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on July 19, 2017
enjoyed very much
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It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized.

That is the Gilded Age, and nobody knew its hypocrises better than Edith Wharton. And while you wouldn't expect Martin Scorsese to be able to pull off an adaptation of her novel "The Age of Innocence," this movie is a trip back in time to the stuffy upper crust of "old New York," taking us through one respectable man's hopeless love affair with a beautiful woman -- and the life he isn't brave enough to have.

Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May Welland (Winona Ryder). But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has dumped her cheating husband.

At first the two are just friends, but after Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and the safe, dull life that he has condemned in others?

Yeah, I kind of blinked when I found out that the subtle, bittersweet Wharton novel set in a gilded upper-crust New York... was being directed by the guy who also did "Raging Bull" and "The Gangs of New York." But fortunately Scorses sticks closely to the original novel -- we even have an omniscient narrator who quotes directly from Wharton's book as she describes New York society.

He preserves Wharton's portrayal of New York in the 1870s -- opulent, cultured, pleasant, yet so tied up in tradition that few people in it are able to really open up and live. It's a haze of ballrooms, gardens, engagements, and careful social rituals that absolutely MUST be followed, even if they have no meaning.

And he delicately brings out the powerful half-hidden emotions that the story revolves around. One great example: a sexy carriage ride where Newland slowly unbuttons Ellen's glove and gently kisses her pale wrist -- it's sensual and erotic without being explicit.

Day-Lewis gives the awesome performance you would expect -- his Newland is stiff and repressed, and nowhere near as awesomely unconventional as he thinks himself to be. Pfeiffer and Ryder don't physically look like May and Ellen, but they give excellent performances: Ryder plays a seemingly innocent, naive young woman who shows hints that she's a lot smarter than Newland thinks, while Pfeiffer plays a more worldly noblewoman who craves love and kindness.

