Lydia Tenaglia’s Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is a sumptuous accomplishment in three main ways. The first is that the tangle of gastronomic documentaries and foodie films mainly confine themselves to a shot of the delicious dishes and revere the chefs and culinary masters to such a large degree that they come across as all quite similar to each other.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent stands alone because the venerated Jeremiah Tower is celebrated on his own merit, and while the talking heads are reverent at times, the reasons for his disappearance from the culinary foodscape is explored in great detail, and not always in a way that makes him seem sympathetic or not held responsible for his own actions. It’s tough to hold a person accountable in a feature that is celebrating their life, but Tenaglia does so in a spirited fashion, opting for a slow reveal.
The second way that this film stands far above the rest is that it is cinematic, as a stunning opening few shots and fine taste is musicality (classical instead of jangling), makes the aesthetics of the film more refined, befitting the form as well as the content. This film cries out to be seen on not only a large screen, but an elegant screen as well. The film celebrates the craft of film-making as much as good eating. In fact, the lingering memories are those of refined living and the slow reveal towards the arching narrative of the film is a valuable one to foodies and non-foodies, but especially to the ones that celebrate chef culture.
Now the third way is a difficult one to describe without giving away a major reason to watch the film, but the film is one of layers and reveals and refinement. The question of who Jeremiah Tower is and what drives his return is predicated by Teneglia as well as observer and producer Anthony Bourdain and what is revealed. The understanding that Tower was instrumental in the success of Chez Panisse and “farm to table” eating is mentioned, but there is a significant shift about halfway in which the first half of the title perhaps is emphasized less in favour of the second part, and the concept of The Last Magnificent arises. The film provides a speculative insight into the varied accomplishments of Tower, but we don’t come close to climbing on, and he is presented through representation, quite like the reenactments in the film.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is a cinematic dish that lingers on the palette.