"If anything's worth doing, it's worth doing in style and on your own terms." - Jeremiah Tower
For most, the name Jeremiah Tower means very little.
That's a pity.
Tower is a legend. Tower knows that he's a legend, a knowledge that permeates every cell of Lydia Tenaglia's involving and entertaining feature documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, an exploration of the life of one of the most controversial and influential figures in the history of American gastronomy.
Starting his career at Berkeley's acclaimed Chez Panisse in 1972, Tower became a central figure, if not THE central figure, in California's emergency cuisine scene before leaving Chez Panisse, partly due to his contentious relationship with its founder Alice Waters, and headed to San Francisco where he launched his own restaurant, Stars, a restaurant that would become one of the U.S.'s highest grossing restaurants. Then, it seemed rather suddenly, Tower left Stars after several years and disappeared from the scene for nearly two dedicates before resurfacing in a most surprising place, New York's famous but troubled Tavern on the Green.
Tower, while almost undeniably not as much a household name as some of today's highly visible chefs, became one of America's first and foremost celebrity chefs, a trail blazing the way for many of today's best known chefs including a number of them who appear in this film including Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Reichl and others.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent was picked up by indie distributor The Orchard for a nationwide arthouse run following the film's successful festival run that included screenings at the likes of Tribeca, Mill Valley and others. The film is a refreshingly slow, nicely paced look into Tower's life, not so much the rise and fall of a chef but the life journey of a celebrity who didn't necessarily want to lean into that celebrity but, on the other hand, wouldn't dare deny it. He's well spoken, endlessly charismatic, brash, bold and an absolute delight. For Tower's presence alone, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is worth viewing.
Lydia Tenaglia, winner of four primetime Emmy Awards, is no stranger to filming the culinary scene with such credits as Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Mind of a Chef, A Cook's Tour and a host of other efforts. She's absolutely perfectly suited to filming such a project as this one, a film that benefits from a stellar glimpse inside the restaurant scene along with an even deeper look inside the life of Tower. Tenaglia captures that early stylized sexiness of life at Chez Panisse along with, toward the end, Tower's almost impossible task of bringing life to Tavern on the Green.
As a film journalist, I must confess that I found the film to be quite touching in that it also surveys the impact of reviews on both business and professional lives. It's a reminder, not so gentle, that even the most well known celebrities are human beings and what we do actually does impact one another. I may not feel like I needed that reminder, but it felt like a gut check - so, maybe I did.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is, unfortunately, the kind of film that one wishes the masses would see but knows that's simply not going to happen. Fortunately, the film's playing now at Indy's own Keystone Art Cinema and it's definitely worth your time.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic