Eastman EXR 50D Color Negative Film 5245 / 7245
1989 – 2006
Subtractive 3 color: Chromogenic monopack
Eastman Kodak Company
The Age of Innocence (USA 1993, Martin Scorsese)
“Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence might have been subtitled The Man Who Could Not Love Women. The poet of impotence has translated Edith Wharton’s acerbic scrutiny of the suffocating codes and customs of late nineteenth-century New York into melodrama, centred on a tragic hero incapable of breaking through the social ties that bind. On the face of it, the film is a faithful adaptation of Wharton’s book, even allowing the writer herself a voice in Joanne Woodward’s narration. The minutiae of the novel’s descriptions of decor and fashion have been lovingly re-created, as the matching of image and voiceover testifies. This is a meeting not only of minds, but also of compulsions: the obsessional film-maker has found a fellow fetishist in Wharton, whose fascination with fine detail takes social realism to excess. And, of course, they are both artists who study their society with outsiders’ eyes.
Such distance as Scorsese does take on Archer is realised, characteristically, partly as a problem of vision. His film is literally an art movie in which characters are judged according to their taste and the audience is tested on how many paintings and objets d’art it can identify. The camera follows Archer’s gaze as he travels from room to room examining acquisition after acquisition. But the connoisseur’s eye that sets him apart from most of his peers is also his downfall. Archer’s approach to life and love is that of an aesthete – he would rather look than act. To him, May’s niceness is a curtain hiding her basic emptiness, but it is his own inability to see beyond surfaces that separates him from the woman he professes to love. His first sight of Ellen after his marriage is from afar as he watches her on the seashore gazing out over the ocean. He promises himself that if she turns round, he will go to meet her, but she does not move and the moment is lost. The scene of Ellen on the shore is reminiscent of an Impressionist painting, with sparkling sunlight and soft colours creating a highly romanticised vista in which the static figure of a woman acts as a kind of guarantee of order and harmony.
Scorsese seems unexpectedly at home with period drama, taking more than one cue from that other saga of social change and doomed love, The Magnificent Ambersons. As in Welles’ film, the tension between tradition and modernity is signalled by the use of irises and masking, which looks back to silent cinema while at the same time acting as harbinger of the new medium about to take the late nineteenth century by storm. The Magnificent Ambersons is melancholic, treating its characters swept up in the tide of history with sympathy and projecting a sense of loss at what is sacrificed in the name of progress. At first glance, Scorsese’s movie is less nostalgic, ending on a hopeful note which recognises that Archer’s children will achieve the happiness he denied himself. For Scorsese, as for Wharton, Archer’s final decision to walk away from love is the last nail in the coffin of the past in which he is entombed. Yet it is clear that the film-maker, more than the novelist, identifies with Archer’s desire to live in his memories rather than face reality. Scorsese’s Age of Innocence is suffused with fear of loss, most notably in its striving for period authenticity (always a lost cause) and in its obsession with faithfully reproducing the novel.”
(Cook, Pam (1994): The Age of Innocence. In: Ginette Vincendeau (ed.): Film – Literature – Heritage. London: BFI, pp. 161–164, on pp. 162–163.)
The Age of Innocence (USA 1993, Martin Scorsese)
“RED: A GUIDE TO WHAT IS NOT SAID
There are many films in which color is meticulously researched in order to provide historical accuracy. But it is the true master who goes further and uses color as well to capture the inner life of the characters and mirror the subtle intricacies of the story. Martin Scorsese’s Victorian reds are accurate to a fault. But it is the way that he shows them to us that affects us psychologically and emotionally. The brilliance of Scorsese’s approach to the use of red in this film lies in the fact that it is reality-based and interpretive at the same time. Ironically, the Victorians chose to act out their rigid rules of strict behavior within drawing rooms and opera houses where red, the color of lust and ardor, was a dominant visual theme. Red becomes our guide to what is not said.
Unspoken intrigues are consistently being played out among the characters in this tightly knit society. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), a scion of one of New York’s most prestigious families, is a master of repression. Red is constantly around him, tantalizing him with its many guises. At the opera when he first is introduced to the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), the woman who will become his obsession, a bright red wall vibrates around him. As he admires the “audacious” painting of a nude in the Beaufort’s drawing room, the crimson of the interior activates the unspoken sexual energy in the room. Even in the uptown sitting room of powerful and very clever matriarch Granny Mingott (Miriam Margolis), red’s personality mirrors and supports the intrigues that are hatched there. Granny, after all, has a bit of the devil in her.
Red defines who Granny Mingott is. Under the guise of gentility and charm she is a powerful woman who enjoys creating intrigues with other people’s lives. Granny is also very independent. Due to her considerable girth she is virtually immobile, but rather than succumb to this inconvenience she builds her house at the very edge of uptown New York. All the people who matter in her class are obliged to come to her. Granny understands the intricacies of power and she actually delights in activating anxiety. She keeps setting up situations to throw Ellen and Newland together. When we see Granny, she is always in her red sitting room. The deep red of the room actually sets up a spatial intimacy where the walls tend to close us in. Scorsese understands the intricacies of color. He uses red to keep the tension level alive and well in Mrs. Mingott’s house.
In a luxurious gown, arriving late at her first New York formal dinner party, or walking bundled in a bright coat through the white snow at the Van der Leyden’s country estate, Ellen wears red. She, like Granny, appears to be direct, but we are never quite certain how much of it is planned and how much of it is innocent. She may be a temptress, but a temptress who still stays within the rules. She is the flame and Newland is the moth. Nevertheless, this moth averts the flame as often as he is tempted by it, and sometimes the flame avoids the moth. This dynamic, consistent throughout the film, is both supported and sustained by the anxious energy of red.
In a strange way, each of them is compulsive. She flees to the country. He goes after her. She flees to Boston. He goes after her. However, in the end, both of these not-quite-lovers wavered when they might have acted. Red has the kind of compulsive and tense energy that can be consuming, and then quickly gone. Newland’s compulsion was always tempered by his caution. Another part of his character was yellow. (See Yellow: “A Paralyzing Caution” on page 35.)
Only twice in the film is red allowed to crescendo and saturate the entire screen. These are key moments where we are able to actually see abstractly what Newland feels. Of course, they both relate to Ellen. However, The Age of Innocence is ultimately Newland Archer’s story, and Scorsese uses these saturated reds to give us a glimpse of the intense inner feelings of this elegant and restrained young man. When all of New York Society declines Granny Mingott’s invitation to meet the Countess, Newland believes the refusals are not a rejection, but, rather, eradication. As we hear these words, we see Ellen, her head bowed, bathed in an intense red light. She turns, stares directly at us, and dissolves into the saturated red that fills the screen. It is a brilliant visual translation of both the seething anger of Newland and the pain of Ellen.
We see what he feels and why he feels it at the same time. It is not a simple thing Scorsese does when he allows red to take over and fill the screen. When the red light floods over Ellen, we’re trapped between the objective and subjective and the specific and abstract, simultaneously. It’s almost as if we bump into ourselves emotionally. Ellen’s body language signals a profound sadness, but the bright red color signals Newland’s intense anger. For a brief moment we are left in an uncomfortable place between a powerless image and an active energy.
Scorsese, however, saved the most subjective yet very abstract red clue for last. After the farewell dinner for Ellen, Newland leaves his circle of male friends in the drawing room and stands alone, facing the fire, a mahogany red in front of him. His back is to us so it is as if we are standing behind him. The red of the wall becomes redder, slowly intensifies, surrounds him, and leaves. You can actually feel that energy as it envelops him. It is this color and its energy that intensifies Newland’s pain. He can no longer remain in denial.
The red that visually overwhelms Newland is an irrational force. It’s repressed fury. It’s angst. It’s intense pain. And all of this is communicated without seeing that incredibly expressive face of his. Red reveals an emotional response to a realization that he has been avoiding all evening. Somewhere deep within him he knows he will never see her again.
PURPLE: THE DEATH OF DELUSION
Perhaps, all along, Newland’s wife, May (Winona Ryder), was his perfect match. The first time we see her, she is in the palest of pink, a distant reminder of red. That, in the end, makes a good deal of sense. Pink sends a very innocent signal and it captures a critical element in May’s disingenuous character. She may appear innocent, but she is more than clever. May, in the final analysis, was the most passive controller of all. It was she who wore purple at the last dinner party.
YELLOW: A PARALYZING CAUTION
Newland sends Ellen roses that are yellow – a color that captures an essential element of his character. He can’t possibly send Ellen red roses. It would be way too obviously lusty for him, and besides, he’s far too romantic. Actually, yellow, particularly a golden yellow, is the perfect color for a romantic idealist (think of the great romantic legends, like Arthur and Guinevere or Romeo and Juliet, and see if you don’t visualize them in golden light). Yellow is cautionary: a trait that all but paralyzes Newland. It is warm, not hot. It is just edgy enough to satisfy his romantic idea of himself. In a moment of brilliant character exposition, Scorsese has Newland put his card in the florist’s envelope, hesitate, and then take it out and send the flowers anonymously.
Yellow also reflects the dynamic between Newland and Ellen. When we see her arranging the roses he has surreptitiously sent her, Scorsese shows us the importance of yellow to the dynamic between Newland and Ellen. The blossoms have opened and the color fills the screen behind her. (See the image in Chapter 4 on page 70.) Gradually the entire screen becomes yellow and we see her only enveloped in that light: his light. She is, after all, the object of his passive obsession. The screen is filled with caution and the object of his obsession all at the same time. It’s ingenious. Even when the clever Ellen asks him at the theater if he thinks the heroine’s lover will send her a box of yellow roses, Newland’s response was “I was thinking about that too.” That’s what Newland does. He thinks about it. He dreams about it. His actions stay within the golden confines of his mind.
Indeed, yellow defines the arc of their relationship. To the end, Newland is a dreamer. Even as he sees Ellen for the last time, a vase of yellow roses stands like a sentinel at his side.
Both Newland and Ellen ultimately preferred to live with the idea of being together. Even years later, when they are both free, Newland chooses to sit directly beneath her window and remember her. In his vision, she is bathed in a romantic golden glow and she turns and looks directly at him – an act that would shatter everything.”
(Bellantoni, Patti (2005): If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die. The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling. Taylor & Francis, on pp. 33–36.)
The Age of Innocence (USA 1993, Martin Scorsese):
Bellantoni, Patti (2005): If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die. The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling. Taylor & Francis, on pp. 33–36.
Cook, Pam (1994): The Age of Innocence. In: Ginette Vincendeau (ed.): Film – Literature – Heritage. London: BFI, pp. 161–164, on pp. 162–163.