Moments out of Time 1993

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 30 Number 1, January/February 1994, reprinted by permission]

age-of-innocence-1993-poster
The Age of Innocence

• Willing his warmest fantasy—Ellen Olenska’s embrace—into motion behind him, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) gazes out at a window-framed winter’s cape along the Hudson: the aesthetics of desire in The Age of Innocence

• The one that got away in Short Cuts: a woman’s body in the water, neither lady of the lake nor rainbow trout, just dead meat for Kodak consumption…

• Anyone of Johnny’s (David Thewlis) psychiatrically Socratic inquiries of a night’s worth of Naked pilgrims: to an affectless Elvira-punk in obligatory black lace, leather, and chains—”Would you describe yourself as a happy little person?”; to the thick Scottish lout whose head jerks in massive tics as he periodically bellows a lost girlfriend’s name into empty London streets—”What’s it like being you?”…

• Opening of Fearless: A blank-faced man (Jeff Bridges) clutching a child leads a gaggle of grimy refugees through rows of green cornstalks; disaster’s raw shock unanchored from time or place…

• The wired quiet and summer evening dark that presses up around a prairie farmhouse, death heavy in the air; the opening of Flesh and Bone

• Loveliest main-title sequence: The streets of Philadelphia, according to Bruce Springsteen and Jonathan Demme; promise of an epic of contemporary America—unfulfilled…

• Lizard climbing out of vase, The Scent of Green Papaya

• “Put your little hand in mine… ” Groundhog Day‘s wake-up call from hell—or Punxsutawney, PA, filling in for Dante’s Purgatorio…

Gettysburg: Expecting to die from a pistol shot at point-blank range, Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) expels a puff of air through his mustache. The hammer falls on a spent cartridge. Chamberlain disarms the Rebel who would have killed him and says, “Wait here”…

• The first clear look at Oskar Schindler, after an elaborately reticent introduction via haberdashery, authoritative tracking shot, and the power of money: Liam Neeson’s echt-lrish physiognomy somehow transformed from within, into a profile as hawkishly Teutonic as Hans von Twardowski’s—Schindler’s List

• Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue: Juliette Binoche sees a man beaten in the street beneath her window, then waits in dread for him to knock at her door…

• “I DON’T CARE!” Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones)’s bottom-line, utterly self-possessed rejoinder to Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford)’s protestation of innocence in midchase—The Fugitive

• Scene that defines “multivalenced,” In the Name of the Father: the prison screening of The Godfather; Marlon Brando onscreen in age-and-ethnic makeup … Pete Postlethwaite (as Daniel Day-Lewis’ father) nodding off on the upper tier … the immolation of the block captain (John Benfield) who had just shown a surprising degree of sympathy Day-Lewis’ rejection of IRA violence … the film burning in the gate…

• Angie Dickinson punching daughter Dana Delany in the stomach, Wild Palms

• Tina Kellegher to Colm Meaney, The Snapper: “You’re my knight in shining armor.”…

• Leonardo DiCaprio checking out his stepsister’s ass, This Boy’s Life

Short Cuts: the screw-loose symmetry of motorcycle cop Tim Robbins, in helmet and shades, and the rocking, bobbing, dark-eyed clown head atop Anne Archer’s car…

The Age of Innocence: The casual sexual contempt of Beaufort’s “That’s the only kind of target she’ll ever hit” when nymphlike May achieves an archer’s bull’s-eye; a rake’s myopia missing the grace of predatory innocence…

• During diplomatic toasts and elsewhere in Remains of the Day, James Fox’s perfect take on Lord Darlington’s befuddled honor and killing goodwill; an upright anachronism erasing itself before our eyes…

• Gene Hackman’s weary understanding that he is not desired by Jean Tripplehorn, or indeed anyone; the only real blood spilled in The Firm

• Truer words never spoken: Johnny’s “You don’t want to fuck me—you’ll catch something cruel.” Naked

• Sweet comedy and soul-deep yearning commingled in Bill Murray’s “Stay…” when the woman he loves (Andie MacDowell) starts to leave his bed, in Groundhog Day

• Kurtwood Smith, Fortress: “I am enhanced!”…

• Sandal floating by on flooded bedroom Floor—Rebels of the Neon God

• Mary Steenburgen behind the Rice Krispies, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

• “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’!” Expectant grandfather (Colm Meaney sublime) singing the theme from Rawhide as he drives his daughter to the hospital—The Snapper

Flesh and Bone: The long drink of water in dark glasses (Gwyneth Paltrow) throws herself on the body of the grifter who was her lover and some kind of daddy (James Caan)—and lifts a time-piece to remember him by…

