“Give All to Love”: New film spotlights Emerson as a deeply original, a radical thinker – and features James Marcus, too

A screenshot of James Marcus during our recent zoom conversation at legendary City Lights Books

James Marcus, former editor of Harper’s Magazine and author of Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut, has been laboring for years on a book about Ralph Waldo Emerson, and we can’t wait for it to come out. Now he’s going to be in an Emerson film, too. Here’s more from Globe Newswire:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson is undoubtedly not only the father of American literature and the guiding spirit of that flinty idea called ‘Transcendentalism,'” commented Michael Maglaras, “but he is also the father of our American conscience.”

Emerson (1803-1882), through his journals, essays, lectures, and poetry, guided the development of American thought, spiritual expansion, and adherence to moral principles. Emerson’s approach to living and to life was dynamic, forceful, and radical in its conception and fulfillment. 

Bringing an iconic figure to life again

ASHFORD, Conn., July 06, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Connecticut-based independent filmmakers Michael Maglaras and Terri Templeton of 217 Films announce that their new film project will be a full-length documentary on America’s greatest philosopher and thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Ralph Waldo Emerson: Give All to Love” will be their ninth film in 18 years and the eighth “essay in film” by writer/director Michael Maglaras.

“Without Emerson’s legacy,” said Maglaras, “it would be difficult to imagine American cultural life and impossible to imagine the development of America as a society. Emerson is the spiritual father of the poetry of Walt Whitman, the music of Charles Ives, the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Currently being shot on location in and around Concord, Massachusetts, this film will have as its focal point and backdrop “Bush”: the wonderful Emerson home where the poet and his wife Lidian reared their children and where Emerson, the great “Sage of Concord,” resided as a simple but revered citizen of America until his death.

Emerson scholar and writer James Marcus will be featured in the film. “I’m delighted to be collaborating with director Michael Maglaras on this important project that will bring Ralph Waldo Emerson to life. Emerson speaks to our time with tremendous urgency…touching on the entirety of the American experience.”

Bay Emerson Bancroft, President of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association, has said of this film project, “We are so pleased to endorse this new documentary film on Emerson…really the first of its kind…and to cooperate with the filmmakers on its production. As we approach the 220th anniversary of Emerson’s birth, this film will introduce him to an entirely new audience.”

“What’s important for me as a filmmaker is not only what Emerson wrote and said,” added Michael Maglaras, “but also that he surrounded himself with people of brilliance, such as Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May and Bronson AlcottTo be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment… wrote Emerson. This film will capture the essence of Emerson as the deeply original and radical thinker he was.”

James told me on Twitter: “I think it’s going to be a classy, smart, artful film, and the first Emerson documentary in a really long time.”

James Marcus on PBS

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5 Responses to ““Give All to Love”: New film spotlights Emerson as a deeply original, a radical thinker – and features James Marcus, too”

  1. George Says:

    John Jay Chapman gave what I think a sober and fair evaluation of Emerson in the leading essay of Emerson and Other Essays (available thanks to the Gutenberg Project at https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/13088/pg13088.txt). But Chapman is not impressed by Emerson on Love:

    “Human sentiment was known to Emerson mainly in the form of pain. His nature shunned it; he cast it off as quickly as possible. There is a word or two in the essay on Love which seems to show that the inner and diaphanous core of this seraph had once, but not for long, been shot with blood: he recalls only the pain of it.”

    And again:

    “If we take two steps backward from the canvas of this mortal life and glance at it impartially, we shall see that these matters of love and marriage pass like a pivot through the lives of almost every individual, and are, sociologically speaking, the primum mobile of the world. The books of any philosopher who slurs them or distorts them will hold up a false mirror to life. If an inhabitant of another planet should visit the earth, he would receive, on the whole, a truer notion of human life by attending an Italian opera than he would by reading Emerson’s volumes. He would learn from the Italian opera that there were two sexes; and this, after all, is probably the fact with which the education of such a stranger ought to begin.”

    He was a splendid journalist. Anthony Trollope heard a speech of his in Boston, and greatly admired his advice to protect the American eagle and beware the American peacock. He clearly was the pattern of what a New Englander of his era should be. But I think we should not exaggerate his accomplishments.

  2. James Marcus Says:

    I was glad to read the comment above. Chapman’s quip about Emerson and the Italian opera is famous, funny, and partly accurate. RWE is probably the least erotic of the great American writers, and “Love” is indeed a strange piece of work. But Chapman underestimates Emerson’s grasp of love and pain alike, and the ways in which a rapid, agonizing series of bereavements (first wife, two brothers, beloved five-year-old son) might well make any human being skittish about emotional attachment. Also, Emerson was not a journalist in any traditional sense of that word (if I’m understanding the previous comment correctly). He was an essayist and lecturer of astonishing and prophetic power. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration in the least.

  3. George Says:

    By “journalism”, I had in mind English Traits, which I thought very readable, and–as far as I can judge–just. As to the essays, Jacques Barzun wrote that “Vagueness to the point of obscurity sits like a patch of fog here and there in every paragraph; the paragraphs themselvs lack contour, though the rhythm in general is pleasing. But it is talk, often inspired talk, and not prose.” (Well, Marvin Mudrick wrote that Samuel Johnson’s talk was better than his writings, that Johnson was at is best when he simply reacted.) It could be that I read Emerson too much through the lenses of Santayana and Yvor Winters.

  4. George Says:

    I should say that I quote Barzun from “Thoreau the Thorough Impressionist”, collected in A Jacques Barzun Reader.

  5. James Marcus Says:

    Thanks for your reply. “English Traits” is the closest he ever came to journalism, and I agree as to its general readability and shrewdness. As for the great Jacques Barzun, he’s barking up the wrong tree here–the essays are not transcribed talk. They are prose, great prose, but the unit of composition is the sentence. The aphoristic approach means that they have little of the forward motion or linear logic we expect from the essay, and I think that’s what troubled Barzun (and generations of earlier, head-scratching readers, including Margaret Fuller, who famously described RWE’s work as “a string of mosaics or a house built of medals”). You do have to take Emerson’s prose on its own terms, but you could say the same thing of, for example, Dickinson’s poetry.