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/
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.
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:
THE LAST LAUGH filmmaker Ferne Pearlstein will participate in Q&A’s at the Music Hall after the 7:30 PM screenings on Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, and after the 3:10 PM show at the Town Center on Sunday, March 18. Renee Firestone, Robert Clary (Hogan’s Heroes), and producer Anne Hubbell will join her for the Friday Q&A. Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum will join her for the Saturday Q&A.
The results of Sunday’s Oscars were pretty ho-hum right up until somewhere around the 245th minute, when we all witnessed the most embarrassing accounting error of all time. Apparently the gentleman from PricewaterhouseCoopers was more focused on his star-struck tweeting than making sure he gave Warren Beatty the right envelope. However, let’s not let this snafu obscure the fact that the Academy surprised everyone and honored a genuinely marvelous film, Moonlight, only the second Best Picture Winner about LGBTQ people (the first was Midnight Cowboy) and the first with an all-African American cast.
Anyway, in our little Oscar contest, the winner was the only one with 20 correct, so they stood alone at the top. For the 2nd-5th place winners, 24 people correctly guessed 18 categories – and even with the Tie-Break question about the show’s running time there were still multiple ties.
Interestingly, for Best Picture, our winner picked La La Land – which for about two minutes was the correct answer – but they still beat their competition by two answers. Among the winners, the difficult categories were Best Picture (Moonlight or La La Land), Best Actor (Denzel Washington or Casey Affleck), Best Sound Mixing (La La Land or Hacksaw Ridge), and Best Live Action Short.
1st Place) Mariano A. of Beverly Hills.
18 Correct – 1 minute off official time
Tie 2nd) Jen M. of Pasadena.
Tie 2nd) Marina O. of Los Angeles.
18 Correct – 6 minutes off official time
3rd Place) Martha C. of Valley Village.
18 Correct – 8 minutes off official time
Tie 4th) Tristan K. of West Hollywood.
Tie 4th) Cory G. of Los Angeles.
Tie 4th) Jacob W. of Los Angeles.
18 Correct – 9 minutes off official time
5th Place) Rachel S. of West Hollywood.
We are having so much fun with our American repertory film series Anniversary Classics, which we began with film critic Stephen Farber two years ago, that we are pleased to announce a companion series: Anniversary Classics Abroad. We will be screening great foreign films on the third Wednesday of every month at three venues simultaneously: the Royal in West L.A., the Town Center in Encino, and the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. We are launching the Abroad program with 30th anniversary screenings of Bille August’s award-winning Danish film, Pelle the Conqueror (1987) at 7 PM on March 15. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 1988 and also won the Palme d’Or in Cannes that same year. Master Swedish actor Max von Sydow received his first Oscar nomination for his performance in the film.
The beautifully crafted film is adapted from a popular Danish novel by Martin Andersen Nexo, published in 1908. It tells the story of a widower and his young son who journey from Sweden to Denmark in the 1850s in search of work. There they encounter prejudice and harsh working conditions; the story clearly takes on renewed urgency in light of rising anti-immigrant bias in Europe as well as the United States. August cast newcomer Pelle Hvenegaard in the title role.
In Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, “We are engrossed by the serene confidence of the storytelling, by August’s painterly eye, by von Sydow’s and Hvenegaard’s touching performances.” TIME Magazine’s Richard Schickel wrote, “Bille August’s gifts for austere, striking imagery and for the short, perfectly shaped scene impart to this film an epic richness, range and energy.” The film helped to catapult August to the front ranks of international directors. He went on to make several films in the U.S. as well as Europe, and Ingmar Bergman chose August to direct his autobiographical screenplay, The Best Intentions.
“The von Sydow performance is in a category by itself. It is another highlight in an already extraordinary career, and quite unlike anything that American audiences have seen him do to date.” – Vincent Canby, New York Times
“In Bille August’s Pelle the Conqueror, Max von Sydow is so astoundingly evocative that he makes your bones ache.” – Hal Hinson, Washington Post
The subsequent films in our Anniversary Classics Abroad series are:
Wednesday, April 19: Yojimbo (1962). Akira Kurosawa’s energetic, tongue-in-cheek samurai Western had an enormous influence on filmmakers all over the world. Toshiro Mifune stars as the amoral swordsman who strides into town and manipulates the opposing factions in a turf war.
