Feeling nostalgic, I re-watched Barry Levinson’s Diner last night, a film that only improves with each viewing. If I get my act together, I’ll do a follow-up post showcasing some screen caps because the clothes in this film are amazing–a sea of button-downs, pea coats and khakis. In the meantime, here is a link to S.L. Price’s “Much Ado About Nothing: How Barry Levinson’s Diner Changed Cinema, 30 Years Later” published in Vanity Fair. Price’s article has a lot of great info on the film and makes a very compelling case for Diner’s place in cinema history.
Yet no movie from the 1980s has proved more influential. Diner has had far more impact on pop culture than the stylistic masterpiece Bladerunner, the indie darling Sex, Lies, and Videotape, or the academic favorites Raging Bull and Blue Velvet. Leave aside the fact thatDiner served as the launching pad for the astonishingly durable careers of Barkin, Paul Reiser, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, and Timothy Daly, plus Rourke and Bacon—not to mention Levinson, whose résumé includes Rain Man, Bugsy, and Al Pacino’s recent career reviver, You Don’t Know Jack. Diner’s groundbreaking evocation of male friendship changed the way men interact, not just in comedies and buddy movies, but in fictional Mob settings, in fictional police and fire stations, in commercials, on the radio. In 2009, The New Yorker’s TV critic Nancy Franklin, speaking about the TNT series Men of a Certain Age, observed that “Levinson should get royalties any time two or more men sit together in a coffee shop.” She got it only half right. They have to talk too.
What Franklin really meant is that, more than any other production, Diner invented … nothing. Or, to put it in quotes: Levinson invented the concept of “nothing” that was popularized eight years later with the premiere of Seinfeld. In Diner (as well as in Tin Men, his 1987 movie about older diner mavens), Levinson took the stuff that usually fills time between the car chase, the fiery kiss, the dramatic reveal—the seemingly meaningless banter (“Who do you make out to, Sinatra or Mathis?”) tossed about by men over drinks, behind the wheel, in front of a cooling plate of French fries—and made it central.
Also worth checking out is director Brian Koppelman’s article on Diner and its influence on his work in this month’s issue of Lucky Peach. Sadly, the article isn’t available online. However, if you haven’t read an issue of Lucky Peach, this is as good an excuse as any to buy one (it also includes a conversation between Anthony Bourdain and Elvis Mitchell where the two make fun of the movie, which makes for funny reading even if I disagree with their assessment).
And the famous sandwich scene: