Adventure in the Bookstore

Milly and Kate meet and Shaw’s book shop in Bloomsbury. (I’ve been there, it’s near the British Museum.)  And they scandalize the (male) customers by going over to the “Foreign Language” section and opening a scandalous book.

And having a laugh about it

The subject of the pornographic illustration, though is one man simultaneously pleasuring two women–and of course that is what becomes both more and less than a joke as their relationship with each other and with Merton develops….

Klimt’s Danaë in The Wings of the Dove

In the 1997 Iain Softley adaptation of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove. Hossein Amini’s screenplay telescopes two scenes in the novel: One is the chance meeting of Milly Theale with Kate Croy and Merton Densher in the National Gallery, where she becomes aware of their prior relationship (about which Kate has to lie); the other is Milly’s recognition of her fate, and her need to do something with her life before she meets that fate, while looking at a Bronzino portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi that Lord Mark shows her at Matcham:

“The lady in question, at all events, with her slightly Michelangelesque squareness, her eyes of other days, her full lips, her long neck, her recorded jewels, her brocaded and wasted reds, was a very great personage–only unaccompanied by a joy. And she was dead, dead, dead. Milly recognised her exactly in words that had nothing to do with her. “I shall never be better than this.”

These two scenes are combined into one, which takes place at what visitors to London will recognize as the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, where Milly–after a visit to the “consultant radiologist” Sir Luke Strett, and observing children playing football in the Park–runs for cover to the Gallery to get in out of a sudden rainstorm.  When she arrives, Milly unexpectedly sees Kate and Merton “looking at pictures.” And the picture they look at longest is Klimt’s Danaë.



The hair of Klimt’s model is like that of Alison Elliott, playing Milly Theale in the film…



And the Klimt functions symbolically on two levels: the legend of Danaë, impregnated by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold, alludes to Milly’s vast wealth,

Furthermore, the compressed posture of the model in the Klimt painting, crammed as it were into the thick wooden box of the frame–see the framed version above– suggests Milly’s oncoming fate, to be enclosed in a coffin.

But Softley does something else with the Danaë image at the very end of the film, when we see Kate (played by Helena Bonham Carter) with her knees drawn up into the same physically folded position as the Danaë:

This image goes along with the sense we are given that the living Kate (whose need for Milly’s gold generated the plot) is now the encoffined Danaë, while the dead Milly is more alive than Kate is, as far as Merton is concerned….


How Far Will People Go For Money?

In The Wings of a Dove, the topic of money and its power over humanity arises time and time again. How far will someone go for money? In the case of The Wings of the Dove we see that people will sell their friends, their boyfriend and even their own daughters to make a buck. I found this quality about Kate extremely disturbing in the book and this made it hard to sympathize with her character; however, the movie helped me to see where Kate was coming from. At 16:20 Kate has recently learned that her Aunt Maud disapproves of the one she loves and she has been forbidden to converse with Lionel. It is at this point in the movie we witness Kate curled up in a fetal position on her bed, releasing meek cries of despair.

It is at this time that we can see how desperately Kate wants to escape her situation, the same way her father and her sister desperately want to escape their own situation and poverty due to the meager amounts allocated to them from their mother’s will. Lionel, Kate and Kate’s father are all in the same boat- they do not have any money, this causes them to act desperately and to look inwardly which forces them to use things and people to make ends. In the book we hardly hear Kate’s father speak about anyone expect himself:

“To put it to your conscience that you’ve an admirable opportunity; and that it’s moreover one for which, after all, damn you, you’ve really to thank ME.”  (James 6)

“It’s just your honour that I appeal to. The only way to play the game IS to play it. There’s

no limit to what your aunt can do for you.” (James 7)

We see that most of the statements that Lionel makes in the book correlate directly with himself. How can he get what he wants? How can he win?

Kate’s father is always using words such as, “what your aunt can do for you,” “you should be thanking me,” he is constantly thinking how he can win at the expense of others, this attitude may have rubbed off on Kate as well. In many books, money is described as the root of all evil –  another book says that the love of money brings a snare to all men. The Wings of a Dove epitomizes those statements as we see Kate’s father sells his daughter to Aunt Maud, and Kate sellsout her best friend Milly, to gain monetary pleasures. Kate could have run away with Lionel at the beginning of the novel, but she did not because of money. Aunt Maud could have blessed the union between Kate and Lionel, but she did not because of money. Money, money, money. Kate could have even asked Milly to sponsor her and Lionel, but she did not and why this is, is open to interpretation. At the beginning of the novel, would Kate have been happy with some of Milly’s money – enough to live comfortably? Or did she want all of it? This novel certainly brings up the sad question: How far will people go for money, and the answer is far indeed.


