The dinner table; a place for families, friends, acquaintances, and strangers to meet and break bread, settle business deals, discuss the days behind, and the days ahead. For as longs as I can remember and surely many hundreds of years beyond that, the dinner table, in whatever shape it may have been, was and still is a place of connection.
I have always been fascinated by a director’s use of dinner scenes within film. I decided to begin this writing series with one of my favorite. Dinner For One, written by Lauri Wylie and directed by Heinz Dunkhase, takes place entirely around a dinner table. Although a short film, roughly 18 minutes, it was originally created for the theater but was released on German television in July 1963. The film stars three British Actors, May Warden, Freddie Frinton, and a tiger skin carpet.
We take a journey through an evening of celebration, laughter, loneliness, and togetherness with Miss Sophie and her butler, James. At the youthful age of 90, Miss Sophie finds the time to always celebrate her birthday, and more interestingly enough, her four friends always attend. Well, not exactly! James, her faithful and heavy-footed butler walks around the well-set table impersonating all of Miss Sophie’s friends. James serves up the food, alcohol, and laughs as he drinks for four through all four courses, feeling the impact of the libations as the evening progresses. After the alcohol has been poured he turns to Miss Sophie and states, “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” to which she replies, “The same procedure as every year, James!” He proceeds to toast Miss Sophie in different and unique voices and personalities as he works his way around the dinner table. Finally, the scene ends with James helping Miss Sophie up the stairs. Again James asks, “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” to which she again replies, “ The same procedure as every year, James!” and off they retire to presumably Miss Sophie’s quarters.
The underlying food motif of this short film is simple and direct. As we grow old, many of our friends and family will pass, but we can remember and honor them through continuing the traditions we shared with them. The dinner table has been a place for celebration for many years. Miss Sophie more than likely shared 70 or more birthday dinners with her good friends. Yet, when her friends were no longer able to attend, she continued with her dinner ritual and kept their memories alive. The dinner table is a powerful tradition that is often reinforced at a young age. I can personally remember my family’s Sunday dinners. It did not matter how busy things were, the family sat down across from each other and shared great food. Although modest, the Sunday dinners taught me to always take time for family and friends, no matter how busy, no matter what the circumstances. Miss Sophie and Dinner For One exemplify the importance of the dinner table in our seemingly non-stop, fast-paced lives.