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
I keep going back to these still-lifes by Joël Penkman, a Liverpool-based graphic designer and painter. When I look at the familiar biscuits above--their careful geometries and colors, their delicately rendered textures--my heart aches for a pink wafer. It's an actual, physical longing for a biscuit I don't even like. (The pink wafer is a dessicated millefeuille of factory dust and sugar. It tastes fucking horrible, if it can be said that it tastes of anything at all.)
But I don't want the wafer itself; I want what it stands for. Bicycle rides, elaborate cakes, scavenger hunts, pocket money etc. Those wafers, with their gently frayed edges, crowned the tables of so many great childhood parties and events. In short, these are the biscuits of my youth! And food nostalgia is a magical, memory-distorting thing.
Joȅl Penkmanwas born and raised in New Zealand, but grew up visiting her grandparents in England, where she developed a taste for sweet British foodstuffs like Blackpool rock, those brightly-colored hard candies that often have touristy pictures and words running through them.
After studying fine arts at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (and receiving first-class honors in graphic design), she moved to England to work as a graphic designer. Just this year, Penkman had her first solo show as a painter and decided to seriously pursue her career as an artist.
Penkman makes her own gesso to prep the boards, then grinds and mixes her own paints. (Her medium of choice is egg tempera--that very old-school method in which the artist combines egg yolks with crushed pigments.) It's a tedious and time-consuming process, but her results are stunning. I asked Penkman about why she chose these particular foods as subjects; see her answers below.
On Blackpool rock:"You can only buy Blackpool rock in Blackpool, although the same product, re-labeled, will be sold in other seaside tourist towns. With a history going back over a hundred years, Blackpool rock is synonymous with Blackpool; once a thriving prominent seaside town complete with piers, fortune-tellers, public houses, tram and donkey rides, fish-and-chip shops and theatres. These days Blackpool's promenade is a kitsch reminder of what it once was. For me, the rock, with it's artificial garish colours, seems to sum up Blackpool."
On wafers: "I did eat them when I was a little girl, but I chose them for this particular composition because of their colour, texture and shape. I wanted to make everything in the series 'Sweet selection' instantly recognizable to nearly everyone (in Britain) so I chose quite classic biscuits and cakes. To make it visually interesting I chose subjects in a variety of shapes, colours and textures. Pink wafers look great, they are a great colour and have a really interesting waffle texture."
See more of Joȅl Penkman's work here.
This particular pig diagram might be the most famous one of our time. It's a throwback to the glory days of English butchery and meat markets, but it's become a reference point itself. It stands for London's St. John restaurants, which stand for chef Fergus Henderson, who stands for so much that is joyful and sweet and true in the world of nose-to-tail eating, and beyond.
I love beautifully designed butchery diagrams, especially of pigs, especially this one. But the butcher's diagram is not a pig. It's a pig-shaped cluster of potential deliciousness. The pig as pork, as parts. The meat section is a technical illustration, a straightforward map for meat-cutters and buyers, showing which words go with which parts. A simple what's what that reveals other information, too. Industry (breed), economy (cuts) and culture (illustration--is the pig pretty or ugly? Dead or alive?).
San Francisco-based artist Alyson Thomas deciphers the butcher's diagram by reimagining it, again and again. I love how her versions of the pig chart vary so much in style and format (paint, paper, plastic and frosting, to name a few). Thomas had her first solo show last month; many of her pieces are for sale at her Etsy store.
images via Meat Sections
The San Francisco Diggers were an "anarchist guerilla street theater group" that emerged in the 1960s. Among a number of eclectic projects, they distributed free food in Haight-Ashbury, including Digger Bread: whole wheat loaves sweetened with molasses, baked in two-pound coffee cans. Though certainly not as well known as The San Francisco Oracle, still famous for its only-12 issues with psychedelic graphic art, the Diggers' had their own zine circulating at around the same time:
Here, an anonymous Digger talks about drugs, cooking free food for no pay, and how it all became too much to handle by the 1980s:
The San Francisco collective named itself after a group of 17th-century agrarian communists in England, the Diggers, who used public land to plant crops. Becca Thorne made these beautiful linocuts for a BBC history special about them.
I used The Color Of to determine the essential colors of a BLT and its components. The site uses an averaging algorithm on the color pixel value of Flickr images tagged with the search term, gradually abstracting the images on the screen until they're more like paintings. It's a project from Singapore-based designer Fung Kwok Pan:
"Taking the assumption that random images will average out to become grey, we can attribute any colour bias which deviates from grey, to the term as searched."
The process is a little slow, but that's part of the fun--you can save the image anytime while it's developing.