Iconic, elegant, and populist all at once: the Automat (aka Horn & Hardart) revolutionized American dining a century ago, long before there was fast food or hipster coffee shops. An eclectic mix of New Yorkers inserted nickels into slots, and slices of lemon meringue pie, mac & cheese, baked beans, and creamed spinach magically appeared from a grid of gleaming chrome windows. Then there was the eatery’s signature 5-cent coffee, cascading from ornate dolphin-headed spouts. Mel Brooks (who sings an homage he wrote specifically for the film), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner, and others pay effusive tribute to this communal Art Deco home away from home. Says Brooks: “You didn’t need a lot of money. You needed a lot of nickels.” Debut filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz collages rare artifacts, images, and memorabilia (including personal photos and deeply affectionate stories from former employees and the founding family) to create a love letter to the New York many of us still remember.
3 day rental • NR • 79 min.
“The Automat” taps into so many resonant aspects of what America used to be that to watch it is to be drawn into an enchanting and wistfully profound time-tripping reverie."
"Lisa Hurwitz memorializes a chain of eateries like no other in The Automat, a beguiling little film that traces the populist history of the Horn & Hardart restaurants."
— Wall Street Journal
“Impressive. Boasts unmistakable charms. The undesignated narrator is Mel Brooks. Hurwitz supplements the talking heads with tasty archival footage and sharp graphics. Her film is sleek and unpretentious. It wins us over with humor and a pointed touch of melancholy.”
— Hollywood Reporter