Jun 29 2017

Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table is another Netflix biopic worth a look

maureen


As a foodie and lover of New Orleans, the documentary Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table was a great Netflix find. Oscar and Emmy nominated director Leslie Iwerks chronicles the life of Ella Brennan, owner of famed New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace. This documentary covers a lot of bases. It’s a clinic on success in the hospitality industry. It’s a feminist tale about women who excel and lead through dedication, confidence, and hard work. It’s a story about family relationships. It’s a revealing look at how cuisine evolves. It’s another powerful Katrina recovery story. It’s about starting over when life is a mess.

Told through a series of interviews and voice-over narration the documentary serves as an entertaining overview of Ella’s life. 18-year-old Ella Brennan started out working in her brother’s bar on Bourbon Street and became an international influence on cuisine and mentor to some great chefs including Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. So many of the sub-plots in Ella’s real life story could have been documentaries of their own.

My favorite thread running through this documentary was Ella Brennan’s self-education. She knew nothing about food when she got started. She read. She talked to people who knew. She traveled to places where popular cuisine was being developed. She tried out new ideas. She formed relationships with influencers and shared ideas. Success doesn’t seem to be about the fame or the money for her. Her motives appears to be that she wants to offer customers a great dining experience and nurture creativity and community among her employees. Ella Brennan, even an 91, seems to be genuinely interested in continuing to learn and grow. Anyone who wants to be successful in any field can learn from Ella’s example.

I loved the restoration cycle in her story as well. Brennan’s is a famous New Orleans restaurant. From the early 1950’s until 1974 Ella Brennan poured herself into making it one of the best restaurants in the world. Just as Ella was going through a painful divorce she was fired from the restaurant that bore her family’s name. She started over as a single mother in her 50’s with Commander’s Palace, which was far from a palace when she took it over. She built that into something even greater. It was heavily damaged by Katrina. Ella, then in her 70’s, was a driving force in rebuilding it with other family members. Eventually Brennan’s came back into the family and Ella walked back in after 40 years.

Where you stop telling a story determines its genre. So many people make tragedies of their own stories by setting themselves up for failure or quitting in defeat. Stop Ella’s story at being 18, uneducated, and a woman and you get a story about the path of least resistance. Stop Ella’s story at being fired and you get a story about failure and family villains. Stop at Katrina and you get a disaster story. Stop at the pinnacle of success and you get a shallow fable. It’s refreshing to watch a story in which someone’s attitude and choices tell a story about an abundant and successful life. The last scenes in the film show Ella, at 91 is still not through learning or telling her story.

 

 

 

 


Jun 4 2015

Game of Thrones’ religious zealots and freedom lovers

maureen

AryaI’ve got a few musings on Game of Thrones. I noticed a couple of parallel themes concerning religious zealots and freedom. I have no idea whether this was intentional by the show’s creators or simply a projection of themes I’ve been pondering personally, but here are my thoughts:

Cersei possesses some of the qualities I find most reprehensible. She grasps for power, wealth and position. She manipulates, lies, and betrays to get her way and cover herself. Trying to use the Faith Militants to get at the Tyrells backfired. Now she’s locked in her own dungeon by the Sparrows, religious zealots who worship the Seven, until she confesses her sins. I’m not sure Game of Thrones could have done anything that would make me root for Cersei Lannister, but I find religious enforcers just as reprehensible as everything Cersei represents. Cersei is resisting and I’m pulling for her.

Forced confession and repentance is not confession and repentance at all. Making people comply to religious rules and bow to religious authority is not redemptive.

Melisandre takes compliance a step further.  She serves the Lord of Light that her religion teaches is the one true god. She uses sex as conversion therapy, has visions at the most convenient times, and, when those coercions fail, sacrifices those who won’t convert in a big bonfire. She’s convinced Stannis that he is the reincarnation of one of her religion’s legendary heroes and that her religious practices are responsible for his victories. She is now trying to convince Stannis that offering his daughter as the next human sacrifice is the only way to assure his next victory. I don’t know whether Melisandre is scarier as a true believer or a master manipulator. Is Stannis finally going to wake up?

The message “convert or die” is a sure sign that dark forces are at work no matter what the messenger calls the god.

Arya Stark goes to sleep whispering the names of heinous people who have hurt her and her family. The litany of names reinforces her hatred for the people on her list and her determination to see them pay. We pull for her. We want her to get revenge. But now she’s come to the House of Black and White, this strange cult that worships the many-faced god, a conglomeration of all the other gods worshipped in the GofT universe. They focus on the god of death in each of these other religions. They seem to believe that assassination is an act of mercy carried out as dispassionate religious ritual. Part of Arya’s training is that she deny her identity so she can learn to change her face and lie. Not all in, Arya hid her sword Needle in the rocks instead of disposing of it as she was told. Are the names fading? Is Arya the acolyte actually going to drink the kool-aid? I hope not.

If you are going to make a litany of the names of your enemies, maybe it’s more constructive to make it a prayer of goodwill for them. Forgiveness is freedom.

Tyrion and Daenerys had a heart-to-heart about compromise. Daenerys has been conflicted about how to implement her ideals as ruler. She’s rightly uncomfortable with the idea that she might be endorsing violence by allowing it. She’s already compromised and resorted to killing to establish her power. Now she’s got an advisor in Tyrion who is telling her she’s wise to continue on this course “for the greater good.” The alternative is to become the High Sparrow. This is an alliance that has some legs. Can’t wait to see what comes next for Tyrion and Daenerys.

Sometimes the cost of leading free people is to leave room for them to choose evil with the hope of leading them to choose good. It’s a tough and messy course.

Jon Snow, now leader of the Night’s Watch, allies with the Wildings to fight the White Walker invasion. He’s not out for power or to change their way of life. He’s offering a mutually beneficial alternative to all of them becoming wights, the GofT version of zombie servants of the Walkers. Could the head Walker, aka The Night King, be the long lost Benjen Stark from Season 1? Is Jon Snow’s demise going to the Ned Stark shocker for Season 5? I hope not. My theory is that Jon’s mother is a Targaryen and that Jon and Daenerys are the match that can win the game. If that doesn’t pan out my money’s on the Direwolves.

“Give me liberty of give me death” takes on a whole new meaning when being free means living on the other side of the wall.

Ask the Maester is great source of explanation for all things Gof T. Check it out.