"The Age of Innocence" is an exquisite painting of 19th-century New York's upper crust -- the hypocrisy, the beauty, and the sorrow. If only Scorsese would make more movies like this.
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on March 18, 2002
Martin Scorsese is the master of films with a brutish attitude. The Last Tempatation of Christ felt more like a twist on Ridley Scott's Gladiator with a whacked out plot. To say the least Scorsese's productions are driven by strong robust performances and in this acclaimed Scorsese piece the cast does not dissappoint with morose glamour(but nothing more). Moreover the film itself feels Whartonesque, kind of. Day Lewis is the only one who seems at home with this genre. Scorsese, the producers and the cast as a whole however are way out of their league here. In typical American film fashion actors and actresses are "trained" to perform their roles. However after watching other films that target a similar audience such as the recent Gosford Park, Remains of the Day and even BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice all of which are perfectly performed by experts, one would label the characters as paper thin. Anybody who has seen these films will scoff at the languid pace and delivered lines of AOI. They say their lines as if read not spoken. All subtlety is lost in the scripting and to my final point, the biggest Scorsese mistake. Whack the narrator. One of the biggest flops in movie history is Dune a narrated piece that disgraces the legacy of the literature. Narrators are for stupid audiences that need to be educated lecture style and "entertained" in the same medium. You learn by observing in films such as P&P and Gosford Park. I mean come on, look at Altman's masterpiece where the scenes are so real with multiple conversations keeping you on your toes. I will have to see it several more times to catch everything. The narrator simply ruins any involvement the viewer may have had with the piece. In my opinion it also ruins the attempts of an adequate score to develop the emotion of the scenes. One thing Scorsese has never had is touch. It's all about whoosh and whiz, welcome to Vaudeville gypsy style hurrah. In the end he has only created a decent portrayal of a written work but has never interjected ANY of his own feelings on the subject. Try the recent rendition of Mansfield Park if you want something with some spicy flavors. It truly adds a spin, though inaccurate, to the work. Inexperienced and unsophisticated moviegoers may get involved with these characters but I've been spoiled by far too many superior performances.
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on August 4, 2002
I have viewed this movie nearly 10 times now, and I continue to be captivated by the brilliant performances of the actors. DD Lewis rivets every scene with gracious style, coupled with subtle moments of inner strife (and sometimes silliness) that forces me to search my own archives for these torn and unresolved emotions. After all, it's just acting! But I can't help but be drawn into the emotional undercurrent.
As for W Ryder, what a shockingly incredible performance. I normally find her quite predictable as an actor, yet I found myself guessing whether or not her character was just a sheep, or amazingly brilliant. And I didn't feel cheated.
M Pfieffer follows suit, as I had this inner plea for her to win all that she sought.
The supporting cast (including bit players) were also perfectly placed and helped create this piece into "Master".
I highly suggest this DVD (movie) to those who care to look at motion pictures intelligently, which purposely refrains from suggesting the NEED to look artistically, although it is very artistic, as well.
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on November 13, 2001
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is perhaps the finest piece of filmmaking from director Martin Scorsese. The close attention to details and subtle nuances, the bold, yet sophisticated use of camera movements (the first twenty minutes of the film, at the opera then at the ball is an authentic technical tour-de-force), the precision of camera setups and editing, and the way he incorporates that to reveal the inner, hidden emotion of his protagonists, all that signifies how this master of our contemporary cinema knows his medium, and what he can do with cinema. For instance, just watch the sequence scene where Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) waits the Countess Olenska at her house, watching the paintings on the wall, the ornaments of that drawing room. Through what he sees and what we touches, with some extremely intelligent use of dissolves and cuts, Scorsese shows who the Countess is and at the same time boldly penetrates into the inner psyche of Archer; what he thinks and what he expects in her, what kind of person he thinks she is and he expects her to be. Then we hear the sound of a carriage arriving, as the camera cuts to a long, full shot of the room as seen through the door from the hall way; visually getting out of his inner mind, and observe him with a distance.
To those who thought Scorsese was just a specialist of gangster movies and violent drama might have been surprised when he made an adaptation of this novel, a romantic story of unconsumed love set in the late 19th century New York, and would be even more so to know that it was the filmmaker's own choice, his cherished project to adapt this story. But too those who really know ScorseseÕs works, there's no surprise in it. Scorsese was always interested more in the inner emotions and inner conflicts of human beings. He is a filmmaker who is constantly interested in, even obsessed with, human conscience, and how that expresses itself in a peculiar social context. To him the visual violence was in a way a tool to express those inner conflicts of his characters; for instance, for Jake La Motta in RAIGING BULL, the fights were always against himself, being beaten was more of a self-punishment than loosing a fight.
