Looking for Julie and Julia was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.
Read at your own risk- POSSIBLE SPOILERS (and some Bad Language)
The Meryl Streep movie Julie & Julia made me too curious about Julie Powell & Julia Child. Now only a post the length of a term paper can corral my thoughts and contain the links.
MSS of Zanthan Gardens and I were at the Alamo Drafthouse South for the first show of Julie & Julia on opening day in Austin. The Drafthouse is always fun, the crowd was receptive and the turkey club sandwich I'd ordered in a nod to the era was quite good.
The movie starts in 1948 as Julia and Paul Child, married less than two years, drive in an elegant automobile to Paul's new post with the United States Information Service Department. During their five years in Paris, Julia first learned to eat the French way, and then decided to learn how to cook the food she loved to eat. Julia's book, My Life in France, written by Julia with Paul's great-nephew Alex Prud'homme, and letters written by Paul to his brother Paul Child were credited as the base for this part of the movie. I haven't bought My Life in France yet, and wonder whether their real Paris home could have been anywhere near as lovely as in the movie.
I was a goner from scene one and the best part of the movie for me was the tender, humorous, supportive and loving relationship between Julia and Paul - Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci seemed so perfect! Julia's sister Dorothy is played by wonderful Jane Lynch and there's a scene at the train station where Paul beams as Julia rushes to meet Dorothy.
Just thinking about any scene with the two sisters makes me smile! Chopping onions can make me smile! Next time I cook manicotti they will make me laugh!
Because of PBS, we've been able to watch Julia on television for decades - along with picking up cooking ideas, I absorbed the belief that Julia was civilized and generous and loyal. Julia's life in Paris seemed even more civilized and calm when contrasted with the contemporary tale of Julie Powell, afraid to turn 30, riding NY subways to work.
All that I knew about Julie on August 7th was the stuff of press notices - she was a New York blogger who cooked all the recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of a single year. Local news included the information that Julie is originally from Austin and that her parents live here. The Julie in Nora Ephron's movie is unhappy, emotional, at loose ends, loves her patient, encouraging husband Eric, is worn out by her job and is very self-absorbed. That part of the movie starts in August 2002 with Julie working in a cubicle for a government agency planning the memorial for the Twin Tower property while her friends put together multi-zillion dollar deals and get books published.
When her husband Eric gives her the idea to start the blog it seemed pretty real to me, although she didn't rewrite everything 5 times. On that day at the Alamo it was easy for MSS and me to relate to a character who was a blogger, especially one who seemed truly serious about writing. We laughed as the movie Julie creates her blog, and felt her thrill as she receives the first comments. The date of 2002 fell a year after MSS started Zanthan Gardens and a year before I started the original Diva of the Dirt site - long ago in blog years.
Paris in 1948 looked exotic and beautiful...Ephron has loaded Julia's story with mid-20th century hats & dresses and postures, elegant rooms, cigarettes, private dinners, restaurants, architecture, furniture, cocktails and guilt-free dining.
For me- who lives in a suburban development in the middle of Texas - the scenes of city life in a super-grubby apartment over a pizza parlor in Long Island City, Queens, New York seemed almost as exotic as the Paris settings.
The style and energy of Parisian life also make Julie's post-9-11 life seem even more drab and dreary in comparison, with a few scenes that seemed right out of Joe Versus the Volcano. (a movie written and directed by the same John Patrick Shanley who wrote & directed Doubt, starring Meryl Streep & Amy Adams, thus proving that everything is connected somehow.) I was glad Nora Ephron allowed both Julie and Julia to rejoice in and appreciate their loving, supportive spouses, something that should be done by all of us who have better partners than we deserve.
Julia's story was full of real people like her cowriters Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (loved Linda Emond as Simca), her editor Judith Jones, her father, and her sister Dorothy, who did marry Ivan Cousins (in June, 1951 in New York according to a genealogy website).
Nora Ephron's treatment of the two stories gave us an entertaining and emotionally engaging couple of hours with interesting actors, fun sets, stunning food, nifty conversations, a few digs at pretension, sight gags, snappy lines and situations leading to punchlines. I didn't expect great accuracy from this kind of movie, but thought it could be fun to try figuring out what is based in fact and which things are Nora, Nora, Nora.
