So I’ve seen all five of these films (I think I saw Stargate, although I may just have dreamed it), but admittedly I caught only two of the jokes: from Airplane! and Gangs of New York.
My hieroglyphics isn’t what it used to be since I left New York and rarely encounter graffiti or journals of cultural anthropology anymore, so no on the Spader line. And even though I am of Italian, Spanish, and French ancestry, I know nothing, less than nothing,* about wine, so Giamatti screaming about Merlot meant nothing to me. In fact, as I have confessed before, I am a teetotaler.** So if you invite me out for a drink, I am always going to say no: (1) because I don’t know you and one of your “cohorts” may rob my house while I’m away; (2) it means possibly missing a rerun of something with Dom DeLuise in it***; and (3) I just said I don’t drink, weren’t you listening?
Now, had Giamatti’s character gone all red in the face about pasta primavera or fried Oreos, that would have been another story.
Here’s the explanation of the very inside joke from Silence of the Lambs:
FBI Agent Clarice Starling visits Lecter in a mental hospital because she needs help catching another serial killer, but Lecter is mainly interested in toying with her, so he talks about the time he killed a census worker and “ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” It’s a brilliant scene. It’s chilling, it’s great character development … but did you know that it’s also a joke?
According to a Reddit post, the mental hospital in the movie might had been treating Lecter with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which is a type of antidepressant that’s fallen out of use over the years due to its dangerous side effects and potentially-lethal interactions with certain foods. People who took MAOIs had to be put on a very strict diet that forbade them from eating things like — oh, would you look at this beautiful full circle — liver, beans, and red wine.
So was Lecter stealthily telling Starling that he’s not taking his meds, or was he making an esoteric joke about the three foods specifically prohibited for psychiatric patients, from inside a mental hospital?
By the way, while we’re not on the subject, why does everyone love to hate The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Because it didn’t live up to the Alan Moore original (of which I am totally unfamiliar)? Because it was miscast? Because it wasn’t rank enough? It’s not the first Avengers or Captain America or Raiders of the Lost Ark, OK, but I’ve watched it a half dozen times and found it an enjoyable adventure with some stunning set designs.
I bring this up now because FOX is contemplating a new TV series based on the graphic novel, and the write-up, again, can’t help but bludgeon the Connery flick:
[W]hile anything would probably be better than the last film Sean Connery made before retiring, we want better than simply stepping over that low bar. There is so much potential in the original comics, Fox could actually make something really great to watch.
*By less than nothing I mean, were I to begin talking about wine, you would finally know less than you know now, just like when anyone from the New York Times or Salon writes about Christianity.
**I don’t even drink tea. Coffee and water, that’s it. I had a Fresca once in 1985.
***Did I ever tell you I once wrote a TV sitcom pilot for DeLuise, and a guy I worked for who was good friends with Dick Van Patten who was good friends with DeLuise got the script to him? DeLuise turned it down because it was about an obese diet doctor who was too easy on his patients, and he was self-conscious about bringing attention to his own weight issues. Did you know that Van Patten is actually half Italian, and his sister Joyce used to go on talk shows demonstrating their mother’s Italian recipes?