Bing. Jewish Film Fest to hold virtual showing of “The Automat” in December

By Reporter staff

The Binghamton Jewish Film Fest will hold a virtual showing of the documentary film “The Automat” in December. The showing is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton in conjunction with the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community. Registration is required prior to Wednesday, December 7 (click here to register); the 72-hour link will be distributed to registrants in the afternoon of Thursday, December 8. A discussion with the film’s director and producer, Lisa Hurwitz, will take place on Zoom on Sunday, December 11, at 5:30 pm. Registration is free, but donations are welcome. 

“The Automat” tells the history of the restaurant chain Horn and Hardart, which served food to millions of New Yorkers and Philadelphians for more than a century. Found by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in 1888, it was said to have revolutionized the nation’s restaurant scene “with comfortable interiors, quality food and state-of-the-art technology for the early 20th century. 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.”

According to the film’s publicity, “Horn and Hardart’s technology captured the public’s imagination like nothing else in the 1900s – 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 gleaming glass and stainless-steel windows looked ‘sanitary’ and like nothing else in existence. ‘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.”

The documentary’s theme song – “(There Was Nothing Like The Coffee) At the Automat” – was composed by comedian and writer Mel Brooks, who used to eat at the Horn and Hardart automat. Brooks’ composer Hummie Mann wrote the rest of the film’s score, which was done in the Gentleman’s Swing genre and performed by a 26-piece orchestra.

Pete Hammond of Deadline said the film is “joyous and a hoot to watch.” Hannah Brown of The Jerusalem Post wrote that “The Automat” is “a very accomplished debut film.” Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal called the film “beguiling.” 

“Join us for this delightful slice of American history,” said Shelley Hubal, executive director of the Federation. “The automat was a unique experience in the history of the United States and one that several generations of Jews were able to enjoy. I loved this film. We are also fortunate that the film’s director and producer will discuss the film with us.”