The postman has just been, delivering a replacement copy of Jon-Stephen Fink and Mieke van der Linden’s fine book Cluck! The True Story of Chickens in the Cinema, a work of scholarship published 31 years ago that clearly remains the last word on the subject, as I’m not aware of any successors.
I’d actually owned a copy almost since then, probably bought for next to nothing from a remainder bookshop, but I gave it away some time in the 1990s, under the misguided impression that I’d have no further need for its valuable and indeed unique research. Thankfully, although it’s been out of print for decades, a week ago a second-hand copy was going on Amazon for a mere £2.10, so I snapped it up. I’m very glad I did, as the price rocketed tenfold since then.
I’ve only had a chance to skim it thus far, but I vividly remember its combination of obsessive detail and impressively wide-ranging research, which included first-hand interviews with the likes of John Landis, Monte Hellman, Russ Meyer, Dan O’Bannon and many others, though they failed to get hold of Jack Nicholson (who has allegedly “appeared in more chicken scenes than any other actor in the world”) and a handful of other key names. The book generally blames these research setbacks on a conspiracy involving a mysterious ‘Council’ that, amongst other things,
allegedly decides when, where and what kind of chicken scene will be in a film. These decisions apparently are made at semi-annual meetings held in Petaluma, California.
Unsurprisingly, they regard Pathé News, whose newsreels were preceded by the image of a crowing rooster, as “a primary indoctrination tool”.
There’s also a vast amount of historical detail about chickens and the cinema that wouldn’t have been apparent onscreen: for instance, Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle made his fortune from chickens and continued to raise them in parallel with his other business interests. Similarly, while audiences can appreciate Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe enjoying an onscreen chicken dinner in Some Like It Hot, they may not be aware that he had to take a bite out of 42 drumsticks because she kept fluffing her lines. In short, it’s an immensely important contribution to film scholarship, and I’m delighted to have it back in my library.
That said, it’s not quite as thorough as it first appears: it doesn’t include an entry on El Bruto (the first in my own series of Great Chicken Scenes), either in the main body of the text or its list of recommendations for further viewing. But it does include Stroszek.