Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie & Julia

Tonight, I finally saw Julie & Julia. My appreciation of the film is biased enough that it's almost not worth mentioning if I liked it or not, although I did. Meryl Streep nailed Julia's voice, Amy Adams was deeply palatable and Susan Spungen's food styling made both Mike and I immediately go home and look through the fridge.

Mike and I were in Paris last summer and stumbled onto filming for Julie & Julia along Rue Mouffetard, just around the corner from a friend's flat where we were staying. I stood a few feet from Nora Ephron and watched Meryl Streep come and go on the set. (At present, a television network will be airing a film version of my book shot on location in Paris.)

I read Julie & Julia before it was published in the galley format, back in 2005 when my own book was being shopped around to publishers. I had already poked through some of the Julie/Julia Project online when I was 37, like Julia, and attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Forever I've harbored a fierce and abiding love for Julia Child. I met her back in 1994 at the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers. Randomly, I met Amanda Hesser then, too. She later went on to be a food writer for The New York Times who helped create a sensation around Julie Powell's blog, and she makes a cameo appearance as herself in the film.

But clouding the whole thing has been this crazy "controversy" around whether or not bloggers "hate" Julie Powell. Seriously.

Newsweek ran a story headlined "Stop Hating Julie Powell." The Huffington Post even felt compelled to run a "summary" about the controversy.

Food writer Virginia Willis is arguably one of the people in the culinary industry I respect the most. She aired her thoughts in a much-reported post on the subject. Willis' main beef about Powell was that she took on a tone of disrespect, questioning one of Child's chicken recipes, and fair enough. Roast chicken represents sacred ground to a lot of cooks, including me.

But for the rest of it, Willis seemed more critical of the media and the publishing industry than of Powell directly. In today's world, food writers aren't rewarded for their expertise; rather it's all about "platform." Food Network stars sell lots of books, even if they aren't necessarily trained or knowledgeable cooks. What Willis aired was not sour grapes, but the frustration that many writers feel when someone without a writing background such as Powell gets a big-deal book contract and a national forum to write op-ed pieces in The New York Times while other perhaps more deserving food writers are left hungry, so to speak.
Powell doesn't seem to disagree. In 2003, she noted "I am, in fact, officially What's Wrong With Publishing Today," when first disclosing her book deal.

Aware of all this, the day before the film opened, I went for a good comrade gesture and posted a comment on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The gist was that I liked the book Julie & Julia. I'm proud to have Julie Powell is my Facebook friend. (We've never met in person.)

The response? I was hated on via Twitter, and via email. Nearly 20 people stopped following me immediately on Twitter. "Did you know that she called 9/11 victims whiners?" or "How could you defend her? She HATES bloggers, she said so."

On my Facebook entry, a noted culinary icon took Powell to task and pair had a bit of tete-a-tete over the weekend. In over-simplified terms, the older woman took offence to Julie's swearing and drinking, Julie replied back that it's her life, so whatever. In the end, it appeared more of a generational gap than anything else. They both graciously noted that when you're a public person, sometimes people just harsh on you. The exchange came to a concilatory conclusion, which made me like them both even more.

To me, it seems that if Powell offended bloggers it's been more out of ambivalence than malice. She never considered herself part of the club, and once reported she found a lot of them boring. One site reported that she found bloggers evil and clannish, and sure, that's not nice, but she quickly added that she, too, could sometimes be evil and clannish. (Added on 11th July: I think that she was making a joke taken out of context - KF)

The biggest issue seems to be that in asserting herself as an author, she rejected the role of blogger, and that's what irks people the most. But titles are complex these days. I don't consider myself a blogger per se, but here I am writing on my blog. I don't consider myself a chef, either, even though I'm usually billed that way.

As someone who has penned a memoir, I've suffered through unpleasant personal attacks in Amazon reviews and discussed intimate details of my life with inane interviewers who never cracked my book. I once had a vapid TV host ask me on the air -- live -- whether I planned to have kids, just weeks after wrenching reproductive surgery.

It's my hope that now that the film has released, the herd will shift and this will all die down. I don't know Powell, so it's not about defending her personally. I feel a bit of kinship with any author or blogger who has had to deal with bad reviews, nasty comments or just the sometimes unflattering glare of the spotlight.

Misery loves company. Writers should stick together.

(Photo of Meryl Streep and the Paris on-location set by Mike Klozar; photo of Julie Powell by Ken Lambert of The Seattle Times)

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Blogger Suzie the Foodie said...