Again... the movie was fine - this post is not about changing it, or improving it, or telling Nora Ephron what she should have done! But sorting and making lists and finding links to what was probably true and what ended up in the script is a fun game and I wanted to play that game.
I still intend to get My Life in France and Julie/Julia and at least browse Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I read that the movie-tie in version of My Life in France lacks photographs that were in the original book. Even without the books, there were plenty of articles and interviews about Julia, Julie, the project and the movie available online. Julia had many birthday interviews after she turned 80. Some of the data may be wrong, but patterns emerged and I've tried to figure out what is probably true.
Earlier this week I saw J & J with my husband Philo at the Gateway in the Arboretum. We'd enjoyed the pairing of Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in Doubt and I was sure he'd like this movie. I tried to guess which scenes would crack him up. For me it was even more enjoyable to watch Meryl and Stanley portray Julia and Paul Child at this second viewing, partly because I had more background information.
For example - those posed nude photos in the bathtub really were made for their friends. Beverly Levitt quotes Julia in a 90th birthday interview.
"My parents were outraged," she says with a laugh. "They thought we'd hired a photographer to come into our bathroom. They didn't know that all photographers have timers. It was the '50s and everyone was so prudish."
The official sources agree that Julie and Paul really were together in the OSS, he did have a reputation as a loverboy, they really did have reputations as genuine party people. Paul & Julia seemed to rejoice in and love the families of their brother and sister. I liked this interview with great-grand niece and namesake Julia Prud'homme, who played the bridge instructor in the movie. My fond impressions of Julia and Paul didn't change....but they deepened.
What did change was the way I felt about the Julie character the second time around. Amy Adams did a fine job with the part as written and with the lines she was given. But those big light eyes looking sincerely and adoringly at her idol now appear to be more Nora, Nora, Nora than Julie, Julie, Julie.
After seeing J & J the first time I'd found and read over most of the entire original blog of the Julie/Julia project and tried to read most of the comments...later posts have hundreds of comments and something in the comment posting format led to many duplicates.
Was the Julie in the blog anything like the Julie in the movie? In the movie, all we learn of her background are a few passing mentions of Amherst and her mother's voice on a phone, calling from Texas. In real life Julie is Austin-born and bred, her parents live here and I heard that her mom doesn't sound one bit like Oklahoman actress Mary Kay Place.
Eric Powell is played by Chris Messina from Vicky Cristina Barcelona. During the course of the year Julie & Eric go back & forth to Austin for visits and family events. Her parents and Eric's parents come to visit them in Long Island City, offering help, recreation and unsolicited advice - friends and members of the extended family encourage and comment and telephone. The blog is sprinkled with references to places in Austin - Mr Gatti's, Central Market, Three Amigos, Whole Foods.
Google "Julie Powell images" and you'll see that dark-haired, dark-eyed Julie doesn't look anything like Amy Adams ... she looks like an Austin smart-ass to me. Julie in the movie wonders tearfully if her 'occasional' swearing on the blog could have turned Julia off.... Julie of the blog drops F-bombs like apostrophes and has strong opinions on everything.
Julie in the movie calls Julia "adorable". Julie on her current blog, What Could Happen? says, "The trouble is, I would never say something like Isn’t Julia Child adorable? Julia Child, for chrissakes, this literal and figurative giant of a woman who changed the lives of thousands and the entire American culinary landscape ... adorable?"
In the movie, Julia and her sister Dorothy make allusion to their dislike of Pasadena Republicans and rue the McCarthy years... apparently all true. Julia was still outspoken about politics at the age of 90 when interviewed for MS Magazine. Movie-Julie doesn't have much to say about politics, but Julie on the Blog sure does - with opinions on elected officials and elections - national, Texan and New York.
In the movie Julie has a friend Sarah, played by the interesting Mary Lynn Rajskub. In another scene Julie meets three overachieving college friends for their traditional Cobb Salad lunch. It was a funny scene, but it didn't feel real and the friends could be the snobby rich friends in anyone's movie. The actress who played the dreadful Cassie is Vanessa Ferlito.
(I don't know Vanessa but when she was in the Tarrantino & Rodriguez movie Grindhouse, Philo & I were among a dozen or so people watching night filming of a scene in a parking lot on Burnet. While the special effects people worked on setting it up, Vanessa acted like a real person, coming over to the barrier, holding the baby of some fans, smiling at toddlers and speaking to their parents.)
Rather than having just one true friend 'Sarah', Blog Julie had a core of terrific friends like Helen & Emily & Lisa, who struggled with the undependable transit system to get to Long Island City, share food and support her.
I was glad to read that the Cobb salad friends are fictional! Here's what Julie said in a Slackerwood interview:
"People ... say things like 'I hated your friends with the Cobb salad.' There were no friends with the Cobb salad. That's Nora Ephron's invention...people are equating me with this fictional character. It's a little surreal, but you get used to that too."
In the movie, Julie and movie Eric move to an apartment over a Pizza Restaurant. Before the movers arrive movie Julie lets the cat out. While unpacking she sits on the floor looking glum. Months later, photogenic friends appear for dinner parties where hostess Julie produces perfectly cooked food from her hot apartment kitchen without even working up a sweat.
Real Julie and Eric do move to Long Island City, but that happens after the blog has started, the apartment is over a Greek Diner and Julie complains about the lack of pizza places in Long Island City. They work to improve the apartment. From Julie's blog:
"My Eric and I had a bona-fide yuppie experience yesterday. We went over to our new Long Island City loft apartment to tear up the tile in the kitchen...After an hour and a half on our hands and knees with a chisel, we'd mostly gotten up the piece-of-shit beige linoleum and uncovered some older piece-of-shit-green tiling beneath... we hit wood! Not only that, but between the vinyl and the wood was some gorgeous, maybe 30s handpainted stuff with flowers and deco designs! Most of it was covered with tar and unsalvageable, but hey! Pretty exciting! We felt like really terrible archaeologists!!"
Movie Julie has the cat. Real Julie had cats plural, and she also has a snake named ZuZu. To feed the snake Julie goes shopping in Park Slope at "the mouse store". I'm having a lot of trouble imagining Amy Adams feeding mice to a snake.
Movie Julia Child strolls around Paris making friends with the purveyors of fresh meat, seafood and vegetables, and it looks like a dream - like a trip to the best Farmers Market in the world where you never think about what anything will cost.
Movie Julie Powell goes to Dean & Deluca, purchases her ingredients and then has Lucille Ball moments getting her loot home on the subway. She also has a few meltdowns when the cooking doesn't work out.
Real Julie and Real Eric work all day, then spend exhausting hours shlepping from store to store in search of the ingredients needed for the recipes. They complained about Dean and Deluca (shrimp for $24 a pound?) doing better at Jefferson Market & Fairway. Many of the recipes in the book call for kinds of meat that have to be ordered or searched for - veal bones for marrow, kidneys and giblets and gizzards, livers, calves foot, beef shins, mussels and squab, vegetables like celeriac & shallots - she needed truffles, arborio rice and semi-sweet chocolate, espresso powder, rum. She buys a goose and when she starts to cook it finds out the liver, a necessary item, is missing. There were failures and substitutions and many times she couldn't afford the exact ingredient or didn't have the right kitchen tool to follow Julia's instructions exactly. One of the items she tried to juggle in the actual overloaded subway incident was a live mouse for ZuZu.
The shopping part reflected some of my own experiences... going to 3 different grocery stores trying to get what I need for a recipe ... and I have a car! I can't imagine how exhausting it must have been to do this after work, traveling on the subways while carrying perishable foodstuffs. Hunter-gathering takes a hell of a lot of time in the real world.
