Sunday, January 21, 2024

New York Old School Red Sauce Joint NYC







SINCE 1908

Vanessa McDonell on "JOHN'S of 12th STREET"

Interview with the filmmaker - Filmmaker Magazine 

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you may have a sense of the sort of family dynamics the harried environment can rapidly inspire. John’s of 12th Street, a dyed-in-the-wool Italian establishment in the East Village, takes this close-knit enclave to its apotheosis. As rendered in Vanessa McDonnell’s observational documentary of the same name, the restaurant is purely populated by the sort of old school New York characters that can only be regarded as a dying breed. From opening till close, McDonnell captures as many yarns spun over the tables as chicken parms are laid into the oven. In advance of John’s of 12th Street‘s world premiere at Spectacle Theater this Wednesday, Filmmaker spoke to McDonnell about the freeing nature of technical limitations, whittling down footage, and the new New York.

Filmmaker: How did you first come across John’s? Were they immediately receptive to the documentary?

Vanessa McDonnell: I used to live on 14th Street and Avenue C, and my boyfriend (now husband) lived on 8th, so John’s was equidistant for us and we ate dinner there pretty often. On one of our early dates, I ordered spaghetti and meatballs and the waiter didn’t hear the part about the meatballs. So I repeated it quietly, and kind of sheepishly. The waiter took a step back and said very loudly to the whole room, “Of course you can have meatballs. The lady likes meatballs. So what?” This is the kind of thing I want in a restaurant.

One night Mike Alpert, one of the owners, chatted with us after we’d finished a bottle of wine. After he walked away my boyfriend half-jokingly said I should ask him for a job. I’d worked as a cook in an Italian restaurant throughout high school and I was quite wistful about it. No woman had ever worked at John’s and we thought I could be the first. I asked Mike and was rebuffed, so I said, “I make films. Let me make a documentary about this place instead.” And he said, “Fine, whatever. Just don’t get in the way.” Mike and his partner of 40 years Nick Sitnycky were great sports about it. They said I was going to be the next Nora Ephron. I guess they never heard of Lena Dunham – she probably doesn’t eat there. I imagine she’s gluten-free or something.

Filmmaker: The film is designed to convey the course of a day at John’s from open to close. Did you know this was the structure from the outset? How long was the actual filming process?

McDonnell: I basically filmed everything that happened at the restaurant for a month or so. Then I went home and became paralyzed by the mountain of footage I had. It took me a very long time just to watch all of it. I didn’t decide on the structure right away. I tried out different things until I came up with something that would allow me to tell a story in an uncomplicated way. A day in the life of a restaurant is a great way to mark time – there is an arc already in there. The structure had to be simple because I didn’t want to use much conventional exposition – I didn’t want to create a historical portrait or a food network-type thing. I wanted the audience to be able to see this unique place and how it works, but also to just observe the everyday lives of some strangers, which is something I find inherently interesting. Not everyone does. 



Daniel Bellino Zwicke, the author of SUNDAY SAUCE , was a leading character
in the Documentary Film "JOHN'S of 12th Street: ... Daniel worked at John's as a waiter / bartender for 12 years, while also working  (2 jobs) in other restaurants, cooking in the kitchen, as he worked his up from a Line Cook, to Sous Chef, and finally to Head Chef at some of New York's most renowned restaurants.

No comments:

Post a Comment