The Age of Innocence

Potters aren’t generally considered to be among the great film critics.  There’s probably a reason for that – something to keep in mind while reading what follows…

I don’t know if there is a cinematic sub-genre called “expository drama,” but there should be.  Films like “Amadeus,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” or “Round Midnight” aren’t documentaries.  But watching them teaches us something about classical music, poetry, and jazz.

So what about pottery films?  As luck would have it, there is one.  No, not “Ghost.”  It’s a 1993 film called “The Age of Innocence.”

“The Age of Innocence” is an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel set in New York City circa 1875.  The book landed Wharton the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a woman.  The film is a maudlin, sappy, sleeper that tries to make the viewer feel sorry for the travails of the super wealthy.  Well, I suppose even they can have a hard time now and then.  (I’ve not read the book which I’m sure is wonderful for its realistic portrayal of a time and place Wharton lived through.)

Still, if you like Martin Scorsese, the film’s director, or Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer, the film’s lead actors, you might enjoy this movie.  But there is another character that isn’t in the credits.  Actually, it’s an ensemble cast and it drives the entire film.  This “cast” is better known as the Decorative Arts.

Late 19th century Victorian porcelain was never one of my favorite styles.  That’s partly because I’d only previously experienced it in glass cases and pictures.  The Age of Innocence is saturated with this body of work (the porcelain, as well as the furniture, silver, crystal, etc.).  The actors sometimes seem to exist merely to adorn the decor.

Period films often get rave reviews (and Academy Awards) for costumes and sweeping scenery.  This one deserves a nod for it’s decorative arts.

So, here’s your homework.  See “The Age of Innocence” some night after all your work is done.  The next day go any Museum with a decent collection of late Victorian porcelain.  Ask yourself afterward if the experience changed your perspective on these items.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noël Hume.  University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

Early American Pottery and China.  John Spargo.  The Century Co./NY.  1926.


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