A Coney Island, N.Y., institution since 1916, Nathan’s Famous reflects a century’s worth of evolution in American culture. Glimpses of the hot dog purveyor’s storied past seen on television shows such as “Unwrapped” and “American Eats” never cease to fascinate even after years of reruns. But the fact that founder Nathan Handwerker’s grandson directs the documentary “Famous Nathan” does give history buffs some pause. No one would want to watch some enthusiastic mouthpiece extolling the virtues of an annual eating contest.
Fret not. Filmmaker Lloyd Handwerker treats the project as genealogy rather than corporate image-making. And with home movies and private interviews at his disposal, no one is better equipped to tell this story. Knowing he was a grandson, Nathan’s loved ones and former associates opened up readily. “You wanna hear about that? Because that’s not on the up-and-up,” former general manager Jay Cohen prefaced his explanation of how the restaurant used to keep police patrolmen on its payroll. “If you want it, you’ll get it.”
In due course, the filmmaker learned another side of his beloved grandfather. Paranoid about his wife being unfaithful, Nathan once hid in the closet and spied on her for hours. He also fueled the bitter sibling rivalry between his sons Murray and Sol that eventually led to the loss of the family business. For Lloyd, to properly memorialize him is to tell the whole truth — warts and all.
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills