To the editors:
Jonathan Rosenbaum's September 17 review of Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence pissed me off so much, I have finally decided to overlook all of his future reviews, and offer something of a rebuttal in respect of the film.
Although posing as in-depth criticism, this inappropriate piece seemed overall to be a mean-spirited, ill-conceived, and (so much for political correctness) prejudiced attack on one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.
I came across this piece of "something" just after recently finishing Mary Pat Kelly's Scorsese: A Journey, which reveals--through extensive interviews with Scorsese, his parents, and various colleagues--not only what kind of person he is, but just how much thought, energy, and devotion he puts into his works (light-years beyond what Rosenbaum put into this review, I suspect).
Like Pauline Kael's negative publicity campaign against Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (undoubtedly inspired by her failures in trying to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter), Rosenbaum criticizes Scorsese for being out of his element, saying he's more at home with gangsters and filthy streets and inferring that he couldn't possibly know of life among the upper classes by virtue of his background, as if one's upbringing (or class) solely determined, or limited, the extent of his imagination. If filmmakers all followed this presumption, we wouldn't have Citizen Kane, Children of Paradise, Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, The Last Emperor, and all the other films that gave us a glimpse of Beauty thanks to the director's ability to project himself into other realms of experience.
Come on! Scorsese's film was adapted from Wharton's novel. Now I don't mean to sound pedantic--something Rosenbaum does quite well--but naturally, some elements will be emphasized, some briefly touched upon, and the rest ignored. He was continually referring to the novel as a crutch to weed out the parts of the movie he couldn't comprehend, and there were many. This was meant to be enjoyed as a film in itself. Everyone knows that you never get the full transposition from book to film unless you throw the actual book on screen, and flip pages for the crowds to read. So when Rosenbaum says that "the sudden shift in viewpoint doesn't correspond to a dramatic or analytical point," citing two overhead shots at a ball and a dinner party, he ridiculously reduces them to "the nervous tic of an awed director who isn't . . . sure what to do with his camera." These shots in particular illustrate how the upper-class functions as a socially controlled organism, how its "form" dictates its behavior. And then when he calls certain scenes "a TV ad for Gourmet magazine," he once again trips over his pedantry, and fails to see that these fine details over food, place settings, and drawing rooms are what characterized that time period and class. It's called ATMOSPHERE, and if both Welles and Visconti had what cinematic technology we have today, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that they would milk their scenes to the very last frame.
Besides, Welles and Visconti were both making different points with their movies. I believe that one of the many things Scorsese intended to show was despite being surrounded by full-blown opulence, people become cut off from their own feelings, creating a state of "innocence" in those who conform to its prescribed codes of behavior. An example of this is when Archer is having dinner with his family. In this scene, everyone is "cut off" from each other in the way they are framed by the two candlesticks. And when someone with worldly/sexual experience like Countess Olenska comes along, we see how she manipulates the naive Archer, stirring up illusions of passion for her, which she always quashes whenever he gets too close to her. This point seems to have been missed by most critics who were simply astonished by the film's visual splendors.
And what the hell was that crack about Scorsese being a "drooling paisan with his nose pressed against the window," supposed to mean?! Mr. Rosenbaum must have been at the bottom of his thimbleful of ideas to come up with that one. Imagine my surprise to read such a thinly veiled racial slur in, of all things, a supposed film review.
Then, as if he finally realized where this ineffectual pompous diatribe was leading (i.e. NOWHERE), he feebly attempts to make up for all the previous barbs by exclaiming how "inventive" Scorsese is, "staccato filmmaking . . . at its best," and he even goes so far as to compliment the image of Olenska's long shot by the dock. No shit, Sherlock! God, could Rosenbaum afford it? Another typical example of digging for a few crumbs of praise amidst a sarcastic slag heap.
I think what Rosenbaum is loath to accept is essentially Scorsese's generosity, in that the film reaches an almost "virtual reality," whereby Scorsese is literally inviting the entire moviegoing world to sit at sumptuous, luxurious tables and saying, "Mangia, mangia!" By the way, just why the hell is it whenever someone creates something really beautiful, or displays true talent, someone always has to trash it in some way? WHY?! Is it a jealousy thing? Well . . . so much for petty, unimaginative functionaries whose sole mission in life is to skeet shoot all truly great works of art.
In view of the above, since the reviewer's pseudointellectual, superficially deconstructive, quasi-Marxist interpretation of movies bears no relevance to the way most people think (or why they see movies for that matter), I suggest that all future readers completely avoid having their sensibilities poisoned by this half-baked, academic sludge and collectively request that someone with a fresh, relevant (dare I say pedestrian, or Capitalistic) outlook on Cinema be selected to replace Rosenbaum once and for all.
Nick J. Palazzo