• A miscellaneous yet deeply gratifying image in midtrial, Philadelphia: the plaintiff’s father (Robert Castle) coming back into the courtroom; out for a piss, but in for the long haul; thick of trunk, stalwart as an oak, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s the director’s Cousin Bobby…

• Other inspired familial casting: Lily Tomlin and Lili Taylor as mother and daughter, Short Cuts

• The chilling SNICK of a cigar-clipper signaling the precise decapitation—of an after-dinner amenity or a woman’s good name—in The Age of Innocence

• The horrific crucifixion of a false madonna in Baby of Mâcon: rape-by-hundreds as religious ceremony, soldiers’-night-out, and sumptuous Greenaway theater…

• Truffaut’s goddess-muse far gone into earth-mother grotesquerie: Jeanne Moreau as great red ravisher at the end of The Summer House

• Drunken colleen to the fellow shagging her atop a handy car bonnet: “Is that you squeakin’?”—The Snapper

• Sherri Shepard (Madeleine Stowe) scenting another woman on husband Gene (Tim Robbins)’s fingers-Short Cuts

Body Snatchers: Meg Tilly as the “wife,” shrieking. as husband Terry Kinney flees from their house, “Where ya gonna go, ‘Steve’?”…

• A Casper the Friendly Ghost mask looking out the back window of a car; pursuers and pursued passing on a lonely Texas road, A Perfect World

The Pelican Brief: a D.C.-area suburban street at night—housefront, lawn, great spreading tree—rapturously well-lit (by Stephen Goldblatt) and splendidly acrawl with nameless jeopardy: the return-to-form of Alan J. Pakula…

• Little Jo (Suzy Amis) transfixed by the sight of a half-naked Chinaman (David Chung) bathing in her river, his long, black hair a wet banner; a gently telling reversal of Western sex roles, The Ballad of Little Jo

Carlito’s Way: The way Carlito (AI Pacino) slowly becomes physically attuned to the many vectors of impending violence in a long poolroom; an old dog running on instinct…

• A bantam warlock failed by troglodyte minions, Lance Henriksen throwing a hissy fit on the grand scale in Hard Target

Schindler’s List: As the baggage left behind by the latest trainload for Auschwitz is carried into a nearby warehouse, the accompanying tracking shot inventories the processes of the Holocaust in small—the sorting of eyeglasses, rings … teeth…

Short Cuts: Claire Kane (Anne Archer) pretending to sign the guestbook at the funeral of the girl from Bakersfield…

• An almost Jamesian moment in Remains of the Day: Anthony Hopkins’ Stevens up against the mantel in his den, cornered but unfortunately never ravished by the woman—Emma Thompson’s Miss Kenton—who would have opened doors for him…

• The flat-eyed guile and pushy physicality of David Straithairn’s redneck in jockey shorts … a grufty rodent cornering A Dangerous Woman (Debra Winger) in the airless afternoon light of a deserted bungalow…

• Hara-kiri as penitentiary theater-in-the-round: Jeremy Irons’ bloody apotheosis as his own obscure object of desire, the first and final sign of real passion in M. Butterfly

The Ballad of Little Jo: Bo Hopkins’ expression as he gazes on the dead and disrobed body of the elusive Little Jo—so that’s why they was never friends!…

Short Cuts: painter-sister (Julianne Moore) and naked sister (Madeleine Stowe) cackle in eerie rapport after flustered husband/brother-in-law (Matthew Modine) has passed through the studio…

Philadelphia: seconds after giving birth to their son, Lisa Miller (Lisa Summerour) loads film in the family camera so Joe (Denzel Washington) can take a picture…

• At Geronimo‘s elegiac end, in a Florida-bound cattle-car, the lineaments of Wes Studi’s weathered face map a lost Western race and landscape…

• Erogenous zones: The tiny island of white flesh surrounded by black stocking that Harvey Keitel touches beneath Holly Hunter’s skirts in The Piano … Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer)’s naked hand, passionately ungloved by Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), an exquisite intimacy in an Age of Innocence … Marian Wyman’s (Julianne Moore) confession of casual infidelity, in Short Cuts, semaphored by flashes of red pubic hair…

• Lili Taylor’s loopily beatific smile when Jesus drops in to do a “loaves and fishes” number on the red-checked shirt she’s ironing—Household Saints

• Framed in the window of a bam, Carlotta’s tiny figure proudly astride her great white horse—a sight that ensorcels Marcello Mastroianni’s jaded soul in I Don’t Want to Talk About It

In the Line of Fire: Old hand Clint Eastwood sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, betting the object of his growing affections (Rene Russo) will look back as she walks away—and she does…

The Age of Innocence: waiting for the ship to pass the lighthouse…

• In fairy-tale silence and dark of night, a silver horse flows round a moonlit curve of beach, trailing out the film’s title credit: Into the West

