The Age of Innocence
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
– Production Information –
Director MARTIN SCORSESE, best known for his portrayals of urban angst in such films as “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “GoodFellas,” now turns his hand to a poignant, timeless story of love and loss in Columbia Pictures’ “The Age of Innocence.”
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, and WINONA RYDER star in a drama of a man caught between two women and two worlds. The story, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Edith Wharton, is interwoven with passion, sacrifice and intrigue played out against the opulent backdrop of New York in the 1870s, a time of Morgans and Vanderbilts, of lavish excess and social hypocrisy.
As the film opens, Newland Archer (Day-Lewis) is engaged to May Welland (Ryder) and is urging her to hurry the date of their wedding. Their match embodies the character of old New York with its tyranny of family lineage and social standing.
Ellen Olenska (Pfeiffer), May’s cousin, has just returned from Europe.
Newland is captivated by Ellen. Her honest nature and the mysterious authority of her beauty point up the constraints of his own society and the inexperience of his fiancee. He finds a kindred soul in Ellen, and they fall passionately in love.
Now Newland must choose between May and the world he knows and Ellen and the world he dreams of having.
Columbia Pictures presents “The Age of Innocence,” a Cappa Productions film, directed by Martin Scorsese from a script he co-wrote with Jay Cocks, based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name. Barbara DeFina is the producer. The film
also stars Miriam Margolyes, Richard E. Grant, Alec McCowen, Geraldine Chaplin, Mary Beth Hurt, Stuart Wilson, Sian Phillips, Michael Gough, Alexis Smith, Norman Lloyd, Jonathan Pryce, Robert Sean Leonard and Joanne Woodward as the narrator.
The behind-the-scenes creative team on “The Age of Innocence: includes such longtime Scorsese associates as director of photography Michael Ballhaus and Academy Award-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Elmer Bernstein is composing
an original score for the film. Dante Ferretti is the production designer and Gabriella Pescucci is the costume designer.
Martin Scorsese is recognized both here and abroad as one of America’s most critically acclaimed directors. From his breakthrough feature “Mean Streets” to his most recent film, the box office hit “Cape Fear,” his artistry has set a standard for
film making. Indeed, “Raging Bull” was voted Best Film of the Decade in numerous critics’ polls at the end of 1989.
At first glance, “The Age of Innocence” may seem a surprising choice for Scorsese. But the director has proved adept at storytelling in a variety of contexts — “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,”• “The Color of Money” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” area few examples.
“Jay. Cocks gave me the book,” says Scorsese. Cocks, a longtime friend, knew of Scorsese’s interest in history and his fascination with society and ritual, and felt he shared some common interests with Edith Wharton. Wharton often refers to
the “tribal” nature of the established New York families in her book. And what are”Mean Streets” and “GoodFellas” if not portrayals of modem New York tribes, albeit of a decidedly different nature?
“What really attracted me to the book,” says Scorsese, “was the sense of poignancy — the sense of loss. This is a love story, and a love between two people, whether successful or unsuccessful, is common to everybody.”
The story takes place among the privileged of old New York, an insular, highly structured world concerned mainly with keeping up appearances and maintaining a strict social order. As Wharton describes, it was “a hieroglyphic world
where the real thing was never said, or done, or even thought.”
Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis is Newland Archer, a young lawyer who never questioned the world he lived in or the woman he loved until he met Ellen Olenska.
In Michelle Pfeiffer, Scorsese found the perfect Countess Olenska, a woman who must radiate a sense of the exotic and a forthrightness of character. Pfeiffer had long admired the works of Edith Wharton and was delighted at the opportunity to
bring a Wharton heroine to life.
Winona Ryder is May Welland, Archer’s fiancee. She was raised by her mother, aunts, and grandmother to be the ideal woman for society, and she is the smooth perfection of their world. She never acknowledges Ellen as a rival because
her gaze never wavers from her true target, Newland.