Here, Scorsese presents us a drama where there is no apparent physical violence. But in a way, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is the most emotionally violent him he has ever made. The social conventions of the time, constituted of subtle, arbitrary signs, express the hostility of that tribal society which is stronger because you never actually sees it, but nevertheless understand it.
It is a wonderful thing that the film is now finally on DVD, so that we can own it in our home and can see it over and over again, to understand its depth. However, it is a pity that this DVD is a bare-bone one. Mr.Scorsese must be busy preparing his new film GANGS OF NEW YORK, but we could have waited for him to spare some time to provide an audio commentary. And all the richness of visual details that fills this beautiful but hypocritical and cruel universe, a contemporary audience could have profited from an extended visual supplements to know and understand how close it is historically, and how those paintings, clothing, jewelries, and gestures must have meant in the high-society back then. The transfer of the DVD is not that good either. It is still a decent transfer, I guess, but the richness of colors which really shows these people entrapped in all those superficial beauties are not here. Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus deliberately avoided the cinematic convention of using an amber overtone to a period piece, and show the colors straight as they are, and that created a strong narrative in itself. Scorsese has even proclaimed that he would have loved to use the Technicolor die-transfer process for this film. Unfortunately, those striking use of colors is not exactly represented in this DVD edition. Maybe we should wait Criterion to produce an extensive, fully-packed DVD. In waiting, it still is worth to own this one.
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on November 15, 2003
I actually saw this movie when it was released in 1993, and honestly it was pretty dull then. Of course I was 22, and the workings of that late-1800's New York society really didn't make much sense or have much relevance.
I think the film may have been ignored at its release because of the slew of other "period pieces" which were so popular (an eventually common) in the late 80's/early 90's... But watching it again 10 years later, this film is anything but common.
The true intensity is Scorcese's detached presentation of a hypocritical & hateful society which holds its members as prisoners.
Not to mention impeccable art direction & beautiful cinematography by the legendary Michael Ballhaus. The film looks as impressionistic as the paintings that line the walls of the characters' homes.
Scorsese is always acute in his casting decisions, and this is one of the films many virtues:
Lewis is perfect as a man who's struggle between his passion & his duty are constantly on the verge of devouring him (yet somehow he thrives on his torture).
Ryder is the seemingly innocent & naive girl who is completely manipulative & cunning underneath her exterior (gee, who would have thought?!) -- notice the arching scene.
In a sense, this was one of Pfeiffer's defining roles. Pfeiffer herself (in a sense) is an "outcast" who has never truly been accepted as a "serious" actress by her peers in the acting community. Watching this film again, it amazes me how this role somehow reflects her personal position in the current social structure of Hollywood, similar to her character existing in 1800's New York society.
What an amazing pic. I completely "missed it" the first time around. Great observance of "high society." Many of those codes are strangely applicable today.
Not recommended for those who like fast paced movies, or those who are looking for the "usual Scorcese." I would couple this with "Last Temptation of Christ" as Scorsese's most brave, artistic, demanding & abstract films to date.
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on December 7, 2000
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is perhaps the highest achievement of its director, Martin Scrosese. Those who thought the subject matter (New York high society in the 1870's) does not fit the director's universe doesn't really know neither what Scorsese's films are all about, nor what he is really good at.
This must have been a great challenge for Scorsese; not only that the book (by Edith Warton) is a truly great one, but also because everything that really happen in this story does not appear on the surface, but underneath it. But keeping his sharp eye on every each detail that constitute this society, Scorsese re-creates beautifully this world that does not exist any more and at the same time brings out the emotions that are hidden behind the brilliant gorgeous surface of the society.
There are no visual violence in this film, but in deep, this is probably the most violent and the most painful of all Scorsese film. The emotional pain, the violent intention hidden beneath the code of manners is certainly expressed, for those who are careful and intelligent enough to really see what's going on.
Production designer Dante Feretti (from Fellini and Pasollini movies) joins costumes designer Gabriella Pescucci to do a wonderful job in re-creating the gorgeous atmosphere of New York high society. Scorsese and his cinematographer Michael Ballhaus uses these sets and costumes so that the characters are entrapped surrounded by all those beautiful objects. Within this gold gilded cage of beauty, Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfieffer and Winona Ryder give the best performance of their career; subtle, yet a lot of emotion going on beneath.
I am looking forward to see a DVD edition of this beautiful film; partly because the transfer of the Laser Disc edition that I already own is not that great, and no special features at all. The book "The Age of Innocence, a portrait of the film" that incorporates the screenplay with photos of paintings and pictures that served as research materials has been a big help for deeper understanding of the film.
But for the DVD, Scorsese's and Jay Cooks' commentary is a must. It would be great if some expert scholar of Warton's works would do an additional track as well, pointing out the meanings of the details that modern audience are rather ignorant about.
