The following post is by food historian Linda Civitello:
Terence Davies’ masterpiece, A Quiet Passion, has a scene where Emily Dickinson bakes bread and later is informed that it won a prize. This is true. In 1856, Dickinson’s Brown Bread won second prize at a local fair. One of the judges was her sister Lavinia—“Vinnie”—played by Jennifer Ehle, who was Elizabeth Bennet in the mini-series Pride and Prejudice, and the miscalculating intelligence agent in Zero Dark Thirty. Dickinson’s prize-winning bread was made from rye and cornmeal because wheat did not grow well in New England. The bread, like New Englanders such as Dickinson’s father, played by Keith Carradine, was solid with a thick, hard crust; leftovers were used to scrub walls. This staple bread nourished New Englanders until the end of the 19th century.
Emily Dickinson also nourished herself with language: “He ate and drank the precious words, / His spirit grew robust.” Hunger and thirst are recurring metaphors that reflect Dickinson’s profound loneliness and awareness of her position on the fringes of society. Often, she is nose-pressed-against-the-glass observing others at the banquet of life while she gets only crumbs: “God gave a Loaf to every Bird— / But just a Crumb—to Me—”. She also takes a sour grapes attitude toward society and belonging, and especially toward success: “Fame is a fickle food / Upon a shifting plate.” However, hope is not just “the thing with feathers,” but “Hope is a subtle glutton,” too.
Although Dickinson’s poetry uses food metaphorically, almost one-third of her letters—approximately 300—deal with real food. Even if Dickinson did not leave the house, she sent her desserts out into the world. Children were delighted when she lowered a basket of little oval loaves of gingerbread out the window. Dickinson’s delicious “Cocoanut” Cake—that was the spelling at the time—is a modern pound cake. What makes it modern is that it is leavened with saleratus (aka baking soda) and cream of tartar, an early baking powder. What makes it Emily’s is that on the back of the recipe, she wrote a poem, “The Things that never can come back, are several.”
Cynthia Nixon’s penetrating Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion is the polar opposite of Julie Harris’s tremulous, teary hostess serving Black Cake—a spice cake loaded with raisins—to visitors in the 1976 play The Belle of Amherst. In A Quiet Passion, Davies cannot show Dickinson baking bread or making cake with real-life frequency. What Davies does do is capture the essence of Dickinson’s complex persona and life. Davies’ genius shows Dickinson’s genius: her intensity, her originality, her gift—and his—for bringing forth a universe of poetry and beauty where others see only the mundane, or cannot bear to look at all.
Linda Civitello is a food historian. She is the author of Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight That Revolutionized Cooking, and the award-winning Cuisine & Culture: a History of Food and People. She will be speaking about Emily Dickinson and food later this year at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts.
To learn more about Emily Dickinson:
Emily Dickinson is the author chosen for the weeks-long 2017 Los Angeles “Big Read” program. On Saturday, April 29, the Washington Irving Library, 4117 Washington Boulevard, will host a Poets’ Panel, open mic reading, and a poetry workshop on Dickinson. Linda Civitello will speak briefly about Dickinson, and present desserts she made using Dickinson’s recipes and heirloom flour.
The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. Introduction and Notes by Rachel Wetzsteon. The hundreds of poems in this collection are organized thematically: Life, Nature, Love, Time and Eternity, The Single Hound.
For children: Emily Dickinson in the Poetry for Young People series edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin, illustrated by Chi Chung, from Sterling Children’s Books.
The Dickinson letters: http://www.emilydickinson.org/
The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination is the pioneering 1979 book of feminist literary criticism by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The lengthy final essay is on Emily Dickinson. The book’s title is an allusion to one of the writers Dickinson admired, Charlotte Brontë. The poem that Dickinson wrote when Bronte died ends, “Oh, what an afternoon for heaven, / When Brontë entered there!”
Sandra M. Gilbert is also a poet. Her homage to Dickinson is in the title poem in her poetry collection Emily’s Bread, and in the final section and final poem, both entitled “The Emily Dickinson Black Cake Walk.”
