Woodstock VT Film Series: The Automat
Directed by Lisa Hurwitz. 79 minutes. Not rated.
Saturday screening includes a discussion with the filmmaker, Lisa Hurwitz
The Automat recounts the lost history of the iconic restaurant chain Horn & Hardart, which served affordable food to millions of New Yorkers and Philadelphians for more than a century. Founded by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in 1888, it revolutionized the nation’s restaurant scene with technology that captured the public’s imagination like nothing else—the customer put nickels into slots and little windows opened to reveal the customer’s pick, be it a slice of pie, macaroni and cheese, or a Salisbury steak.
The chain welcomed those who had been ignored, including immigrants, the working class, Blacks, and women, all of whom were often not welcome in restaurants. Featuring interviews with Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell and Elliott Gould, The Automat illustrates how the company both served the public with great food and at the same time treated its employees with fairness and integrity.
“Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of eating in an Automat, Hurwitz brings the experience to life… And, best of all, she gets Mel Brooks on camera, waxing poetic about his Brooklyn childhood and, specifically, his love for the Automat. What more do you want from a documentary?” – Time