An outstanding cast completes this rarefied echelon of late 19th century society. British actress Miriam Margolyes plays Mrs. Mingott, the most powerful social arbiter in New York even though she is confined to her home because of her
immense girth. Richard E. Grant plays Larry Lefferts, Newland’s peer who epitomizes the hypocrisy of their world. His counterpart, Sillerton Jackson, played by Alec McCowen, is a gossipy bachelor whom society regards as the expert on
family. Film and stage actress Mary Beth Hurt is Regina Beaufort, a woman whose meteoric rise in society is equalled only by her catastrophic fall. Sian Phillips is Newland’s mother, Mrs. Archer, and Geraldine Chaplin plays May’s mother, Mrs.
Welland. Alexis Smith and Michael Gough are Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden, who represent the peak of old New York aristocracy. Jonathan Pryce is M. Riviere, a mysterious messenger from Ellen Olenska’s past. Norman Lloyd is Newland’s
employer, Mr. Letterblair, whose calm insistence on appearance sets Newland on the path away from his desire. The cast also includes Carolyn Farina as Newland’s sister, Janey, and Robert Sean Leonard as his son Ted.
“The scope of “The Age of Innocence” in terms of costume, sets and cast has made this our biggest production yet,” says producer Barbara DeFina, “but the mood of the film is very intimate. You really feel as though you are in their world.”
Scorsese was inspired by the films of Luchino Visconti, Max Ophuls, Jacques Tourneur and William Wyler. Wyler’s “The Heiress,” especially, made a singular impression on him the first time he saw it. In “The Heiress,” as in “The Age of Innocence,” a conspiracy of family and friends set on maintaining the social order keep the lovers apart.
To accurately portray such a subtle and restrictive society was of vital importance. “My job,” says Robin Standefer, the visual research consultant who did 18 months,of-research for the film, “was to provide the social and historical context for the film. The stage had to be set exactly right so you believe what happens.”
Novelist Edith Wharton grew up in this “privileged” society. The Age of Innocence is a clear-eyed observation of the people who lived in it and of those who challenged it. The adaptation by Scorsese and Cocks retains the unsparing honesty
and real,love that made this her greatest novel. Their screenplay provides the essence of THE AGE OF INNOCENCE: passion, loss, honor and remembrance. A complete love story.
About the Production
In the early 1980s, Jay Cocks gave Martin Scorsese a copy of the book, The Age of Innocence Cocks had read it a few years earlier and had seen its cinematic possibilities. He also felt that the book’s bittersweet theme would certainly appeal to
his friend, who had just completed “Raging Bull.” It took Scorsese a few years to get to the novel, but when he did, he was as taken with the love story as Cocks. “In fact,” says Cocks, “I think the whole movie was in his head by the time he turned the last page.” Together they completed the first draft of the script in February 1989.
“Casting is key to Marty,” says producer Barbara DeFina, “and he knew right away who he wanted: Daniel Day-Lewis for Newland Archer.” Scorsese also went immediately to Michelle Pfeiffer to play Ellen Olenslca, a choice based, surprisingly,
on her portrayal of a mobster’s wife in “Married to the Mob.” “I thought she played the part with such truth,” says Scorsese, “that I really believed she was someone from Queens.”
The part of May Welland took longer to cast. “We needed someone who was a good physical contrast to Michelle,” says DeFina, “but also someone who could carry off May’s dual nature.” The character of May, as described by Wharton, combines “great depth of feeling” with “complete girlishness.” While at an event in Los Angeles, Scorsese, who had never met Ryder, was introduced to her and felt she would be perfect. He discovered that Ryder had read Edith Wharton and knew her work very well. Within a few minutes of meeting, the search for May was over.
The rest of the casting went quickly. “Alec McCowen, Geraldine Chaplin, Sian Phillips, all these people I had wanted to work with, and finally, I made a movie I could put them in,” says Scorsese. “When you look at it, the cast is first-rate,” says
DeFina, “which was perfect for the aristocratic level of society we were creating.”
Because so much of the story in the film would be subtextual, production design was of vital importance. Scorsese had met production designer Dante Ferretti on the set of Fellini’s “City of Women,” and they had wanted to work together ever
since. Ferretti read the script and knew immediately how he wanted to proceed. One obstacle he faced was that this was a very closed, highly restrictive society, and everyone seemed alike. To differentiate the characters, Ferretti approached them as a painter might, choosing different palettes for different personalities. He chose rose for Mrs. Mingott’s drawing room to reflect her vibrancy and warmth. For the very conservative Mrs. Archer’s he chose blue. “Her house is boring, cold and bourgeois,” says Ferretti, “because she is rigid and joyless.”
Paintings were an inspiration all along to Scorsese. Portraits of women in white dresses by Sargent, couples lit by gaslight at the opera by Whistler and half- empty ballrooms by Tissot were all points of reference for the look of the film.
Ferretti felt that paintings could also be used to describe the people who owned them.
Mrs. Archer, again for example, has only paintings of sheep and cows in pastoral settings attesting to her conformist nature. Three actresses, Mary Beth Hurt (Regina Beaufort), Alexis Smith (Mrs. van der Luyden) and Miriam Margolyes (Mrs.
Mingott) even had their portraits painted so that their likenesses would hang in their homes. Ferretti’s third element in the design of the film were the dinners. Seven dinners were to be served throughout the film, each one with a meaning of its own.
Entertaining was the most important thing these people did. Households would show off at the dinner table. Scorsese and Ferretti oversaw the planning and execution of these dinners, aided by Rick Ellis, an expert in food presentation and food history.
Ellis drew on his collection of over 4,000 American cookbooks to determine unique menus for each dinner. The van der Luyden dinner was the most complex, with 13 courses, which was about average for a formal dinner of the time. “The type
of food and preparation that they had then was not so much different than from today,” says Ellis, “they just served more of t, a lot more.” Indigestion was a chronic complaint. The food was overcooked with heavy sauces. Servants brought
out and served each course in a well-timed choreography that turned dining into a ritual. The focus was on the look of the food and the presentation.
Lily Lodge was the etiquette consultant on the film and was close at hand during the entire shoot. “Etiquette is what we call it today, but then it was simply the way of life,” says Lodge, whose grandmother, Elizabeth David Frelinghuysen, was a
close friend of Edith Wharton’s. Lodge started out by first instructing the actors on the use of their props. The use of a fan for the women, for example, should be discreet, economical and should not attract attention. “No Carmens,” says Lodge.
For Day-Lewis, she instructed him on walking with a cane, but stressed not to show off while walking. “These people were proud of their behavior, proud not to be show-offs.” What began as an instruction in manners eventually evolved into an
induction into another way of life. Lodge sums up the ethos: “Do not call attention to yourself, make others feel at ease.” People were to feel comfortable in their bodies, but they did not move very much, as it was more fitting to be still. In this
frame of mind, when someone did move, “then that movement became very meaningful,” says Lodge. “We paid great attention to this. When, for example, Ellen crosses a room to speak with Newland, she is making a very powerful statement. And in the context of everyone being still around her, this speaks volumes.”
When the characters actually did speak, it was important that they should sound correct, Tim Monich worked as the dialogue coach and helped all the actors with achieving the right sound. When asked to describe it, Monich sighs, “that manner of speaking was really lost during the ’20s. George Plimpton sounds close to what they sounded like.” For Ellen Olenska, Monich says, “since she was raised abroad, she had to have European inflections which we worked on.” Even this little difference is another thing that sets her apart from the rest of New York society.
Costume design was another area where the personalities of the characters could be expressed. Costume designer Gabriella Pescucci had collaborated with production designer Ferretti on several films before in Italy, and it was he who suggested her to Scorsese. Pescucci felt that the way of dressing reflects a person’s way of thinking, as well as character. This echoes a passage from one of the books used in the film’s research, The Art of Beauty (1879): “Dress is the second self,…a most eloquent expositer of the person.” Pescucci was often able to draw directly upon the novel for inspiration. Wharton describes Ellen Olenska as “heedless of tradition” when she receives visitors in a “long robe of red velvet bodered
with.. .glossy black fur.” Pescucci’s interpretation, a deep red velvet robe trimmed with fine black feathers, faithfully brought to life Ellen’s unconventional personality.
