Haunting is the word here.
I watched A Quiet Passion last week, the recent film by Terence Davies that gives us a guess at what Emily Dickinson might have been like, in the flesh. Davies does a beautiful, slow burn on revealing his ideas about what motivated this legendary writer, and it’s anything but a caricature of the poet recluse, dressed in white, living with her parents and sister in Amherst, Massachusetts, scribbling deathless poems on the back of envelopes and scraps of paper.
All those things appear in the film, of course. But Davies spins a story of a woman with deep moral fire, a preoccupation with mortality, and nuanced relationships with the small circle of family and friends around her. It is extremely beautiful to watch.
Fast and Furious this ain’t. And I thought at first that it was a costume drama too slow even for me. But it has stayed with me, and has got me thinking about all sorts of things.
For one thing, I’m haunted because watching this film made me realize how little I know about Dickinson’s poems despite the fact that I think of her as one of my favorite poets. So dilettanteish! I haven’t read her poems in years, but after watching Cynthia Nixon’s brittle and fiery performance, I immediately scampered over to the Academy of American Poets to dig in to their archive of Emily Dickinson. The poems are so much stranger than I remember them, wonderfully stark. I read someone suggesting that Emily Dickinson would have loved Twitter. Thank God she wasn’t around to see that!
Another haunting: I want to find more Terence Davies movies to watch. His sensibility is a marvel to see at work with this quiet material.
And finally, I want to watch The Belle of Amherst. Here’s Julie Harris’s performance from 1976. I don’t know a thing about it, but I always liked Julie Harris and I figure it will make good material for my PhD dissertation to come . . .
A Quiet Passion is available on Amazon (free to Amazon Prime members).
Wishing everyone a peaceful if not reclusive Sunday.