I was shocked to see the nasty comments via Amazon about Julie's book and wrote to defend her a while ago and the comments have just gotten meaner. My biggest criticism with the movie is they tone down her aggressive personality into something insipid and boring and that is not her at all, at least how she portrays herself in the book.

Good for you for being her Facebook friend and standing up for her! I can understand your feeling on kinship with her, your foodie paths were very different but still it's all about the love of food.

Who says we have to like everybody and what's wrong with not liking everybody? She is just being true to herself which is what I loved about her in the book. She was so real that I think it unnerved a lot of people.

August 10, 2009 at 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Amber said...

To be honest, I can agree with Julie Powel on a lot of things. Bloggers can be clannish and boring.

I'm fairly new to the food blogging game - I started doing it after reading Pioneer Woman's blog. It never occured to me to do, but once the idea was in my head, I couldn't let it go.

Right off the bat, my introduction to food blogging has not been nice. Pioneer Woman, alerted to my blog by none other than me, then "borrowed" one of my posts without giving me credit.

Many of the food bloggers I've met are very cliquish, and have no desire to include newbies that are still sorting out how to use their camera and light, or who don't cook with fish, but do cook with butter and beef.

It can be very frustrating when you reach out and get your hand slapped as not good enough.

So personally, I like Julie Powel on principle, because plenty of other food bloggers don't. It really just seems like jealousy that she managed to have an idea that caught on and garnered attention.

I loved your post, and your book looks fabulous. I'm always looking for new 'foodie' books to read, so I'll be picking this up.

August 10, 2009 at 7:26 AM  
Blogger Leigh C. said...

My biggest beef with Julie's portrayal in the movie is that it makes her out to be a Julia Child worshiper, which she isn't - at least, not to the Amy Adams-bright-eyed-dress-like-Julia extreme. If Nora Ephron had stuck with the certainty of ingredients coming together to make chocolate cream that Julie-the-character had expressed early on in the movie, I think it would have been a much more interesting flick that way.

Having said that, I liked the movie very much and love Julie's book. It makes me want to run out and get "My Life In France" now and reread "Julie and Julia" for the third time.

August 10, 2009 at 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathleen, I agree with your assessment on Virginia Willis' piece. It IS frustrating to see someone who has done nothing more than put together a navel-gazing blog get a big six-figure book contract, when someone like me has been slogging it out for years getting less than $10k. Powell is taking the heat for some other young bloggers who got book deals in her wake, too.

I saw the exchange you mention on your Facebook. Was I crazy about the swearing, and did I think she drank too much? I'm old-fashioned, so yes. But why do we forgive Anthony Bourdain, and embrace his "bad boy" attitude but then attack Julie for the same thing? It's not just writers who need to stick together but WOMEN who have been stuck with double standards for years! In the end, I just have to say, Go Julie.

August 10, 2009 at 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anna said...

Very thoughtful post.

August 10, 2009 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

People love bullshit titles - and the enforcement of them - don't they?

My problem with the film was that it went to pains to depict Julia Child accurately while doing the opposite for Julie Powell. The book was so multifacted and complex and honest. The film portrayal of her was beyond cliche.

August 10, 2009 at 11:00 AM  
OpenID danamccauley said...

I haven't read Julie Powell's blog or her book and I haven't seen the movie. That said, I whole heartedly agree with our parting statement that we writers need to stick together. Life is too short to spend your time being negative and whiny. Go have fun instead.

August 10, 2009 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Wow. Bravo to you for taking into account all sides. Truly thoughtful.

August 10, 2009 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Thank you for writing this! I've never understood the hate. I liked the blog, loved the book and am looking forward to the movie.

August 10, 2009 at 12:17 PM  
Anonymous A Cook said...

Great post.

I've been sort of disgusted w/all the hate being tossed around by Powell-hating-bloggers who are showing their true - and ugly - colors all over their blogs.

On top of that, I've recently been disappointed by how some bloggers who I actually thought were pretty cool are exhibiting this holier-than-thou attitude and letting their popularity/fame get to their heads. To the point they’re being extremely disrespectful to cooks/chefs who have been working in kitchens all their lives.

One thing is to state your opinion on your experience at X or Y restaurant. Feel free. Opinions are like belly buttons, we all have one. Another thing is to assume a year or teo of cooking at home, dining out, taking pretty pictures of your entrees and writing about it trumps decades of real kitchen/cooking experience.