Miss Emily. This 2015 novel by the award-winning Irish writer Nuala O’Connor is an intimate fictional portrait of daily life in the Dickinson household. Told in the first person, it shifts back and forth between Emily and the family’s Irish maid, Ada.
The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child. This cookbook, first published in 1832, was used in the Dickinson household.
The Emily Dickinson Museum: https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/
Acclaimed British director Terence Davies (House of Mirth, The Deep Blue Sea) exquisitely evokes Dickinson’s deep attachment to her close knit family along with the manners, mores and spiritual convictions of her time that she struggled with and transcended in her poetry.
Described as “an absolute drop-dead masterwork” by The New Yorker’s Richard Brody and “quietly masterful” by The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab, the film combines a dramatic plot with moments of tasteful humor.
Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1962) screens Wednesday, April 19, at 7PM in West LA, Encino, and Pasadena. Presented on Blu-ray. Click here for tickets.
Laemmle Theatres and Anniversary Classics Abroad present a 55th anniversary screening of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO, a vivid tongue-in-cheek samurai Western. Kurosawa’s favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune, plays an amoral samurai in 19th century Japan. In a setup reminiscent of many classic Westerns (Shane in particular), Mifune’s Sanjuro strides into town and tries to reconcile a battle between two warring factions. But in this case both of the gangs are equally corrupt, and our hero is no more upright. He eventually wreaks havoc on all the combatants. The swordfights have visceral force, and the violence is always leavened with humor. As Pauline Kael wrote, “Yojimbo is a glorious comedy-satire of force… explosively comic and exhilarating.”
The film also proved to be enormously influential to a later generation of filmmakers. It inspired another perfectly amoral Western, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, in which Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name became the spaghetti Western equivalent of the cheeky samurai killer. Later directors Walter Hill and Quentin Tarantino also cited Yojimbo as an influence.
YOJIMBO is the second installment in our Anniversary Classics Abroad series, presented on the third Wednesday of each month. The series continues with Pietro Germi’s DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE on May 17 and Ingmar Bergman’s SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT on June 21.
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 45th anniversary screening of THE RULING CLASS starring Peter O’Toole followed by a Q&A with director Peter Medak on Tuesday, April 25th at 7 PM at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles. Presented on DVD. Click here for tickets.
This biting black comedy, in the tradition of such British classics as Kind Hearts and Coronets, focuses on a fierce battle for succession within an aristocratic family. Peter O’Toole plays a paranoid schizophrenic nobleman who believes himself to be Jesus Christ. When he is elevated to a top position, his relatives scheme to have him declared insane. O’Toole called the film, adapted from Peter Barnes’ play, “a comedy with tragic relief.” In addition to O’Toole, who earned an Oscar nomination for his vibrant performance, the cast of superb British thespians includes Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, and Caroline Seymour.
Leonard Maltin called the film a “hilarious, irreverent black comedy…overflowing with crazy ideas, people bursting into song, boisterously funny characterizations, and one-and-only Sim as befuddled bishop.” Time magazine’s Jay Cocks had high praise for the film’s star: “Funny, disturbing, finally devastating, O’Toole finds his way into the workings of madness.” Over the years since its release, the film has turned into a cult classic.
Peter Medak directed such films as Negatives with Glenda Jackson, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg with Alan Bates and Janet Suzman, The Changeling with George C. Scott, the popular spoof, Zorro: The Gay Blade, and two acclaimed British crime stories, The Krays and Let Him Have It.
THE WOMEN’S BALCONY filmmaker Emil Ben-Shimon will participate in Q&A’s on Saturday, April 8th after the 4:40 PM show at the Town Center and after the 7:20 show at the Royal. On Sunday, April 9th, he’ll do Q&A’s after the 1:50 show at the Royal and after the 4:40 show at the Town Center.
Here’s a short video message from the filmmaker about his Q&A’s:
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 45th anniversary screening of AVANTI! (1972) followed by a Q&A with co-stars Juliet Mills and Clive Revill on Wednesday, March 29, at 7 PM at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles. Click here for tickets.
Six-time Oscar winner Billy Wilder made one of his most underrated movies, Avanti!, in 1972. The film’s stature has risen dramatically in recent years. In his 1999 book, Conversations with Wilder, Oscar-winning writer-director Cameron Crowe declared, “The prize of Wilder’s later-period work, Avanti! is a melancholy classic.”