Julie doesn't give the actual recipes, but the blog has space for blow-by-blow recitals of actual cooking processes. Sometimes the dishes do not turn out as well as they should - other times Julie describes their deliciousness so well you want to try the recipe. The complicated recipes took longer than expected and there were mounds of dirty bowls, pots and tools. Sometimes Julie came home from work and started cooking at 8, eating at 11:30Pm .... the 'saintly' Eric did most of the dishwashing and also cooked non-French food like Enchiladas on Spicy Thursdays. Her mom worried about her exhaustion and Julie was very sick at one point.
Like Eric, many people in our family have trouble with rich food. We laughed in recognition at the scene where Julie lies snoring while Eric pops antacid tablets like M & M's. There's payback when those who can't digest butterfat indulge in whole milk, sour cream, real whipped cream and butter, which is why we enjoy seeing Julia cook with butter but seldom use it.
That reminds me - the Butter Tribute at the Smithsonian was recounted in the blog on September 8, 2003. Julie wrote that she & Eric were worried about being caught bringing the butter into the exhibit containing Julia's kitchen. She added:
"... It was interesting to watch the little kids who came in watch the video that was running of Julia shows and interviews with other chefs about her. I can’t tell if it was just the hypnotic pull of television or what, but the kids actually watched it..."
That line brought to mind an image of my daughter age 4, recovering from a scary bout of bronchitis, wrapped up in a blanket in her little rocker. She watched Julia after lunch each day, rocking and giving the show complete attention - once turning to me to ask, "Is Julia CHILD a grown-up?"
Real Julie & Real Eric watch, discuss and quote TV, DVD's, and Netflix rentals including Family Guy, Extreme Makeover, Buffy, David Strathairn, Bollywood movies, the Austin-made Waking Life , Frances McDormand and Christian Bale in Laurel Canyon, True Romance, Mostly Martha, West Wing, X-Men, the Sopranos, Val Kilmer.
I read the blog in chunks of weeks and the timing for finding one post amused me... Philo & I had been watching episodes of a British comedy series called Manchild with Anthony Head. The very next day I read Julie's comments about Anthony Head's character on Buffy.
I'm very interested in seeing how the Julie/Julia Project was condensed into a book since I loved the blog comments and the interactions between Julie & her commenters and the commenters with each other. In both blog and movie, many of her readers and commenters sent Julie gifts of ingredients and some hit the Contribute button.
In that interview by Natalie Haughton, Julie talked about the difference between herself and the movie Julie and also touched on the whole JULIA HATES ME thing:
Q: What did you think of the movie and how you were portrayed by Amy Adams – was it accurate?
A: Yes and no. I thought it was a really lovely movie. Amy Adams is a wonderful actress, and I am a big fan. The characters were based on what's in the book. (Powell met Adams after the movie was filmed.) Amy is portraying Nora's version of me. Amy – Nora's Julie Powell – is a softer/nicer person who doesn't curse as much as I do. Nora made the kitchen as constricting as possible – it was smaller, but not as nasty (as my kitchen).
Q: What about the scene in the movie where Julia Child didn't like/approve your project?
A: A reporter had interviewed her and asked her about project. She said, "I know about the project, not interested in it," and was basically dismissive and had no comment. It was devastating. It's corny, but I had been living with "Julia" for a year, and the one I invented understood what I was doing. It was hurtful because I spent a year doing a tribute to her courage and generosity.
She changed me. When I picked up the book and decided to do the project, I thought I was just trying to learn how to cook French food. What I was getting from this book and the pages and her writing was this avocation of courage and pushing forward and daring me to do something I didn't think I could do. By the end of the year, by her example and cooking through the book, I had become more courageous.
More on that "Julia hated Julie thing" - when Judith Jones, the editor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a character in the movie was interviewed by Constance Droganes she said, "If they met I think Julia would have liked her. But given what we had to go on from the early blog I don't think Julia thought she was a serious cook. Secondly, you just didn't use swear words in cooking. Not where Julia was concerned," says Jones.
I've read speculation from many sources about what Julia would have thought of Julie... it was interesting to hear my own husband unknowingly echo some of them when he wondered whether Julia was turned off because she thought the MtAoFC was a gimmick for Julie to get famous.