Pescucci’s background in theater and opera gave her a good grasp of period costume.
Although all of her designs were new, she incorporated some original dress details, such as laces and embroidered panels, into her, costumes. The lace in Ellen’s green silk morning dress and the bodice of May’s violet dinner dress are examples of old blended with new.
Perhaps the biggest costume challenge was the dressing of hundreds of audience extras for the opening opera sequence. Dressed in costumes shipped from Italy’s famed House of Tirelli, most of the female extras were dismayed to learn that
their luxurious silk and satin dresses came with a price: corsets. Fortunately, for the men, tuxedos have not changed very much since the last century. Their only nod to a long ago time were the gardenias in their lapels.
Shooting began on March 26, 1992 outside Troy, New York and finished at the end of June in Paris. Scorsese prefers to film on location whenever possible.
“The location can give you a certain energy,” he says. According to Barbara DeFina, about 75 percent of the film was shot on locations, including historic homes in Troy, New York, New York City, the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, and the Louvre
in Paris. Production designer Ferretti worked closely with the location crew to “fit the right location with the right character.” For the outdoor scenes, location scouting took place all over the Northeast. Troy, New York, with its three-story brownstones and elegant facades, provided the perfect location for almost all of the city exteriors. River Street in downtown Troy was transformed over a weekend to 1870s Wall Street. Location manager Patty Doherty says, “Since the buildings on the street have remained unchanged since the turn of the century when Troy was a major business center, there were no new tall buildings in the horizon. This had been a big problem elsewhere. And the street had a curve at the end which obscured traffic lights. We couldn’t have built a better set.”
The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house in Troy was the location for Mrs. Mingott’s home. Although Ferretti did extensive re-decoration to turn a men’s frat into a dowager’s salon, a surprising amount of the original detail such as wood paneling, fireplaces, and a carved balcony had been preserved in the house. Good fortune continued to hold with the scout for a period concert hall which would be the opening scene of the opera “Faust.” The Philadelphia Academy of Music worked out
perfectly since it was of the same design and built at about the same time as the old New York Academy of Music. The Academy had been well maintained down to the scarlet and gold opera boxes which matched the description in Wharton’s boot
The Tilden House on Gramercy Park (now the National Arts Club) may have been a place Edith Wharton visited in her youth. The Club had maintained the turn- of-the-century look, but Ferretti re-dressed the interiors to become the enfiladed
drawing rooms of the Beaufort mansion. Club members were so happy with the new look that they have decided to keep it. Standefer sums up the production this way: “The houses that we used had so much period detail that when the actors in costume stepped onto the dressed sets, it was like a window on another century.”
EDITH WHARTON was the most insightful chronicler of her day, winning a Pulitzer Prize for her sharp portrayal of New York society in The Age of Innocence.
She was born Edith Newbold Jones, the only daughter of the wealthy and well- established Jones family in New York in 1862. She was educated according to all the rigid social strictures prevalent at the time. Although she displayed an early literary interest, writing her first story at age 12, such “unbecoming” and “unladylike” behavior was discouraged. In the face of family disapproval she abandoned fiction until she was 29.
She married Teddy Wharton in 1885, but they were ill-matched and the marriage was an unhappy one. Edith directed her energy into interior design and decoration, ultimately building a house in Lenox, Massachussetts called “The Mount,”
which she helped design.
Despite her upbringing, Edith lived an unconventional life, eventually divorcing her husband and living abroad in Europe. She travelled alone, wrote, and enjoyed friendships with some of the foremost intellects of the day, including Henry
James, Sinclair Lewis, and Theodore Roosevelt. She settled in France, and received the Legion of Honor Award from the French government for her refugee efforts during the First World War. She died in southern France in 1937.
With her first story published in 1891, Wharton began an immensely prolific and successful career that included over 40 volumes of short stories, novellas, and novels. Such works as Custom of the Country, Ethan Fromme, The House of Mirth,
and The Age of Innocence endure as classics of American fiction. Her book on interior design, The Decoration of Houses, published in 1897, is considered must reading for decorators today. In 1921 she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer