If the stunning views of Monument Valley in the classic western Stagecoach (1939) don’t take you back to the old American west, perhaps a piping-hot bowl of bourbon chili will. Pairing food and cocktails to classic cinema is the name of the game in Movie Night Menus (Running Press, $22), the latest book from brother and sister duo Tenaya and André Darlington.
“It’s basically a version of ‘Netflix and chill,’” says André Darlington (a former food writer for Isthmus). “It’s like a group or date-night version of that. Classic cocktails and movies were born at the same time, so we want people to discover them together.”
The Darlingtons watched hundreds of films in the Turner Classic Movie archive and selected 30 in which food and drink play prominent roles. The result is a film history/cookbook/mixology guide that acts as a template for a theme-based movie night. There’s suggestions for how to “set the scene” and some movie trivia to boot.
“We hope it can be like a book club where people get together and do this,” says Darlington. “The movies are fantastic, and the recipes are really accessible. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to rewatch some of the best films ever made.”
Take Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), where a “perfect murder” is committed as an intellectual exercise between two Columbia-educated aestheticians.
“It has all the creepy Hitchcockian elements plus lots of food and drink. There are great party scenes where guests are eating off a truck with a dead body in it,” says Darlington. “They are literally partying on a dead guy’s [makeshift] coffin pretty much the entire film.”
The murdered man in Rope was strangled to death, so that film is paired with an Art of Choke cocktail, a dark, bitter drink that uses the Italian digestif Cynar. The main menu suggestion is “Camembert in a Coffin” (a recipe that involves placing a wheel of camembert cheese inside a loaf of bread.) Additionally, there are instructions for parmigiano rope twists that complement the bitterness of the cocktail.
The films featured in Movie Night Menus span the early 1930s through the 1980s. Movies highlighted include Female, The Thin Man, Guys and Dolls, The Graduate and the original Rocky. They represent three eras of Hollywood: the freewheeling “pre-code” era before enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code; the “classic” era, dominated by a handful of big studios; and the “new Hollywood,” brought about by the decline of the studio system as well as the end of the production code.
“The early 1930s seem incredibly modern. You have women divorcing. There’s acknowledgment of urban issues. Drinking problems. People are very honest about things,” says Darlington. “1930’s movies feel like ’60s/’70s movies.”
Sit down to Casablanca with a roasted eggplant tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish, and a French 75, made with gin and champagne.
For Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), one of the modern classics featured in the book, a New York deli sandwich tray is paired with a Brooklyn Cocktail (cousin to another borough-named cocktail, the Manhattan). There’s also an “Aware” salad that demonstrates the cultural shift in cuisine that has occurred since the romantic comedy was in theaters.
“At the time, Woody Allen makes fun of this certain salad. Now it’s how Los Angeles eats. It’s just standard,” says Darlington. “I think back in the ’70s, yoga was funny. Salads with weird microgreens were funny. What a great statement that the things Woody Allen makes fun of in the ’70s are mainstream now.”
Movie Night Menus is available for pre-order online and will be in stores on Dec. 27. This is the second book written by the brother and sister team; their first, The New Cocktail Hour, was released in April. Tenaya is an English professor and food writer based in Philadelphia (and a former features editor at Isthmus). André still calls Madison home. To write the book, they watched the films together while video chatting on Google Hangout. Neither was a big film buff before Turner Classic Movies approached them to write the book. “I feel like I got a degree in American cinema,” says Darlington.
Amazingly, there were no sibling squabbles over which movies to select. “At this point, I can’t even tell which parts I wrote and which parts she wrote,” says Darlington.
Tenaya and André will soon have a regular cocktail column in Organic Life magazine. They have already started writing their third book, too. “Pairing booze and vinyl is what we’re currently working on,” says André. “So the collaboration is alive and well.”