This film is so rich it would be ideal to have it on DVD because the you can see it over and over again, each time finding new striking details.
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on November 16, 2002
I read the book The Age of Innocence and enjoyed it, though I felt the romance around which the action revolved was difficult to comprehend. The over all development of the theme in the book, however, was far more complete than that in the film.
The action of the movie seemed almost stream of consciousness, although from whose perspective was somewhat difficult to say. It was if Scorcese expected the viewer to be familiar enough with the book to fill in the blanks. The characters' speech and mannerisms were studied and slow, as though they lived in so rarefied an atmosphere, that they were too delicate to withstand a normal everyday pace to life. (Maybe that's my own generation speaking however; we certainly live in a sped up world today. It's as though we are living at 78 rpms and they were at 45, to use old turn table terms). The splendor and pageantry of the upper class of the age was enjoyable, and the cinematography that highlighted the lifestyle was incredible. The dinner sequences with the multitudes of courses, each carefully and artfully arranged for the guests was very impressive. The period gowns were exquisite. I was speechless over the tableau of famous artists displayed on the walls of the homes of the characters, paintings or replicas of works in the style of Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, Singer Seargent, and classical types by earlier painters. I was especially impressed to see the incredible "Dual after the Ball" by Jean Gerome hanging over a settee in one of the homes. It's one of my favorite paintings.
Again, as in the book, the romance seemed tepid. The illicit lovers were hardly alone together enough to have gotten past social pleasantries when they are expressing enduring passion. This is true of the book too, but in the book there is a certain sense of the ridiculous, a sense of two self centered people enjoying tormenting themselves over a relationship they couldn't have. From the book one comes away with a sense that a young man with everything to lose was kept on the straight and narrow by conniving relatives who have his best interests at heart, like an Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw manner play. The Scorsese film has more of the feel of Ibsen, parted lovers doomed to plodding through life without one another, mere spectators to the drama of other people's lives. Maybe that's how we all feel as we give up youthful dreams for the responsiblities of adulthood.
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on January 25, 2003
It seems that all of these reviews are focusing on the fact that this movie is so different from what we expect from Martin Scorsese, which it is. Outside of some signature tricks, there is nothing that one could identify as Scorsesian in this movie. But that is entirely irrelevant; what matters is the quality of the film, not the people who make it, and this is a brilliant movie. This is a rich subtlety to the whole movie, a silent beauty which is felt rather than seen. Besides a great directing turn by Scorsese (who was nominated by the Directors' Guild for best director on this movie; an award which is often the truest representation of a great director), there is also a wonderful performance from the acting ensemble. Much like Scorsese, Daniel Day-Lewis gives a far more subtle performance than we are used to, which probably explains why people tend to disregard this performance when it is put alongside his work in "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father." It may have even been worthy of an Oscar nomination, except that the Academy refuses to nominate an actor twice in the same category (in the same year "The Age of Innocence was released, he was already nominated for Best Actor in "In the Name of the Father," which is a more stunning and Oscar-friendly role). Winona Ryder did receive a well earned nomination for Best Supporting Actress, playing the role of an (apparently) naive wife. Even Michelle Pfeiffer (of whom I am not a particular fan) more than pulls off the role of Countess Ellen Olenska.
This is a film which in many years would have earned a fair number of Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director), but was the odd-film-out in a strong year of cinema (1993 featured "Schindler's List," "The Piano," "In the Name of the Father," and "Philadelphia," to name a few). It is unfortunate that movies are given recognition on a year-to-year basis, so that in a strong year there will be a few unfortunate snubs (and likewise in a weak year an undeserving movie will come up big). "The Age of Innocence" is a beautifully done film, one that strikes at the soul with its subtle grace and beauty; a truly poignant film. I was quite sceptical when I bought it; in all honesty, my tastes tend more towards "The Godfather" and "Five Easy Pieces," but my gamble was well rewarded. Don't overlook this underrated Scorsese masterpiece.
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on November 22, 2003
Martin Scorsese has made a masterpiece here. His long shots coupled with the exquisite costumes and glorious scenes are breathtaking. Ryder gives a shockingly incredible performance. Pfieffer follows suit, as I had this inner plea for her to win all that she sought.
The supporting cast (including bit players) were also perfectly placed and helped create this piece into "Master".
This film is truly a feast for the eyes, creating a visual world that perfectly reveals the society in which it is set. More importantly, the screenplay draws us into a world where emotion and its expression are defined by the rules of class. Subtlety and depth are keywords for the story in this film, and the actors compliment the presentation by giving well rounded, natural, and believable performances. Oscar Nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Music Score and Best Apated Screenplay. Oscar Winner for Best Costumes. Fans of Martin Scorsese might love this and others think this is Scorsese`s Oddest Film.
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