(Editor’s note: THE AUTOMAT will show twice on Turner Classic Movies, Tuesday, November 22. There will also be for classics with automat scenes.)
By Gaetano Kazuo Maida
(Updated November 21, 2022; originally published April 2022)
A film that starts off with the instantly recognizable dulcet tones of Mel Brooks gushing, “one of the greatest inventions, insane centers of paradise…” is irresistible even if you’ve never heard of the Automat. For those of us of a certain age from New York or Philadelphia (and yes, I’m one: born and raised in New York, with family in Philly), the Horn & Hardart Automat was a unifying experience of childhood delight and teenage necessity. You didn’t need a lot of money to eat, just a handful of nickels… In its heyday (1920s to the 1970s) it was, in just two cities, the largest restaurant chain in the country by any measure, at one point in the 1940s serving fully 10% of the population of Philadelphia. Continue reading →
The theatrical release of a new documentary by Lisa Hurwitz, The Automat, has taken me back in time with its wonderful clips from classic movies and discussions of food favorites of our youth from Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Pot Pie to Custard Cups and Pumpkin Pie. It is essential viewing for those interested in the history of restaurants in the 20th Century, the combining of technology and home-cooked meals and a trip down memory lane even if you were born too late to actually visit one. But we also cover contemporary attempts at automated food. We have included many photos, film clips, recipes, music, and related links to supplement your enjoyment of The Automat now playing in theaters and at film festivals—only on the big screen.
As a child in London Charles Chaplin had a life of poverty and hardship. He was sent to a workhouse twice before he was nine years old. He got little to eat and there is speculation that is why there are so many food scenes in his movies.Continue reading →