The Wings of The Dove – The Contrast between Light and Dark

Iain Softley’s film, Wings of a Dove, is such a beautiful, melancholic masterpiece. However, I suppose a lot of movies have this sense of melancholy and bittersweetness to them when they’re adaptations to nineteenth century novels. Softley did a great job directing this movie as he entrances his audience with subtle details. Such as, the differences between Kate and Milly. It’s not hard to miss how they’re different. For example, the colors. Kate is always wearing these dark hues like black, blue, grey, dark blue, while Milly wears colors that are more lively like pastel green, white, even this teal blue which gives her this glow that burns brighter than the rest. Having these two side of side, we can easily see how Milly is truly young and fresh while Kate seems more solemn and old, even. With the whole high class society, Milly seems more alive while others are decaying from their sense of greed and obsession with superficiality. Which is really ironic sense Milly is the one with the terminal illness while Kate dresses like she’s always in mourning. Another difference between them is their caretakers: Aunt Maude and Susy. One actually follows the wishes and the well being of her ward, while the other uses her girl as a doll to be crafted into her ideal image. The casting was amazing as Alison Elliott truly did play a convincing portrayal of a sweet, innocent girl whose living life to the fullest. However, Helena Bonham Carter is much too serious to play as Kate. Yes, only she has this dominant grace that no one can miss when she’s in a crowd of people but she just looks too controlled. Even those scenes of intimacy and secrecy seems to leveled and decent within the scenes that are supposed to portray passion and lust. There’s no sense of vigor or determination from Carter’s character to make the audience seriously hate her or sympathize with her. Every decision she makes, even with the consequences there, makes it seem like ‘oh well’ that it was just by an impulsive whim but that’s not really the case with Helena Carter’s emotionless face. What was really well done was the camera angles being used for Carter’s character, Kate, since it shows this sense of control along with her manipulation. How the camera is always even or that it’s on a slight low angle on her when she’s with characters like Merton or Milly. She’s only at a high angle or at a seemingly vulnerable situation to fit her character, to blend in, as these camera angles help manipulate her role of a powerful woman or a submissive one. Such as, at the beginning scene on the train and when she leaves it. Even though it’s supposed to look like that she’s being followed and that she’s being stalked by some predator of the opposite sex, she’s the one pulling the strings as she’s giving those little cues like a glance from her eyes and Merton follows. He’s always being polite as he removes his hat before performing a sexual advancement. Milly and Kate are perfect characters as they are wonderful contrast of each other, and it’s fun to see how it manifests itself on the screen.

And how do you love?

Said at 58:48 into the movie by Merton to Kate after confirming what she desires him to do is the statement that will unravel their relationship. Although this pivotal moment is a major contributor to their destiny the moments leading up to this painted a different fate for the pair. The movie begins in the train where Kate is riding along in a crowded car. At first we do not know the man who has given her his seat is Merton but we soon find out after the kiss in the elevator. The first few minutes of the film give us a glimpse into their relationship. We can see their desire to be around one another and the fun times they shared in scenes such as when Kate came to see him when he is involved in an argument with other gentlemen regarding politics as well as them spending time in the park. Both Kate and Merton at this point in the movie seem as if they are head over heels in love and will find a way to be together eventually no matter what tries to stand in their way. However this happy go lucky relationship soon transforms and it’s in this transformation that we get the answer to Merton’s question and how do you love?


      Although in the beginning of the movie Kate appears as if she loves Merton as deeply and freely as he does her we soon see that she and Lord Mark share a similarity in the way that they love. Lord Mark loves Kate but he trying to pursue Milly for her money. He even admits to Kate one drunken night after he slips into her room. He professes that although he loves her he needs Milly’s money and that she is in fact ill and will not live very long and that after she passes he will then marry Kate. This moment in the movie does two things it establishes the way Lord Mark loves but it also plants an idea in Kate’s head. She knows that Milly is in love with Merton and if uses Lord Marks plan she can solve her problems. In this moment we see the confirmation of how Kate loves. Kate has had the choice all along to marry Merton and choose love over the unhappy life she is living with her aunt. But Kate like Lord Mark is more in love with money then they are the people they claim to love.
    As we soon see Merton wanting only to please Kate goes along with her plan. As time goes by while he is courting Milly I believe Merton begins to realize the difference in the way Milly and Kate love. Milly loved Merton without condition. We see this in the few weeks worth of dates that they share and even  previous to the trip to Venice. Milly simply wanted Merton in her company. She often wanted just to be able to steal a glimpse of him. Her love was pure and her only desires was to give it to Merton and receive his in return. This kind of free love is all  Merton ever wanted from Kate. He loved Kate to the extent that he had allowed her to convince him to through with this plan just so he could finally have her. The guilt and the true knowledge of who the women he loved really was ultimately lead Merton to avoid Kate when he finally returned and upon her visiting him he gives her a final test. Merton hands Kate the envelope addressed to him from Milly. Although in the book Kate reads it in the movie she does not. She simply tosses it into the fire place. This is a small confirmation for Merton that Kate does in fact love him and he proceeds to give her a final ultimatum. He tells Kate either you marry me without the money or not at all. Kate says she will marry Merton with out the money but I personally feel this statement is just a formality on her part. She had previously said to him that the letter being burnt did not mean he would not get Milly’s money. I believe Kate is still very much aware of the depths of Merton’s love for her and she just answers him to appease his mind. She knows that Merton will do anything to make her happy and will most likely still take Milly’s money to make sure he is capable of doing so when they are married.  What started out looking like a promising future for these two was ruined by the differences in they the way they loved.