• In a rare moment of authentic FX magic in Jurassic Park, a wave of little saurians sweeps over hill and dale, threatening to overrun scientist Sam Neill and the two kids he’s babysitting: “They’re herding toward us!”…

Le Sexe des étoiles: The look on the gentleman’s face when a teenaged girl breezes into the restaurant and greets the attractive matron he’s been chatting up: “Hi, pop!”…

• The exchange of stares between Buck Henry and Lili Taylor when they collect each other’s snapshots at the Fotomat—Short Cuts

Like Water for Chocolate: a Rubenesque redhead, naked as a jaybird, exploding out of a burning privy in the middle of a Western prairie, to be snatched up and carried away by a bandit on horseback…

• Sea-changes: In the cold depths off the Irish coast, a drowning child finds a mother’s long hair and gathering hand where a horse’s white mane had been—Into the West … The body of a woman umbilically anchored by a piano below, the muted life of potent imagination suspended underwater, surety for everyday words and embraces on firm’ ground—The Piano

• “What’s this?” The edgy delight in Jack Skellington’s musical response to the rich paraphernalia of Christmas—Night of the Living Dead hunger sweetened, but still the alien appetite of the grave, in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

• Postmodern prophet and reluctant audience of one lean at each other, silhouetted against white-lit windows, Naked: Brian the security guard (Peter Wight) mesmerized by Johnny’s rant about bar codes and the mark of the beast, apocalypse and the death of hope…

• The way an old man’s blood suffuses the snow in Schindler’s List: in a black-and-white hell, the stain of this sin seems to let in all the darkness there is…

• Christopher Walken playing flawless Sicilian-psychotic variations on his do-you-believe-this-shit? reaction to Dennis Hopper’s calculated insults, during a typically explosive interrogation in True Romance

• Arne’s obese mother (Darlene Cates) cradles her retarded son, begging him never to “disappear” again: being there in a What’s Eating Gilbert Grape pietà…

• The way Kevin Costner pronounces “Philip,” in A Perfect World: overly precise, almost prissy, a damaged child’s babytalk thinly veneered in grownup formality…

That is a good painting!”—the centered certitude of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Short Cuts..:

• An angle on a parking garage no one has ever done before—The Pelican Brief

• Charles Grodin’s deserted sheet music just barely seen to blow away in the sidewash from the bus after it has picked him up; now and again, Ron Underwood’s direction comes near imparting a genuine delicacy to Heart and Souls‘ facile, much-rewritten fantasy…

Geronimo: Walter Hill/Lloyd Ahern’s zoom-lens version of one of the big shots in Sam Fuller’s Run of the Arrow, with Gene Hackman (as General Crook) in the Tim McCoy position for an Indian parley…

• From the kitchen one floor below, a Jurassic Park velociraptor rises straight up into the camera and among the humans scrambling for safety: virtual reality pushing the envelope…

The Snapper: baton twirler in shaving foam practicing to the phono accompaniment of “My Irish Molly”…

• Camera angle and hillside conspire to mute, yet somehow heighten, the glancing contact of Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin)’s car and Casey Finnigan (Zane Cassidy)—death commonplace and teasingly deferred in Short Cuts

• The aesthetics of casual murder, Schindler’s List: we see the bullet impacts from the pair of rifle shots that bracket the Jewish servant-boy, who never veers or turns to look over his shoulder; cut to Itzhak Stem (Ben Kingsley), walking a similar course a few yards behind, flinching at the third gunshot but pressing on, to pass the bloodied boy without comment or further glance…

• Just at dawn, the blue-saturated silence that envelops the circus grounds as Carlotta finally finds her real home and family—I Don’t Want to Talk About It

• Tom Waits praising Lily Tomlin’s trailer cuisine, Short Cuts: “You make the food look like a little show down there”…

The Snapper—Nothing on telly, so Dessie (Colm Meaney) has to wonder: “Suppose a ride is out of the question?” Wife (Ruth McCabe), knitting and purling: “Hang on till I get this line done.”…

• The camera recedes from, circles, and returns—after a sweep of miles and eons—to a man (Matthew Modine) poised on the lip of the Grand Canyon: the metaphysics of identity in one vertiginous shot at the end of Equinox

• “Is that a map of Ireland … or a damp patch?” Naked

• Bats swarming for earthquake and murder, Short Cuts

Philadelphia: The closeup of Andy Beckett (Tom Hanks), on the sidewalk outside the offices of the tenth lawyer (Denzel Washington) to turn down his case…

• The last line/shot of the haiku that is The Scent of Green Papaya: film and woman ripened into fruit…

The Snapper: Des Curley, his granddaughter safely born, studies the foam on a perfectly achieved Guinness….

RTJ / KAM

[reprinted by permission of Film Comment]