I guess it's possible, but were blogs already considered a launching pad for writers back in 2002 when Julie started her blog? I'm not sure how many people read blogs then. Websites, yes - people like Harry Knowles and Ain't It Cool News had been recognized by the late 1990's as having influence, but I'm not so sure about blogs. Wouldn't the blog have been more focused if she'd planned it to be a book? Would she have cleaned up the language?
Julie claims not - she says this in the Slackerwood interview:
"When I started the blog, I didn't know what a blog was. I thought it was going to be for my mom to read. So by the time I had a readership, I had set this level of intimacy. I couldn't go back because I had readers, and they'd basically call bullshit on it. I'm really glad that it happened that way, that I didn't know what I was getting into because it was so important to the development of my tone and my voice as a writer. I don't know that I could do that now. If I started a blog for the first time now, I am inevitably going to hold stuff back. I still think I try to be honest as I can and upfront as I can be. Knowing that there are potentially millions of people reading --"
From my position in the middle generation between Julia and Julie, the theory that Julia didn't like Julie's blog because of the swearing seemed plausible. My mom and aunts and most women I know who were around before World War 2 could put-up with certain swear words - "damn" and "hell" and probably "bitch", possibly "bastard" and possibly a well-placed "shit". I've seen references to Julia Child herself saying, "Balls!", "Screw it" , the manicotti remark and possibly even giving the finger. But using "fuck" in the middle of a paragraph? I thought that would have been an almost insurmountable problem for many women.
But writer Russ Parsons doesn't think it was just the swearing - he knew Julia and claims that Julie's problems with the recipes seemed to demonstrate a lack of seriousness to Julia. His arguments are pretty good!
After the project had been in swing for a few months it did get noticed, and as she reached the home stretch in August 2003, Julie even allowed herself to joke that if her story were made into a movie, it should star Kate Winslet.
These numbers seem pretty solid: Julia McWilliams Child was born August 15, 1912, graduated from Smith in 1934, worked in advertising, did freelance writing and volunteer work for the Red Cross. She was 29 when the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor threw the USA into World War II. After she joined the OSS she met Paul Child and in September 1946, when she was 34, they were married. The Childs arrived in Paris where Julia met French food in 1948. Cooking school came later. She was 49 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published.
After reading so much about Julie and Julia I liked both of them even more. And it's impossible not to wonder what would have happened if that meeting between Julie & Julia had taken place after the project was completed... would Julie's nervousness make her act like an oaf? Would 90-year old Julia be reminded of her less-formed self at thirty? Maybe Julia would have admired Julie's determination and grit but how would she feel about cooking as a self-help project? Julia first fell in love with the sensual pleasure of eating perfectly cooked French food - only later did she decide to master French Cooking.
Julie, on the other hand, didn't spend much time playing with her food - she pounced on it, killed it, and then laid it as tribute at the feet of the one she loved.
Maybe Julia would have been okay with that eventually - word is she loved cats, and her kitchen in the Smithsonian featured one of my family's favorite Kliban cartoons on its wall
"Love to eat them mousies / Them mousies I love to eat / Bite they little heads off / Nibble they tiny feet."
Some of the sources:
Paul's NYTimes obit tells a lot about his entire life, including the decades before he met Julia.
Here is Julia's NYTimes obit, with mention of the Valentine postcards in the tub.
This MSNBC appreciation of Julia at her death in August 2004 includes biographical notes and quotes.
This NYTimes article from 1997 includes a birthday poem for Julia by Paul, referring to her legs and her "sweetly rounded bottom"
Julia Child celebrates 90 years, Beverly Levitt interview
Julia's Kitchen, now at the Smithsonian
Interview with Julia's namesake Julia Prud'homme
Slackerwood interviews Julie Powell
Natalie Haughton interviews Julie Powell
Reflections on Julia and Meryl by Julia's assistant, Gourmet Magazine Chef Sara Moulton
Julia Child film on American Masters
The Russ Parsons Post - many thanks to ChuckB of MyBack40Feet for leading me to it!
MS Magazine interviews Julia in 2003
Dale Roe on new TV shows - Jane Lynch to be in "Glee"
Looking for Julie and Julia was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.
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