving content, not cassoulet.)

1 comment:

Karen said...

In search of Julia... The best coldest day I ever spent with my sister!