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Cooking History

February 16, 2013

Cinequest 2010


For the first time since viewing CANARY I find myself in the middle of a film review conundrum, wondering how to explain how absolutely awesome is COOKING HISTORY, even though I turned it off around the halfway point and have no intention of ever returning.

It all depends on your horror threshold.  I would guess this documentarian secretly wants to direct some hilarious horror films, because that is almost what you have here.  It certainly is a moving documentary, filled with interviews with the people who were called upon to cook for troops in six different wars, and they are quite incredible.  These heart wrenching stories of poisoning loaves of bread for the enemy or leaving out the last meal for the dead soldiers are overlaid with the recipes:  “Bread to poison 300 soldiers”, “Pancakes to feed 1 million dead”.  Humorous and heart breaking at the same time.  It is drop dead serious but also told with a twisted sense of humor.

There are some very difficult scenes you should be warned about.  At one point a cow is graphically slaughtered and it takes a very long time for the cow to die.  A very. Long. Time.  There is a similar scene with a pig.  I have a pretty high threshold for horror, but I couldn’t take this.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear there are walkouts during this movie if people aren’t prepared… so go in prepared.

It really is a fantastic documentary.  The war stories are horrific, but they need to be told and they need to be heard.  The director cuts from an interview with a soldier explaining how a tank would have crushed him “to mincemeat” in a field to a close-up shot of a former cook pushing meat through a grinder.  Actually there are many shots of the grinder, at any opportune moment it seemed.

There is a definite twisted, dark humor in the telling of these tales, and there is horror that is almost impossible to look at.  But it brings to life the shocking details of these war stories that are so easy to feel are just stories.  It is much easier to listen to battlefield tales without seeing a pig get his throat cut.  Hearing how a tank would have crushed the soldier to mincemeat really doesn’t have the same effect as watching the meat get pushed through the grinder while listening to the soldier’s own words.

I did not finish the movie.  I regret that I cannot hear the rest of the stories.  But my threshold is apparently not high enough to get through this.  It will be good for there to be walkouts because it will mean the film had the desired effect on people – War is not pretty, it is about throat cutting and meat grinders.  Some soldiers will take a very, very long time to die.  War is awful.  People will be talking about this documentary during the festival, and that will be a good thing.

Prepare yourself, and go see it.

Unfortunately I cannot locate the film anywhere, but the trailer is on IMDB.

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