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The Invention of Nothing
February 11, 2012 5:40 PM   Subscribe

How Barry Levinson's Diner Changed Cinema, 30 Years Later
posted by Artw (33 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Diner is one of my favorite movies. This article nails it pretty well, I think. (My wife says I only like movies where nothing happens, so I guess she's right.)

Levinson has had quite a career since then: Avalon (another fave), Tin Men, Bugsy, The Natural, Donny Brasco, Wag the Dog, Rain Man....
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:03 PM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to watch that again. It has been too long.

Great article.
posted by lampshade at 6:17 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And in 1981, Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre elevated one long conversation into an art-house hit.

It was on page one, but it bears repeating.
posted by Brian B. at 6:18 PM on February 11, 2012


I have never seen Diner. I need to change this.
posted by defenestration at 6:19 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved Diner but hated My Dinner with Andre.
posted by rtha at 6:23 PM on February 11, 2012


Great article, and yeah a favorite movie. One of the few I actually went back and saw a second time in the theater because I was amazed by it's construction. It took a decade or two but hardly any of my friends ever says "You gonna eat that?" any more.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:26 PM on February 11, 2012


Great read, great movie. Thanks.
posted by N-stoff at 6:30 PM on February 11, 2012


So...who would like some popcorn?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:41 PM on February 11, 2012


Oh what a nice article. I loved Diner. And Avalon, and Tin Men, and--once I saw those movies--Baltimore. Levinson made Baltimore romantic and interesting to this suburban kid who was foolish enough to look down her sheltered nose at it.
posted by headnsouth at 6:48 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you liked My Dinner with Andre you're going to love My Breakfast with Blassie!
posted by Meatbomb at 7:28 PM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


And Diner is also an awesome point of convergence for the Kevin Bacon game.
posted by gaspode at 7:29 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's stunning to me that this link shows up the same day that I read here about the tragic death of Jeffrey Zaslow. My wife and I have a shared memory of both of them. When we were dating, about 1987 or so, Zaslow had an advice column in the Chicago Sun-Times which was kind of goofy, he was trying to fill Ann Landers' shoes and seemed like he would answer just about any question, the weirder the better, I guess to distinguish himself from his predecessor. As it happened, my wife and a friend of hers were OBSESSED with Diner at that point in their lives. Constantly quoting from it, not like situationally, but just all the time, and not even acknowledging to each other that it was a quote. Just using Diner lines instead of whatever they would have otherwise said. There was so much random conversation in that film that it just worked for them. Then they somehow found a copy of the script, which were not as easy to come by then as now, and stepped it up even more. They did things like go to see Paul Reiser's standup in a club, just so they could send a roast beef sandwich backstage with the note "You gonna eat that?" (Reiser thought it was hilarious, he brought them back to say hi and yup, they spoke to him in Diner quotes. Big thrill.)

Anyway, the Zazz connection is that around that time I wrote a letter to his advice column, explaining the extent of the Diner preoccupation, and setting it up as something I thought was a serious psychological problem and asking him if I should break off the relationship. I planned to surprise her with it for a laugh. I even threw a couple of Diner quotes into the question.

Zazz answered it in print, in fact made it the headline letter. He answered it straight up, of course, explaining that Diner was a quintessential guy's film, making my girlfriend's obsession particularly strange, and suggesting that she and her friend were possibly trying to work out some kind of subliminal issues, or maybe they were just goofy. He was probably right on both counts, but we got married and have been together 22 years, always thinking of Zazz when we think of Diner, and vice versa. We still have the Sun-Times clipping tucked away somewhere. So it was nice that with the bad news about Zazz came this link about the genius of Diner. Metafilter can sometimes be an understanding buddy that way.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:38 PM on February 11, 2012 [22 favorites]


Thanks, Artw. I enjoyed that.

As far as I know, none of my friends particularly took to Diner, so I'm seriously chuffed to find out that it has so many fans out there, including a bunch of Mefites. It's been one of my favorites forever.

Every time I use (or even hear) the word "nuance" I break into a little grin on the inside.
posted by tangerine at 7:50 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And Diner is also an awesome point of convergence for the Kevin Bacon game.

Law & Order completely ruined that game.
posted by sparkletone at 7:50 PM on February 11, 2012


I know what film I'm rewatching
posted by Renoroc at 7:54 PM on February 11, 2012


rtha I loved Diner but hated My Dinner with Andre.

I loved Diner but hated Seinfeld.

Levinson invented the concept of “nothing” that was popularized eight years later with the premiere of Seinfeld.

Harvey Pekar got there first, by a decade.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:27 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And to think this movie lost best original screenplay to "Ghandi" I mean, WTF? What's original about that?

Saw this film in Stockton, California. Movies like that made me feel human, not talked down to and that a larger world existed outside Stockton. For me the dialogue was like Cole Porter lyrics. It made you want to listen. It knocked me on my ass and was a good time of my life to see. Me and my drama buds actually tried to perform the dialogue in the diner for acting class. It was awful. The character who quotes "Sweet Smell of Success" is classic and made even more so when I actually saw the film.

