.

                                                        Flickhead

____________________

AI210607.JPG

____________________

The Age of Innocence

By Richard Armstrong

____________________

    This summer I fell in love. Or at least I thought I did. I am not experienced enough to know the difference. All I knew is that I could barely find words to express how much I felt for T. She was 25 and I was old enough to be her father. She didn’t love me. We negotiated this situation as best we could. In a strange kind of way, I think this was our true complicity. One evening T and I sat in my room and watched The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese’s rehearsal of Edith Wharton’s novel of the 19th century New York haute-bourgeoisie. Its story of missed opportunities and lost encounters amid a genteel ritualized society reminded me of our own rapport, a one-sided liaison played out against the staid backdrop of a graduate hostel in a leafy Cambridge suburb. Perhaps that’s why we watched it.

.

“Are you very much in love with her?”

    At any rate, we sat with a bottle of wine by our side and every so often I would pause the picture and tell T why I liked a certain moment or point out a particular effect of the camerawork or the color. What happens when you tell a friend that you love her is that each encounter and every little exchange becomes charged to one extent or another with the ebbing and flowing of your longing as it churns away in your guts, while you yearn for ways of showing it without vomiting. Meanwhile she circumnavigates these thrashing waters with a series of feints and small gifts designed to console, divert or dispel the threatening currents. The Age of Innocence is a film fecund with the passions that pulse beneath its fabulous surfaces. Like our friendship did, it arrays a precise hieroglyphics of appearances beneath which lies a sea of overwhelming desire and eviscerating pain.

.

AI310607.JPG

.

“As much as a man can be…”

    “The credit sequence is great,” I told T as a series of flowers open to the sun in an accelerated rhapsody of becoming that still reminds me of frissons when anything seemed possible between us. Like my thoughts since T left our house, this film attempts to grasp that which was splendid even as it was already dying. T’s lashes fluttered over her chestnut Italianate eyes as I proceeded to espouse this or that scene with the vigor of a Florentine tour guide delirious at having caught the interest of an angel in the crowd. Of the moment when Larry Lefferts scans New York society through opera glasses, British critic Jonathan Romney wrote in City Limits: “we are shown what he sees in a sort of optical skid—a slurred vision, created by a mixture of stop motion and printing. It charges the visuals with a libidinal energy which belongs less to the character than to the film itself.” I believe Scorsese wanted us to feel the skid at the level of blood and viscera. I believe he wanted us to be in love. Seen through the eyes of the lovelorn, unable to evacuate the energy from their physiognomy or their mind, the world can take on the heightened look of motion picture imagery. At one point, Scorsese puts the camera on a theatre stage as the characters attend a melodrama of love gained and lost. The effect dissolves the distinction between reality and fantasy, the drama on the stage and the drama in the film, the exterior state of things and the interior storm. It is as if the film seeks to chronicle a forlorn love affair, and to chart how it might look aesthetically, simultaneously conveying feeling and the representation of feeling. At one point, Ellen Olenska, the object of Newland Archer’s passion, puts her arms around him before we realize that the act took place entirely in his imagination. As T and I watched this scene, I recalled moments when in my mind’s eye she touched me. Surviving only in the interstices between oblivious daily narratives, such imaginings fill the air with unspoken grief.

.

AI3010607.JPG

.

“Do you think there’s a limit?”

    The energy which fuelled and shaped my view of T, that sweet peculiar agony which I will never feel for another woman for as long as I live, was born of a mystery just as the words I used to convey it to her seemed to come not from a shared lexicon but from some place in me I never knew existed. Time and again these words and these feelings made me soar above the everyday world of detail and contingency. And time and again, growing realization of the truth of what was going on between us made me inert, dead and rotting without really knowing it.

.

AI2410607.JPG

.

“If there is, I haven’t found it.”

    I drew T’s attention to the lush flurry of calligraphy as society declines the Archers’ ball invitation in a series of regretful and euphemistic letters, effectively announcing its dismay at the presence there of the pariah Ellen Olenska. T leant towards me, her hand cupped under her chin, and seemed to savor every sinuous deceit. “I love this bit too,” I gasped as a sea of bowler hats clutched by hundreds of hands negotiate a blustery New York morning to the strains of Enya’s rendition of the 19th century ballad I Dreamt of Marble Halls, with its melancholy litany of love and loss. Scorsese slows the scene right down so that the crowd of clerks, lawyers and notaries seem to be wading through the weather, mired in the prosaic detail of another weekday just as, without passion, Newland Archer would be mired for the rest of his life in the stultifying detail of marriage to a conventional woman. I like to think T understood the inscription of loss, of unrepeatable unbearable feelings tossed and turned by a heedless existence, and she nodded slowly.

.

A4010607.JPG

“Does no-one cry here either…”

____________________