Posts Tagged ‘Emily Dickinson’

Molly Shannon, Susan Ziegler


84 minutes | MPAA rating

“Wild Nights with Emily” is such an awesome idea that I wish I liked the film more than I do.

When Emily Dickinson died in 1886 in Amherst, Mass., she left behind nearly 2,000 unpublished poems which would lead future generations to regard her as America’s greatest poet.

For most of the ensuing 130 odd years Dickinson has had the reputation of a recluse, a woman incapable of interacting with others. But if that’s the case, if her personal life were so limited, if she never enjoyed human intimacy, how did she come by the ideas and emotions so brilliantly expressed in her writing?

Seizing on recent research into and discoveries about Dickinson, writer/director Madeleine Olnek has given us a film that presents Emily Dickinson not so much as a recluse as a dedicated artist who, by the by, had a lifelong sexual relationship with the woman who would become her sister-in-law. We’re talking some good old-fashioned lust.

Moreover, Olnek presents her yarn as a comedy in which Dickinson’s vastly superior intellect and talents go head-to-head with the doofuses who run the male-dominated literary world of the 1800s. These bozos are so gobsmacked by her poetry that  all they can do is complain that it doesn’t rhyme.

Olnek’s screenplay time jumps from Dickinson’s mature years and her affair with her sister-in-law Susan (Susan Ziegler) back to her adolescence when the two first fell in love (the girls are played as teens by Dana Melanie and Sasha Frolova).


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Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle as the Dickinson sisters

“A QUIET PASSION” My rating: B 

125 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Like most of Terence Davies’ films, “A Quiet Passion” moves at a glacial pace that taxes an audience’s patience.

Stick with it, though, and you’ll get Cynthia Nixon in the performance of a lifetime.

As poet Emily Dickinson, Nixon (most of us will always know her as the red-headed Miranda on HBO’s “Sex and the City”) plays a physically passive character.  About the most exciting thing Emily Dickinson does is leisurely walk through her family’s 19th-century garden beneath a parasol.

But beneath that civilized, socially-acceptable exterior there beats an angry heart, and periodically it surges to the forefront with dazzling results.

Davies’ screenplay follows Emily from her graduation from a girls’ school (in early scenes she’s played by Emma Bell) to her death in 1886 at age 55. With the exception of an opening scene set at the school, Davies film unfolds entirely in the Dickinson family home in Amherst, Massachusetts — fittingly so, since by middle age Emily was something of a recluse who devoted herself to her ailing mother.

She also devoted herself to her writing,  though Dickinson  died before her work was widely distributed.  Today, of course, she’s regarded as one of best poets this country ever produced, but during her lifetime she saw only about a dozen poems printed in local newspapers.  And those were heavily tinkered with by editors who disapproved of her creative punctuation and other eccentricities.

Film biographies of writers are usually odd affairs.  Nothing terribly interesting in a person scribbling with a pen or pecking at a typewriter.  Davies includes a few shots of Emily writing, but mostly he uses Nixon’s voice-over narration to read relevant Dickinson works.

What the film is really about are Emily’s interactions with her family and friends, and how they reveal her mind and personality. Some of these confrontations are genteel and measured, others volcanic.


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