Glad this movie is finally getting it's due!
posted by goalyeehah at 8:43 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post if for no other reason than providing an opportunity to mention Diner's producer Jerry Weintraub, who is one of the great characters in show business. Here he is on Jimmy Kimmel, telling "the Ferguson story."

(also, if for some reason you happen to find yourself listening to the cast commentary on the DVD of Ocean's 11, you'll find that Matt Damon does an awesome impersonation of Weintraub)
posted by ShutterBun at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2012


It's a smile.
posted by Ickster at 9:30 PM on February 11, 2012


Thanks Artw. I just managed to ah find a copy. I don't recall having seen it. Nice way to while away a wet sunday arvo.
posted by peacay at 9:38 PM on February 11, 2012


My Diner With Andre, where Wallace Shown is forced to answer Baltimore Colts trivia from Andre Gregory and Steve Gutenberg for three hours.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:06 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Im ah, found a copy as well. On a related note: I'm learning how to say a lot of interesting slang words in Swedish.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:26 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Diner is one of my favorite movies of all time. The slow lingering shot of the ketchup bottles, the guy who eats everything on the menu, Michael Tucker's authentic Baltimore accent which got him the role of Bagel, the Colts fight song playing at the wedding, the cars pulling out of the parking lot as the blue glow of the dawn rises up... oh god it's a wonderful film.

The one scene which kills me every time, though, is when Daniel Stern's trying to explain to Ellen Barkin why each and every record in his expansive collection is so important to him. He can name the exact song that was playing when they met. Barkin's character doesn't understand that this is the connection that Stern as Shrevie needs to make. He cares about their moment, he cares about their relationship, he really does, but the song is what he needs to bring him back to the memory. Barkin still doesn't understand. It's the best Shrevie can do when it comes to emotional attachment.

It breaks my heart every time. I love this movie.
posted by Spatch at 11:55 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Levinson invented the concept of “nothing” that was popularized eight years later with the premiere of Seinfeld.

Harvey Pekar got there first, by a decade.


Chekhov got there first, by a century.

(Good article!)
posted by HeroZero at 5:09 AM on February 12, 2012


Without Diner, it becomes much more difficult to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
posted by absalom at 7:03 AM on February 12, 2012


I love this movie. Kevin Bacon's portrayal of Fenwick was so beautifully layered. And I found Ellen Barkin just captivating. What a piece of casting that was.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:33 AM on February 12, 2012


Levinson made Baltimore romantic and interesting to this suburban kid who was foolish enough to look down her sheltered nose at it.

If you want to see more Baltimore portrayed as interesting, you should watch more John Waters movies.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 AM on February 12, 2012


Man, I'd totally forgotten this movie. Even now all I remember about it is Paul Reiser and that I loved it. I'd better watch it again.
posted by cmoj at 9:00 AM on February 12, 2012


If you want to see more Baltimore portrayed as interesting, you should watch more John Waters movies.

Oh I watched them too, for sure. But while John Waters' movies were full of characters, Barry Levinson's movies were full of people.
posted by headnsouth at 12:38 PM on February 12, 2012


The only thing I've ever seen from Diner is that awful scene where the guy basically psychologically abuses his poor girlfriend because she had the audacity to touch his stupid records. As a person who cares a lot about my record collection, I have to say that seeing that scene on Youtube really bugged me, and made me vow to myself that I'd never act that ridiculously entitled; it's an easy kind of sexism to fall into, and I really want to avoid that.

Can someone tell me if that character is treated as sympathetic or not? If so, I'll continue to avoid the film, but if not I think I'd like to watch the whole thing.
posted by koeselitz at 8:55 PM on February 12, 2012


This scene?
posted by Artw at 9:39 PM on February 12, 2012


koeselitz, if I recall correctly, the fallout from that scene was that Ellen Barkin's character really started to question her relationship with the Daniel Stern character. Without giving the plot away, I'll say that there were some ramifications for how he treated her there.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:18 AM on February 13, 2012


koeselitz, I certainly didn't find that scene as inspiring as someone here upstream mentioned it was for them. I saw the film for the first time after this thread was posted. I believe if you read the posted article it will help place the importance of that record scene in the overall context of a group of young males awkwardly negotiating their way towards adult relationships with women. It might also help reading Ebert's review of the film too.

So, while I can relate to why you find that record scene disturbing on its own, I would argue that it's a very necessary observation of how the combo of youth, ignorance and growing up in that time and place with that group of friends contributes to a stunted view and expectation of women. In this case I'd very much recommend seeing the whole film and not dismissing it for that scene alone.

I suppose the character of Shrevie (record dude) is treated somewhat sympathetically, or at least, it can be seen that way in terms of his role in the central and absorbing interaction of our six male protagonists. Their scene, their banter and their relationships with one another are treated sympathetically. The record moment is somewhat peripheral to that. But Shrevie drives off from that scene crying and singing along with the music playing in his car. He's vulnerable and confused and can't understand why his wife doesn't see music and his records in the same way he does. I think he knows he's inadequate even if it's not overtly stated. It's a single patch in a larger quilt. See it, it's an important movie.
posted by peacay at 7:20 AM on February 13, 2012


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