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Slideshow

PREVIOUSLY PLAYED

THE AUTOMAT

Must End Thursday

12:15   5:50 

Produced and Directed by Lisa Hurwitz

Iconic, elegant, and populist all at once: the Automat (aka Horn & Hardart) revolutionized American dining a century ago, long before there was fast food or hipster coffee shops. An eclectic mix of New Yorkers inserted nickels into slots, and slices of lemon meringue pie, mac & cheese, baked beans, and creamed spinach magically appeared from a grid of gleaming chrome windows. Then there was the eatery’s signature 5-cent coffee, cascading from ornate dolphin-headed spouts. Mel Brooks (who sings an homage he wrote specifically for the film), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner, and others pay effusive tribute to this communal Art Deco home away from home. Says Brooks: “You didn’t need a lot of money. You needed a lot of nickels.” Debut filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz collages rare artifacts, images, and memorabilia (including personal photos and deeply affectionate stories from former employees and the founding family) to create a love letter to the New York many of us still remember.

2021    79 MINS.    USA

Reviews

“Sweet and shaggy. An engrossing tale of cultural harmony. Plunge(s) us… into states of delight and visceral lament. Feels like the key to some lock on the American soul. Rapturous accounts of the women who changed dollars into nickels… Brooks goes gaga at the thought of the Automat’s coconut custard. ‘God made that,’ he says.”
– Wesley Morris, The New York Times

“(THE AUTOMAT) is something special. I loved (the film) for its mixture of fragrant recollections and astute social history. What’s surprising in the extreme is how moving the film can be in evoking those places of welcome during an era of American optimism.”
– Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

“4 (out of 5) STARS. A valentine to pie and a nickel coffee. Hurwitz resists the temptation to turn this story into parable about corporate capitalism, She never loses sight of the deeper reason for our interest: our longing for togetherness in whatever form it takes.
– Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

“Impressive. Boasts unmistakable charms. The undesignated narrator is Mel Brooks. Hurwitz supplements the talking heads with tasty archival footage and sharp graphics. Her film is sleek and unpretentious. It wins us over with humor and a pointed touch of melancholy.”
– Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

Film Forum