The Delicacy is the latest documentary film from Jason Wise.
The films focused on sommeliers and the wine industry, the first film in the series being described as “the history, politics, pleasure and BS of wine.”
This pretty much summarizes Wise's mission on his latest project which focuses on gourmet seafood delicacies like abalone and sea urchins.
The Delicacy isn’t a documentary film for everyone, but few documentaries are. You need to have some vested interest or at least passing curiosity to come aboard.
In this case, the obvious target audience is the people who will shell out (sorry for the pun) $1,000 a plate for sea urchin cuisine at exclusive restaurants.
All for the privilege of eating the flesh of an ugly, spiky, nondescript sea creature found at the bottom of the sea.
While most of us will never share that experience, we might be curious about the people who do.
In recent years the popularity of cooking channels and shows featuring exotic foods has soared.
The late Anthony Bourdain became a superstar doing just that—tracking down and eating things that many of us might find downright disgusting. While we might never be tempted to do it ourselves, it was fun to watch.
Other shows like The Deadliest Catch made us aware of the danger and risk involved in bringing seafood to our tables. Who knew?
But now comes The Delicacy, a movie that focuses on our age-old obsession with strange, exotic foods.
It begins as a history lesson, tracing the story back almost 2,000 years to the excavations of Pompeii which was destroyed by the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD.
There were artifacts indicating a taste for unusual, hard to obtain aquatic fare.
Several decades ago, enterprising fishermen and divers discovered that the harvesting of abalone off the coast of Santa Barbara could be a profitable business.
It became so popular so quickly that attention soon shifted to the harvesting of sea urchins after abalone became scarce to the point of extinction.
The Delicacy does a pretty fair job offering us insight into the delicacy business.
There are interviews with the people who provide the abalone and urchins, as well as commentary from the chefs who prepare it, the restaurant owners who serve it and the critics and diners who worship it.
The visual narrative is comprised of archival movie footage and photos as well as numerous on-camera interviews.
There is even some recovered archival footage from a local TV station providing news coverage of a tragic event central to the story.
While the trailer for The Delicacy caught my eye and grabbed my attention with some colorful underwater sequences and appetizing haute cuisine food shots, they take a backstage to lengthy interview elements in the actual film.
The interview clips are often edited back-to-back-to-back and might have benefited from some occasional breaks featuring montages showcasing more of the underwater world of the divers or the behind the scenes glimpses of the upscale restaurants.
The Delicacy was shot on film, and while I’m an old school fan of the “film look” (versus video or digital formats) I wondered what the movie might have looked like if it had been shot on 4K, considering the subject matter.
When 4K video is featured on 4K monitors in electronics stores or dentist’s office lobbies, the go-to footage is often a continuous loop of stunning underwater photography.
It’s a perfect application and one that might have raised the bar here.
Of course, film has its own look, eye-pleasing on its own terms, and countless documentaries have been shot on film over the years.
As mentioned, many of the money shots in The Delicacy are eye-popping.
A problem with the film overall is the reliance on too many interviews that are shot straightforwardly in news gathering style and allowed to run, one after the other.
They work in terms of providing content but fall short in terms of visual style.
These minor criticisms will probably not matter to the die-hard foodies salivating to have a glimpse into this rarefied world of exclusive, expensive entrees.
It will also play to an audience who loves to be taken on a journey involving exotic locations and unusual dining experiences.
In a sense, this movie is a cinematic delicacy of sorts.
A real treat for that subset of the population with a taste for culinary thrills that only a privileged few can ever enjoy first-hand.
Non-foodies on the other hand might lack the appetite for a film devoted to the eating of the sexual organs of a strange, spiky aquatic creature, regardless how it is painstakingly harvested, lovingly prepared or artfully presented.
It’s all a matter of taste.
The Delicacy is available on the streaming service SOMM TV.