Jew your food
A celebration of ethnicity and expression through food, Deli Man rapidly covers ground. Swapping between cities on both coasts (and more) with a decided focus on New York, the film is as much a historical document on the effects of immigration as it is an alluring view of admittedly unhealthy eats.
At a time when immigrants are caught in a torrent of political election babble, Deli Man showcases their importance. Delicatessens are portrayed as nostalgic, critical cornerstones of Jewish communities. Yet as a business, they’re disintegrating. What was once hundreds of restaurants in New York alone has shrunk to three.
Importantly, Deli Man keeps itself upbeat despite the loss. Interviews with Larry King and Jerry Stiller are pleasing blips, but it’s deli owner Ziggy Gruber who stars. A portly, always smiling, proudly Jewish man who took over his grandfather’s business, Ziggy’s enthusiasm is enough to see why these small businesses are crucial – not only to those who run them for their (limited) financial rewards, but those patrons who return daily. This is family.
… it’s the people who are the draw.
… it’s the people who are the draw.
Pride becomes everything. Pride in business. Pride in culture. Pride in food. Deli Man embeds itself in all of those aspects. Surprisingly, it’s enthralling, and not in the way food documentaries usually are. Cameras of course pan over stacks of pastrami and sandwiches stacked high enough to measured in feet, but it’s the people who are the draw. Personalities and celebrities speak on their food – and it’s very much THEIR food – while discussing how their childhood years hooked them on these meats.
Through their words, it’s almost too easy to understand their passion. Delis are romanticized. The hours worked, the families ignored; those elements create personal relationships with the business. That type of connection transfers to a viewer.
Then there is the reality. A changing exterior face of New York, the radicalization of the food, and a loss of tradition. It’s all inevitable and all necessary. Some frown, others celebrate, and more adapt. Scenes where generations share their memories – now replaced by storefronts or hipster joints – cap Deli Man. Those are endearing moments. They will stick around even if the delis cannot, letting Deli Man be a historical document dissecting a period of immigration where borders opened and business leaders were not CEOs, but the family who stacked meat sandwiches beyond their limits. What a wonderful time that must have been and what a wonderful feature this is.
Low budget and shot on a variety of cameras – some good, some not so much – Deli Man will only look as stout as the lens lets it. Usually, it’s middling. Signs of sharpening are regular and SD-level footage are frequent. Aliasing on exterior neon signs is bothersome and will travel indoors too.
Fine detail is present during interviews. They’re shot in close-up with vibrant contrast in most cases. In some, it’s too much and the speakers appear blown out with aggressive highlights. Unnatural color is then brought in to even things out. This rarely works.
Historical footage has been left untouched no matter the source. A slew of still archival pictures are presented with superior clarity though, building a visible timeline.
Interviews are often conducted while the delis are open. This means background noises of dishes clanging and the murmur of patrons talking. Audio holds, making sure the speaker is clear and in audible focus.
Ethnic songs and religious hyms make up the soundtrack, well spread into the soundfield. This also provides a kick of LFE to enjoy. For such a small feature, the 5.1 mixing is well considered, at least in terms of music.
Bonuses comprise themselves of extended interviews or conversations, beginning with a 40-minute cluster which were cut from the finished film. With the exception of a short surprise (which is labeled as such), the four remaining two-to-five minute clips are focused on specific topics. There is little reason why they were not thrown into the 40-minute bundle.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.