To make the film, Wilder reteamed with his favorite actor, Jack Lemmon (the star of Some Like It Hot and The Apartment), and Crowe declared, “The picture was a new peak in the collaboration of Wilder and the actor most tuned to his nuances.”
Lemmon plays a crass businessman who travels to Italy to claim the body of his father, who was killed in an automobile accident while on vacation. There he learns that his father was carrying on a long extra-marital affair with an Englishwoman, who died with him in the accident. He meets the woman’s daughter, played by Juliet Mills, and it seems that history may repeat itself as Lemmon and Mills fall in love. As Crowe wrote, Mills “is a wonderful foil for Lemmon.”
The uproarious and poignant film represents a sly reworking of one of Wilder’s favorite themes, the encounter of an innocent American and more worldly Europeans. It was a subject that Wilder first explored in his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Hold Back the Dawn in 1941, and he revisited this terrain in such other films as A Foreign Affair, Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, and One Two Three. Avanti! was filmed on glorious Italian locations that gave added richness to the director’s exploration of the innocent abroad.
Clive Revill and Edward Andrews co-star in the film, which was written by Wilder and his long-time collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond. Luigi Kuveiller was the cinematographer, and the production designer was Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the Oscar-winning designer of The Last Emperor, The Conformist, and Death in Venice. Leonard Maltin called Avanti! a “sadly underrated comedy… lovely scenery, wonderful performances by all.” The film was nominated for six Golden Globes.
Juliet Mills is a member of one of the most distinguished British acting families. Her father, John Mills, was an Oscar winner as well as a lion of the theater. Her younger sister, Hayley Mills, the star of Disney classics Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, has also enjoyed a long career. Juliet has distinguished herself on stage, on screen, and on television. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Avanti! and for her role on the hit television series, Nanny and the Professor. She won an Emmy for her performance in the miniseries, QB VII, and she was nominated for a Tony for her performance in Peter Shaffer’s first Broadway play, Five Finger Exercise.
Clive Revill was nominated for a Golden Globe for his delightful performance as the beleaguered hotel manager in Avanti! He has also had a stellar career in film, theater, and television. He earned a Tony nomination for his performance as Fagin in the original Broadway production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver. He co-starred in another Billy Wilder movie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and also appeared in Modesty Blaise, The Assassination Bureau, and The Legend of Hell House. His television roles include the miniseries Centennial and such series as Columbo and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Laemmle’s Art in the Arthouse is proud to announce our newest exhibit, TRIMBLED, showcasing the works of artist SCOTT TRIMBLE. The show appears at the Royal Theatre through May 2017.
Curated by Joshua Elias, the exhibit features gestural oil paintings that tap into the psyche of the artist – and the world at large – in an arresting and provocative manner. Trimble’s unique application of color is also fascinating to behold. Don’t miss seeing Trimbled in person!
RSVP HERE About the Exhibit:
Based in Hermosa Beach, SCOTT TRIMBLE is a graduate of USC’s School of Cinema and Television where he focused on film history and criticism. He now creates psychological portraits in oil.
A Trimble Game: Walk down the aisle and take in each of Trimble’s paintings. Read the titles of each painting aloud to your self and move on. Then double back.
You will not be the same person. Moved through movement, visual richness, and a distinct phraseology you will be lent a hand, a journey, and a lens from the vantage point of the artist.
This is an experiential show – a blur inside a whir. It is a period in time where nothing makes sense. The paintings fragments are held together through poetic phrases, animated beings, cagey, sometimes frightened figures, not so carefully fielding their steps across a landscape within a room.
Rife with contradiction, each work is a navigation in an unnavigable urban setting. This noir mise-en-scene is a political horror house, where an implausible arm of a figure is reaching around the corners searching for the edge. Grappling for significance, in a world of continual motion, Trimble’s paintings offer a soulful rope to the long climb ahead.
– Joshua Elias, Curator
Critical Review for Scott Trimble:
Shana Nys Dambrot writing for the Huffington Post