The American diner has long been the setting of some of the most-cherished moments in film history. Ahead of tonight’s Culture Shock presentation of Michael Mann’s crime saga Heat – which united Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen for the first time – I take a look at my just a few of my favourite scenes.
(Dir. John Landis. 1980)
The Queen of Soul breaks in to an impromptu rendition of her feminist anthem Think in John Landis’ musical odyssey, The Blues Brothers. This literal floor-filler features in a jubilant diner scene in the uproarious comedy, as Aretha Franklin bursts in to song while Elmore and Buddy sit slumped over the counter. The film helped catapult sixties soul music back in to the US charts and the national consciousness upon its release in 1988, with thanks to Aretha’s standout performance in the greasy diner.
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino. 1994)
“Everybody be cool, this is a robbery!” Whip-smart, funny and completely unhinged, the opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s unfathomably cool thriller sets the energy and tone for the fast-paced, wisecracking movie to follow. Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are two badmouthed lovers about to stick up a diner before the Dick Dale & The Del Tones’s barnstorming riff of Misilou takes hold of the opening credits.
(Dir. David Lynch. 2001)
A moment of pure horror in David Lynch’s wilfully complex noirish thriller. Taking place in Winkie’s, Sunset Boulevard this nightmarish sequence builds to a jump scare which will fright even the most hard-nosed and icy of audience members.
(Dir. Rob Reiner. 1989)
One of the funniest and most quoted moments in cinema history. Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm over late night sandwiches culminates with the immortal line “I’ll have what she’s having” from a suitably impressed bystander.
(Dir. Barry Jenkins. 2016)
This pivotal and tender scene in the third and final act of this year’s Best Picture winner is a heartbreaker. Having silenced his feelings throughout his life, Chiron drives to meet childhood friend in an out-of-town diner. As our protagonist struggles to express his cascading emotions, it’s Barbara Lewis’s Hello Stranger that whirls on the jukebox and perfectly distills the romantic mood. Trevante Rhodes and André Holland gives tour-de-force performances.
(Dir. Martin Scorsese. 1990)
Martin Scorsese’s rags-to-riches gangster masterpiece flows through the bloodstream of any impassioned moviegoer and the fabled dolly zoom shot is a mouthwatering spectacle for any cineaste. The camera pulls away and the lens zooms in as De Niro’s murderous Jimmy and Ray Liotta’s Henry rendezvous at a diner. The technique, made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, creates a disorientating effect and visually depicts the two characters’ surging paranoia.
(Dir. Barry Levinson. 1982)
Welcome to Fells Point Diner, the eatery of choice for a group of close friends in Baltimore, 1959. Barry Levinson’s directorial debut is the holy grail of buddy movies, a beautifully observed and honest depiction of male camaraderie. Largely set in a late-night diner, a group of irresponsible young men – led by a youthful Mickey Rourke – meet to discuss life’s most important topics: namely girls, American Football and the R&B singer Johnny Mathis. In doing so they manage to fend off adulthood for just a little bit longer.
(Dir. Michael Mann. 1995)
Two Titans of film finally meet on screen in Michael Mann’s crime opus. De Niro is the cold-blooded killer and thief attempting one last score; Pacino is the detective determined to bring him down. Mann’s masterly thriller builds to this climactic scene where the fierce acting icons sit opposite each other in a Los Angeles diner. A moment to savour.