Wednesday, May 17: Divorce Italian Style (1962). This Oscar-winning film from director Pietro Germi is a ferocious black comic dissection of Sicilian mores. The picture helped to cement Marcello Mastroianni’s position as a rising international superstar.
Wednesday, June 21: Smiles of a Summer Night (1957). To coincide with the summer solstice, we present Ingmar Bergman’s elegant romantic comedy set on a Swedish estate on the longest night of the year. Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet Andersson, and Gunnar Bjornstrand star in the film that Pauline Kael called an “exquisite carnal comedy.” The film later inspired Stephen Sondheim’s musical, A Little Night Music.
Again, we will show all Anniversary Classics Abroad films on the third Wednesday of each month at three venues, the Royal, Playhouse, and Town Center, at 7 PM. Come experience these classics of world cinema as they were intended to be experienced, on a big screen in a dark auditorium full of fellow cinephiles.
Hundreds of thousands of Turkish cats roam the metropolis of Istanbul freely. For thousands of years they’ve wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. Claiming no owners, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame –and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.
Critics and internet cats agree – the cat documentary KEDI, which we open at the Royal, Playhouse and Town Center on February 17, will charm its way into your heart and home as you fall in love with the cats in Istanbul. This film is a sophisticated take on your typical cat video that will both dazzle and educate. What’s more, free organic “Turkish blend” catnip to opening weekend audiences, while supplies last!
In his Variety review, Joe Leydon called KEDI a “magical and remarkable…splendidly graceful and quietly magical documentary about the multifaceted feline population of Istanbul…heartfelt…the beautifully spare musical score by Kira Fontana provides the perfect accompaniment for what gradually emerges as a profoundly affecting meditation, at once dreamy and precise, on a force of nature – several forces of nature, actually, with paws and tails – surviving and thriving in an industrialized world.”
Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden said, “for anyone who’s curious about the historical events and municipal policies affecting Istanbul’s thriving population of street cats, KEDI offers little in the way of informative detail. But if you’d just like to hang with a few of the scrappy felines, Ceyda Torun’s entrancing documentary is manna from the cat gods. A collective portrait that’s as elegant as its light-footed subjects, it’s guaranteed to soothe a weary mind, and just might lower blood pressure, too.
Born in Istanbul, KEDI director-producer Ceyda Torun spent her formative early years among the street cats while her mother worried she’d get rabies and her sister worried she’d bring home fleas. After her family left the country when she was eleven, Ceyda lived in Amman, Jordan, and ended up in New York for her high school years, never encountering a street cat. Ceyda studied Anthropology at Boston University, returned to Istanbul to assist director Reha Erdem and then off to London to work alongside producer Chris Auty. She returned to the U.S. and co-founded Termite Films with cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann and has since directed her first feature documentary. She still misses her feline companions, gets excited whenever she sees a cat on the streets of Los Angeles, but they rarely feel the same way about her. About KEDI, she said the following:
“I grew up in Istanbul until I was eleven years old and I believe my childhood was infinitely less lonesome than it would have been if it weren’t for cats. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Every year that I returned to the city, I saw it change in ways that made it less and less recognizable, except for the cats; they were the one constant element, becoming synonymous with the city itself and ultimately, embodying its soul. This film is, in many ways, a love letter to those cats and the city, both of which are changing in ways that are unpredictable.
“When we set out to make this film, I had many ideas about what it should be. I hoped to show Istanbul in ways that went beyond tour guides and news headlines. I wanted to explore philosophical themes that would make you, the audience, ponder about our relationship to cats, to nature, to each other.
“In the end, I hope this film makes you feel like you just had a cat snuggle up on your lap unexpectedly, and purr fervently for a good long time, while allowing you to stroke it gently along its back; forcing you, simply because you can’t move without letting go of that softness and warmth, to think about things that you may not have given yourself time to think about in the busy life you lead, to discuss them with a group of new friends, friends from Istanbul who tell you what the city is really like.
“Hopefully this film will be that experience for you, and that you’ll leave with a yearning in your hands to pet a cat, and visit Istanbul.”