To them I say, don't forget where you came from and check your ego at the door. When you've worked 14, 16, 18, 20 hours, in a hot kitchen, on your feet, for shit pay, with no days off in WEEKS, THEN go ahead and write about food and gastronomy. Until then, simmer down with all that hate and envy directed at one of your own.

As one of your posters wrote, we love Tony for being himself and speaking his mind and being unapologetic about it all, yet the cattiness coming out of so many FEMALE bloggers aimed @ Powell is just High School drama making its way into blogs. Envy rears its ugly head once again. Surprise, surprise. When did bloggers become highly sensitive teenage girls and get all catty and clickish? And for the record, I’m female.

The chick has an opinion, she states it, and doesn't apologize for it. Isn't that the same thing y'all do in your own blogs? Why the hypocrisy?

Now I understand why so many of my chef/cook friends/colleagues who cook for a living – and I quote – "can't stand food bloggers." We can be just as critical as the next person. If we were to write blogs where we exposed out thoughts on all the food bloggers out there, so many feelings would be hurt and egos crushed that it would be a verbal bloodbath.

Now THAT should be made into a book and then a movie. ;)

But we don’t. We stay in our kitchens and do our jobs: we cook. We know our place. Do you know yours?

August 10, 2009 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Kat -
This is a wonderful writeup and hits spot on in several areas. You discussed several different avenues for writers at your seminar in April, including the rare (but occasional) blog-to-book success story. I think the proverbial bottom line is that it's all creative writing, regardless of whether it's for a Facebook or Twitter audience, or intended to generate a book deal. The food community has gotten huge, with both writers and chefs, and I for one enjoy it all.

August 10, 2009 at 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the older woman (alas) who said she didn't find the four letter words or drinking stories edifying and therefore didn't like reading the book, I stand by the right to spend time and money as I wish. That said, without Julie Powell, there would not be this wonderful movie, and since Julie's book inspired this, and she has an enormous following, I agree I am an old fuddy duddy. In reading and re-reading Virginia Willis' interviews and her original email, I didn't feel Julie Powell was attacked at all. I felt Virginia said she thought Julie's four letter words as boring as, apparently, Julie Powell finds those of us in the "established" food world. It was not that Julie didn't like Julia's chicken -- there is no obligation to do that -- but that she dissed her while doing that, and taking no responsibility for how she, Julie, cooked it. We are all sensitive about our recipes, and what is the sense in saying someone's twenty year old recipe caused your chicken to be dry? Talking about your oven, the size of the chicken, the fact that chickens have changed, immeasurably, in twenty years, and that because of that change, chickens have to be bumped up a lot more in flavor, would be less hostile to Julia and more edifying to those reading. But, as I said, without Julie Powell, there would not be this movie. I like the Julie in the movie, and love the Julia. Thank you Julie Powell! And may you make scads of money and live to write the books you wanted to write. I want every woman I know to make money, work at doing something they love doing, and make the world a better place. And Julie Powell did all of that!
Nathalie Dupree

August 10, 2009 at 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Tinky said...

Kat--Kudos to you not only for going into the ins and outs of this controversy but also for starting this lively discussion about what writers are, what cooks are, and what bloggers are!

I have only one thought to add to the mix: the movie is a movie, written by Nora Ephron; it's not supposed to be the "real" Julie or Julia.

By the way, I like both of them, on and off the screen. Smart women with a sense of humor who can cook. Who among us wouldn't identify?

August 10, 2009 at 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loosely follow only one blog (this one) out of personal interest for Kathleen's "journey". I am amazed at how seriously people get emotionally involved with all of this. I would like to interject that there is a whole world beyond this computer. Get out and enjoy it!

August 11, 2009 at 6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julie Powell owes you a drink, or maybe three. I don't know many people who would have the courage and the self conviction or the sense of justice to write what you did.

This post changed the dialogue within the blogging world. Sure, some people will not change their opinions but it suddenly made it uncool to just randomly rant her without reason.

Quite impressive, really. Thank you, Kathleen.

August 13, 2009 at 6:47 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

I think it's hard to make your blog different from all the others out there these days. Even after the movie there are tons of copy cat websites and blogs and they are all miserable to read.. I actually enjoyed the movie and LOVE reading unique interesting blogs.. such as this one.
Digital Kitchen Scale

June 26, 2010 at 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone I work with visits your blog frequently and recommended it to me to read too. The writing style is great and the content is top-notch. Thanks for the insight you provide the readers!

January 25, 2011 at 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was really inspiring I loved it, thanks a ton to bring me back and more closer to my real self and my family.

January 25, 2011 at 6:55 PM  

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