Strange Scorsese: ‘The Age of Innocence’

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Martin Scorsese was first given Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence in 1980, he didn’t crack open the cover and go through its pages until 1985, he then spent two years working with Jay Cocks, the man who gave him the book in the first place, on the script and then after directing the gangster film masterpiece, Goodfellas, announced it as his follow-up.

Nobody gets whacked, punched, stabbed, or even yelled at in The Age of Innocence, which, when it was released twenty-five years ago, surprised critics; this costume drama, romance, tale of repression, guilt, and loss, was unlike anything Scorsese had made before. This seemingly left turn for the man who gave us Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas is perhaps why the film is usually the one I hear from fellow cinephiles as one of the few Scorsese films they have still yet to see. However, even though Scorsese went from characters speaking New York slang to the Queen’s English, the streets to the ballrooms, it still carries many of the themes that have filled his legendary career.

I wouldn’t go so far as to put The Age of Innocence in my top ten Scorsese films; as with Silence (his last feature until whenever he decides to finish working on The Irishman), Scorsese is extremely respectful of the source material, perhaps too much, even going so far as to include a third person narrator in the film, which confused the executives at Columbia. However, if you haven’t yet seen The Age of Innocence, you have missed out on Michael Ballhaus’s immaculate cinematography, Thelma Schoonmaker’s impressive editing, the production design of Michael Ferrer, which includes 200 recreations of paintings from the era, on which a team of nine worked twenty-five hours a piece. The Age of Innocence also marked the first pairing of Daniel Day-Lewis and Scorsese, and it even features the iconic director himself in a humorous cameo.


Learn more about that legendary “Raging Bull” fight scene in our interview with cinematographer Michael Chapman. And what about those opening credits? They were done by none other than Saul Bass, who you can discover more on in our video, “The Name Behind the Titles.” And no journey down the rabbit hole would be complete without watching our tribute to the star of “The Age of Innocence,” Michelle Pfeiffer!


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