I have just seen this wonderful film for the third time, after many years, and it is such a classic, and has not lost any of its interest or appeal. Indeed, it is more relevant now than it ever was, considering that it is about the plight of women and how they cope with their various life situations. It is based on a novel, and has a screenplay by, Fannie Flagg. It is set in Alabama where she comes from, and the story presumably has some basis in truth. Not many people know that Fannie Flagg used to be a brilliant comedienne. I knew her in the mid 1960s when she was a stand-up comic, and she was hilarious. She used to perform at a marvellous comedy cabaret night club in Manhattan, now long gone, which had two floors. The upstairs was called Upstairs at the Downstairs, and the downstairs was called Downstairs at the Upstairs. It was at 37 West 56th Street and was run by an amusing and eccentric woman whose name I have forgotten, alas. Fannie played there at the same time as Madeline ('Maddy') Kahn, who was also wildly funny. Fannie told me she had wanted to perform under her own real name of Patricia Neal, but was told by her agent or manager, I believe, that she could not do that because there was a famous film actress of that name already, so she invented the name Fannie Flagg for herself. It was only years later that she wrote this marvellous heart-felt novel, which was rejected by many publishers, but which finally came out and then resulted in this film. And it is this which really made Fannie Flag famous. The film was shot in Georgia, which is next door to Alabama. But the story is mostly set in Alabama in a little town called Whistle Stop. That name arose because it was a settlement situated beside the railroad. Many small Southern towns fell into desuetude (i.e. withered away) when the railroads started collapsing, after the construction of the interstate highway system, which shifted so much travel and freight transport onto roads and destroyed the rail industry, from the 1950s onwards. In this film which takes place at two different times, during the pre-War period which constitutes the earlier story, the two young women, Idgie and Ruth, open a railside café called The Whistle Stop Café. In those years, it thrived and became the heart of the town, where everyone went to eat real home cooking, which included the favourite local delicacy, fried green tomatoes, which were sliced and fried in batter in what in the South is called a skillet, which is an old 17th century English word for a frying pan, the word surviving only in the American South and nowhere else. (I still fry my eggs and bacon in an old iron family skillet which was cast in the family forge at Taunton, Massachusetts, in the 17th or 18th century. We have been using that skillet for many generations. Just imagine how many bacon fat molecules survive in the crystalline interstices of the cast iron after those centuries of use every morning. The outside of the skillet looks like something dug up by an archaeologist, but the inside is shiny and ready for anything. But this question arises: can bacon fat go rancid after a century or two? It does seem to improve the flavour anyway. However, I am ashamed to say that I have never fried any green tomatoes, which is doubtless a great personal failing of mine. The skillet has thus been deprived of what Ruth and Idgie would perhaps consider to be its main function, to deal with those green tomatoes.) Idgie, who is a hopeless cook, cannot prepare them, so Ruth has to do it. Throughout the film people keep tasting them to see if they are up to standard. The modern story of the film consists of tales told by an old lady in a retirement home to a much younger woman, and the effect this has on transforming her life. That younger woman is played by Kathy Bates, whose performance is breathtaking in its sensitivity and brilliance. But then, Kathy Bates has always been one of everybody's favourite and most endearing actresses, and we all know what a genius she is. The old woman is played equally brilliantly by the famous Jessica Tandy, veteran of a lifetime of superlative achievements in both stage and screen. Before TV wiped all the brains of the public as clean as a virgin hard disc, people used to tell stories, and there was such a thing as verbal communication. (And people didn't even have to use their thumbs to communicate, like today's simian-thumbed and simian-brained text messagers.) This film is all about the power of stories to stir the imagination and transform lives. Even as late as the 1960s, some old women still survived in the South who could tell stories for hours on end. They are all gone now, and it is like what happened after the time of Homer, when the last of the bards died. The best rendering in fiction of the 'power of stories' is probably the novella by Mircea Eliade entitled THE OLD MAN AND THE BUREAUCRATS. (Eliade wrote the story of Coppola's film YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, 2007, though that film was very disappointing and a poor adaptation.) The stories told by Jessica Tandy are about Idgie and Ruth. In those lengthy flashback sequences, the two young women are brilliantly portrayed by the two Mary's, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Mary-Louise Parker. Certainly this is one of the greatest 'sisterhood' films ever made. Their story is full of love, pain, pathos, loss, tragedy, and joy. Not unlike life. If you can see this without shedding a tear, then there is no hope for you. Good old Fannie, may she long keep flying her Flagg.
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