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Legendary director Martin Scorsese discusses 'The Age of Innocence'

Scorsese's adaptation of Edith Wharton's classic novel was inspired by other period films that had an emphasis on narrative power.

By Brian GeldinThe Film Panel Notetaker / June 25, 2012

The Museum of the Moving Image’s See It Big series, curated in collaboration with Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert (Remote Area Medical), presented Thursday night, a 35mm print of Academy Award-winning auteur Martin Scorsese’s 1993 masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence is a love triangle between aristocrats and their social mores set in 1870s Manhattan. The film is a beautiful piece of art, a painting come to life, every single frame so carefully crafted from the makeup to the costumes to the set design, to the way the camera moves from one room to another, and to the incredible performances. I’m particularly in love with the shot of Michelle Pfeiffer as she’s standing on the docks by the lighthouse, and we see her from the point of view of Daniel Day Lewis, as he’s waiting to see if she’ll turn around and look at him as the boat passes.

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This era (the 1990s, not the 1870s, mind you), happens to be one of my favorite. Other similar films to come out then that I extremely admire are Merchant and Ivory’s Howards End and The Remains of the Day, though these two are set in England. Like The Age of Innocence, these films also examine social manners between rich and poor, and have forbidden romances. Not to digress too much, but I think Anthony Hopkins gives his best performance ever, maybe one of the best in cinema history, in The Remains of the Day.

Scorsese came to the Museum Thursday night to do a brief introduction to the film. There was not a Q&A after the screening, but he eloquently reflected on his film, and what inspired him to make it. He said this picture goes a long way back. He has always been enthralled by films that are set in the past, usually the 19th Century. He’s enthralled by these characters that live in such a different world. Their thoughts, their emotions, all their conflicts. It was very immediate to him in and odd way. This connection of people in the past sheds humanity. It was a major desire of his to make a film that he wouldn’t call it a genre, but a period piece. Although he joked that everything he’s made is a period piece.

The first period film to really strike a blow with him was The Heiress, based on the novel by Henry James and directed by William Wyler. When he was two years old, his father took him to see it. Another film he admired was Albert Lewin’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. He also loved The Innocents, which had an eerie quality. But all of these period films culminated in Visconti, particularly The Leopard (showing soon at the Museum from a restoration print).

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