Let no young man delay the study of film, and let no old man become weary of it; for it is never too early, nor too late to care for the well-being of the soul. Sorry Epicurus, but you and your philosophy can suck it. Airman Xley is hijacking your quote to segue into his soapbox about being an old soul cinephile. Just be thankful that you have a couple of marble busts of yourself floating around. I for one am not holding my breath that future folk
will find one of these reviews and decide to cast my ugly mug in sculpture to weather the ages.
That Pan’s Labyrinth review might someday be quoted in coffee shops by the Cult of the Drive-in Zeppelin – you never know. They certainly won’t be talking about the majority of the other films I’ve reviewed this year. 2015 has simply been atrocious thus far. Here we are nearly a quarter of the way along and I’ve only given two films I’ve seen in theaters a score better than 4 out of 5 stars: Song of the Sea and Whiplash. I mean sure, I could play the art-house film card or not be poor and spend a week watching quality stuff at SXSW, but who has time for that?
The fact of the matter is that while I do enjoy the art of film and seeing the cinematic status quo challenged, the majority of the time I don’t make the arduous mile and a half journey to the theater to deal in pretention and exclusivity. I want an entertaining popcorn movie now and again or at the very least a dramatic tale crafted out of originality and halfway decent performances. Instead when I look at the box-office board (or rather my smartphone because I’m not from antiquity), I’m crippled by the notion that I have to pick between the bi-weekly Liam Neeson shoot-em-up, another obvious action/crime flop, or something from the rest of the uninspiring March misfits.
Well, why do you have to see a movie Xley? Why can’t you say, sit on your porch and read a good book or watch something at home? Go outside for once and enjoy life for what it is rather than its artificial portrayal in film!
Oh, gee why didn’t I think about that before? Hmm…let me think, it’s because it’s fucking raining outside and Graf is cooking something that smells near-vomit worthy in the kitchen. The cinema is my escape! I need the thrill of living vicariously through others despite my exceptionally interesting life aboard the Drive-in Zeppelin.
What is a lowly airman supposed to do when faced with the onslaught of terrible movies like Insurgent and the likes of Vince Vaughan and Liam Neeson movies? It’s such a long wait until Mad Max: Fury Road and even longer until Guillermo’s Crimson Peak! I am growing weary of film Epicurus! I’m an old man! I need to rekindle my love of film and the only way I know how is if I…
See a fucking documentary in theaters!
Betcha didn’t anticipate that! Seriously though, the prospect of doing something new is exciting to me. I don’t recall ever having seen a documentary in a movie theater other than at like a museum or something on their IMAX. Never be afraid to try something new mein Liebling; good or bad there’s always a takeaway. Really I was just bored on a Thursday night and wanted to see a movie, and unfortunately, the other documentary I wanted to see, Red Army, wasn’t in theaters yet. It’s always a wild and craaaaaaaaaaazy time when you go to see something educational.
So armed with my resolved to try something new, I went down to the lonely Regal 8 (the sparsely filled independent movie theater here in Austin) and was the only one to purchase a ticket to the documentary Deli Man. Directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou, Deli Man examines the historical and cultural significance of the traditional Jewish style Delicatessen specifically grounded in the story of third-generation deli man and fellow old soul, Ziggy Gruber.
In the early 1930’s, an official census by New York City officials determined that there were approximately 1500 kosher delicatessens in the five boroughs alone. As with cinema, the changing times have not been kind to delicatessens, as their number stands at about 150 today across ALL of America. Aside from the centerpiece story around Ziggy and his traditional deli Kenny & Ziggy’s, the film features interviews with a slew of other deli owners, reminiscing celebrities like Jerry Stiller and Larry King, and plenty of stock photos and archival news footage to paint a fairly in depth narrative around the rise and decline of the Jewish delicatessen.
This is a film that will no doubt appeal to the Jewish community as well as the foodies out there in that it’s as refreshingly engaging in its historical examination of a cultural epoch as it is savory in its presentation of mouthwatering delicacies. Much like Jiro Dream of Sushi was for Japan, the medium of a food documentary serves to highlight the ethnic and national identities resultant from the influx of Eastern European Jews to the Lower East Side. We get a glimpse into Jewish values, traditions, and the evolution of a cultural community through their eventual dispersal across the United States. We’re even offered a bit of enrichment in the subtitled translation of a variety of Yiddish lingo.
Deli Man is the third in a trilogy of movies about Jewish Culture by director Anjou, and one that simply could not work without the inclusion of Ziggy Gruber. Brother of director J. Mackeye Gruber (The Butterfly Effect), Ziggy is enigmatic, endearing, and truly passionate about the preservation of the cultural value that traditional delicatessens offer his Jewish heritage. Despite being a culinary wunderkind, Ziggy opted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and opened a New York deli in Houston of all places.
Ziggy is an infectiously charming character that the audience can’t help but to sympathize with through his many anecdotes in the film. Primarily he serves to offer historical insight into the delicatessen, though we also are party to a sub-section of the film that is dedicated to his struggle of finding balance between the taxing life of a deli owner and the struggle that is his fledgling personal life. The story follows him through his exploration of the similarly dwindling industry of ethnic food wholesalers, personal conversations with patrons and managers alike, and the often humorous and awkward interactions with his all Hispanic staff.
All in all, it’s a pretty straightforward and informative documentary, though occasionally the inclusion of Ziggy detracts from the often out of place interviews of other deli owners and customers. The structure is a little confusing at times as it almost seems like there are two films about delis being crammed together with a preference being placed on the many adventures of Ziggy. The film briefly tackles a few lingering discussions like kosher vs. Jewish fusion and the future of the deli, and they basically conclude the fairly robust examination of the iconography of this cultural institution.
Most importantly to the film is the consideration of the food as an independent character. Nearly every meal was inticing so I would definitely not recommend seeing this on an empty stomach. What’s more, it’s interesting how varied and complex they history is around particular dishes. I mean, who knew that Romanians invented pastrami? From sandwiches to home-cooking and everything in between, you’ll definitely be wanting to hit up your local deli in the near future. There are few things that would make us ever want to go back to Houston, but the prospect of trying Kenny and Ziggy’s might definitely warrant a trip back to the Bayou city.
The Bottom Line:
You’ll probably never see this in the theater, so when you’re channeling your inner foodie one night through Netflix, make sure you go get a healthy looking Reuben first and then watch Deli Man to appreciate it all the more. Also, let’s get a documentary about Zeppelins shall we?