Bee Wilson

Bee Wilson is the author of The Way We Eat Now and First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. Her first cookbook will be published next year.

Who was it who invented the first black cakes Or the uncounted poppy-seed? Who mix’d The yellow compounds of delicious sweetmeats?

This was one of many questions asked by the poet Athenaeus in the Deipnosophists, a long series of dialogues on food and dining. If Athenaeus, who lived 1800 years ago, couldn’t, how much less equipped are we to answer questions about the way the...

The Eerie One: Peter Lorre

Bee Wilson, 23 March 2006

He thought they looked like two soft-boiled eggs, others preferred to call them poached. Either way, any attempt to describe the appearance of Peter Lorre must deal with those eyes. What teeth are to Julia Roberts and lips to Angelina Jolie, his bulging eyes were to Peter Lorre, his unavoidable calling card and a feature quite out of proportion with the norm. He featured in Looney Tunes more than once as a caricature – just two vast eyes and a menacing whine. Many adjectives have been applied to Lorre’s eyes, but none is adequate to convey their peculiar intensity, the way they veered between kindness and madness, and the manner in which he made them protrude even further when he wrinkled his forehead and wiggled his ears, which he often did. Lorre, who enjoyed disconcerting strangers by staring them down, boasted that it was impossible to look into both his eyes at once. ‘When I worked with actors I liked,’ he reminisced, Humphrey Bogart being the chief example, ‘I taught them how to act with me: “Just pick one eye and look at it. The camera will never know the difference.”’

Pink and Bare: Nicole Kidman

Bee Wilson, 8 February 2007

To understand Nicole Kidman, David Thomson argues, you need to see a film called In the Cut. Not because Kidman is in it. She isn’t. The film stars Meg Ryan, is directed by Jane Campion and tells the story of how a lonely creative writing teacher, Fran, becomes involved with a cop (Mark Ruffalo) who is investigating a string of particularly gruesome murders. As the film (which is based...

Boudoir Politics: Lola Montez

Bee Wilson, 7 June 2007

Lola Montez was a dancer who couldn’t dance and a Spanish temptress who came from County Sligo. She was a fake: the world knew it, and so did she. Dishonest, profligate and almost entirely talentless, she was nevertheless stalked by the press in England, America and Europe from the mid-1840s until her death in 1861. Late in life, she charged more for one of her ‘lectures’ than Charles Dickens could command for his readings, and her doings would be reported in the same paragraph as news of Queen Victoria. Her fame was huge and preposterous. In an age before the moving image, she turned herself into a cartoonish celebrity: a woman acting as if she had the same sexual freedom as that afforded to men.

Because the man himself is so ungainly, it is easy to overlook Michael Moore’s voice. Where his body seems ungovernable and a source of embarrassment to him – he often can’t bear to watch himself on screen – his voice is confident, almost suave. There’s a moment in his least known movie, The Big One (1997), where he launches effortlessly into a gravelly imitation of Dylan singing ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ before reverting, with a chuckle, to his own spoken voice. In his films, his physical appearance – in flannel shirt and outsize jeans – represents Moore the underdog, the champion of regular working folk.

Schlepping around the Flowers: bees

James Meek, 4 November 2004

Not long after​ the First World War, the movie baron Samuel Goldwyn set up a stable of Eminent Authors in an attempt to give silent screenplays more literary weight. One of the recruits was the...

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