I’ve become a frequent visitor to Doom Cakes, my most favorite of the projects that reframe the cake as a symbol of our sad but often hilarious failures and the way we charge ahead cheerfully with the apocalypse upon us.
For just over a month, Tom Blunt has been gathering film clips that demonstrate the concept of the doom cake--so far, he has over 50. By Blunt’s definition, a doom cake is any lovely cake in a film that doubles as a harbinger of imminent catastrophe. In addition to foreshadowing something shitty, the cake itself is often destroyed (especially if it is beautiful!). Though, as he explained to me, he's "even more interested in the examples where the cake is not destroyed, but the lives of the people around it are."
Blunt got the idea to start gathering these clips after watching Black Swan. Indeed, that cake scene with Barbara Hershey and Natalie Portman is a dark and awkward one. Other examples include Sleeping Beauty, Harry Potter and The Birds.
Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that the doom cake was a film trope, but now that I do, I can't believe I never noticed it before. In fact, it’s hard to peruse Blunt's site without obsessing over more examples (or counterexamples) to share with him. He welcomes both, by the way, though for now doom cakes are strictly cakes (rather than other kinds of confections).
This kind of intense, obsessive focus is perfectly suited for Tumblr (where single-subject collections like Women Reading, Burgers and Nails and Pretty Colors all find followings). But what makes Doom Cakes special is that Blunt isn't shy about looking for meaning in his collection of seemingly frivolous cakes, which he provides with thoughtful commentary and context.
Blunt is from a small town in Arizona and moved to New York a decade ago for a publishing internship. These days he works as a freelance film writer and curates the 92 Tribeca variety show Meet the Lady (Doom Cakes began as a place to gather ideas for a potential show of the same theme). As Blunt continues to expand the site with commentary and more clips, I suggest a visit. And meanwhile, because he is so articulate on the subject, I asked him to tell me more about his three favorite cake clips:
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
(if you're having trouble go here to watch)
The cake is the visual centerpiece of this entire scene. It's an echo of Blanche herself (Vivien Leigh), underscoring her fragility and the desperate gaiety of her carefully crafted appearance. As each of the characters in turn fails to rise to the occasion, the cake's presence looms uncomfortably larger. In a futile gesture of self-sacrifice, Blanche insists her candles be saved for the birthdays of Stella's unborn child--not realizing that she's about to be handed her walking papers by brother-in-law Stanley. By then, no one is interested in dessert. → Tom Blunt
As you can see, director Brian De Palma's interest in this cake's preparation and presentation borders on the erotic, wringing tension out of every lurid detail as Philip (Lisle Wilson) attempts to dispel morning-after awkwardness by surprising his one-night stand (and her twin sister) with a sumptuous birthday treat. Little does he know that the two sisters used to be conjoined--and he got the psychotic one. In a later scene, the cake itself is accidentally destroyed, ruining an important piece of evidence. The film's tagline is a handy motto for the entire Doom Cakes project: "What the devil hath joined together let no man cut asunder." → Tom Blunt
The Hours (2002)
Having failed an attempt at the perfect birthday cake, tormented housewife Julianne Moore pours the last of her energy and ingredients into one more try--and upon succeeding, summons the nerve to attempt suicide. The cake is clearly a badge for her failure to conform to the stifling suburban ideals of the 1950s, but it also evokes the pregnancy she's concealing: ashamed of having already been a dubious mother figure to one child, she can't cope with the idea of having "one in the oven." → Tom Blunt