The Life of MFK Fisher’ Explores the Writer’s Lasting Impact
Acolytes of all stripes, from scholars and literary critics to chefs, foodies, fans and followers, have long tried to put the late writer MFK Fisher into context.
Her life and her writing had so many layers that it seemed no voice, no matter how insightful, could adequately summarize in a few words, a paragraph or even an essay who she was and what she brought to literature through the sensual and sensory experience of food. For Fisher, food was a cultural and sometimes personal metaphor, understood by all, because we all eat.
She remains, 30 years after her death, defiantly indefinable.
But filmmaker Gregory Mark Bezat is set to capture the lasting impact of Fisher, who spent his final years living and writing from a cabin in Glen Ellen, in a new feature documentary, “The Art of Eating: The Life of MFK Fisher.”
Bezat draws on Fisher’s own words, as well as the impressions of those who knew her in life or discovered her through her writings. Rare archival documents from the MFK Fisher Literary Trust and old black and white films of rural France when Fisher, the wife of a young teacher, first discovered the exquisite beauty of the real food, vividly recreates his world.
Her remarkable life began in 1908 in Whittier, where her father ran the local newspaper. The film follows her through her years in France and Europe before World War II and later on Saint Helena in the 1950s and 1960s.
Fisher spent the last two decades of her life in what she called “Last House,” a home built for her by her friend David Bouverie and now part of the Bouverie Audubon Preserve. She died in 1992 after years of battling the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.
The 85-minute film will have its world premiere Tuesday and Thursday at the Mill Valley Film Festival with Bezat, who produced and directed the film, in attendance.
Doing justice to Fisher was a formidable challenge, according to Bezat. There was a large amount of material to exploit. As the daughter of a small-town newspaper publisher, she could write to order and on schedule. She did not work, she produced.
His legacy includes 27 books of essays and memoirs, hundreds of articles for The New Yorker, and a famous English translation of Brillat-Savarin’s book “The Physiology of Taste.” She has also written a screenplay, two novels (“Not Now, But Now” and “The Theoretical Foot”, published posthumously), a children’s book and travelogues.
Bezat also had access to Fisher’s many personal papers at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.
“When I took on the project and initially entered into an agreement with the MFK Fisher Literary Trust, everyone warned me that she was a complicated subject and a complicated person,” Bezat said. “Boy, were they right.”
Fisher, thankfully, proved to be an endlessly interesting and enjoyable companion during the four years he spent immersed in his life and words.
“I would say to anyone who wants to be a filmmaker, pick a subject you can live with, because you’re going to live with it for a long time,” Bezat said. “It’s true to say that Fisher has only become more interesting.”
Bezat calls Fisher “the godmother of the fresh food movement”, which remains “incredibly relevant today”, a woman ahead of her time.
Although she is often simply described as a food writer, Fisher was much more than that. She has written about all kinds of emotions and experiences through the metaphor of food, memories of food, and experiences around food.
“She’s not just a food writer, and to describe her that way is to do her writing a disservice,” Bezat said. “Her writings are a lot about life, the philosophy of life, enjoying life’s pleasures and surviving very difficult times. She’s been through a lot, which is well documented in the film.
Fisher’s first marriage, to Alfred Fisher, ended in divorce. The love of her life was writer and artist Tim Parrish, who encouraged her to write and helped her publish her first book of essays, ‘Serve it Forth’, in 1937. The couple married and spent time in Switzerland. But he ended up committing suicide after suffering from an excruciatingly painful and degenerative disease, which cost him a leg.
Like other great writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edna Ferber, Fisher worked for a time in Hollywood at Paramount Studios, working with director Billy Wilder and writing gags for stars like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy. Love.