Subtleties that shouldn’t be ignored in The Innocents

Jack Clayton’s 1961 film, The Innocents, is eerie and haunting with many little details synchronized so well together, it creates this ominous labyrinth for the audience to explore and continuously wonder about the aftermath and effects of these symbols and the truth behind them. The fact that there is a young and pretty governess at a remote location with two neglected children should guarantee that malevolent forces will be at work to manipulate and take advantage of these vulnerable, unprotected souls. This movie is a psychological thriller masterpiece! While much deserves praise from the music, the dialogue, the acting, the editing, to cinematography, what captured my attention the most was references made throughout the movie which suggested towards Miss Giddeon’s sexual repression and how it manifested into dark terrors which she must confront during the movie.

The first few hints of Miss Giddeon’s sexual repression was at the beginning of the film where she’s being interviewed for a job position. The uncle would say phrases that seem to have a double meaning, such as “give me your hand, give me your promise.” These words seem to resemble the words of marriage, especially with how insistent he was about giving her power of that remote home. Another subtle hint is when Miss Giddeon arrives at the estate and talks to Mrs. Grose about the master. Her behavior signals that of a young woman very innocent as she was caressing the flowers, then looked at her own image, and comments being made about Miss Giddeon being young and pretty. The weren’t able to leave those comments alone when it was mentioned that the master “seems to like them young and pretty.” It was as though these two women were trying to bring up the topic of sexuality but very awkwardly. It’s so repressed that it’s a struggle to get to the point about the topic. Which is the main struggle of the movie: going through those dark truths to expose and release the problem the children are facing.

Another example of sexual repression being used as a tool to create a psychological disturbing scene is mostly with the children, namely Miles. Such as, when the children were playing hide and seek and Miles pounced on Miss Giddeon in the attic room. He has her in a head lock and with a cruel smile, claims that she is his prisoner and refusing to let go. Also Miss Giddeon tosses and moans on her bed, especially after her encounter with Peter Quint. Her description of him had a hint of yearning as she readily pointed out that he was handsome, and peering through the window looking for someone. It almost sounded romantic. The sexual abuse and the sexual violence and trauma, later revealed in the movie, is vivid through the clues of subtleties and those dark places.

Loss of innocents

        It is said that the weak are easily lead astray. Ms.Gidden’s is a representation of this idea. Her ability to see the situation at Bly for what it is was due to her weakness or “innocence’s.” We first see her innocence portrayed in the initial meeting with the uncle in London. She had never been employed as a governess before and even though there were obvious doubts in her face as to her experience and ability to do what was expected of her the innocence’s within her trusted him. As the tale progresses her innocence is witnessed when she arrives at Bly. Her desire to walk the rest of the way from the gate and enjoy the natural environment that surrounded her showed her innocence as an adult. Ms.Giddens unlike the children’s uncle had not been corrupted by the city lifestyle. This purity that Ms.Giddens posses is the reason why she was able to eventually see through the children and confirm that they were not in fact innocent at all. The children had at one point been innocent like Ms.Giddens herself which is what made them susceptible to being corrupted by the spirits of Mr.Quint and Ms.Jessel. They lost their innocence when they witnessed the distasteful actions that Mr.Quint and Ms.Jessel displayed in their presence and upon witnessing both of their deaths. Childhood is said to end when a child witnesses and begins to understand the adult world they no longer view life from naive viewpoint. Ms. Giddens coming to Bly was in its own way the loss of her innocence. She was exposed to and held responsible for the ungodly occurrences that were taking place their. This caused her to stop viewing Bly and the children as pure and beautiful an in turn the world itself.

The Truly Weird Source of the Weird Imagery in The Innocents

One of the weirder suggestions that I’ve seen in the literature on Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is that Truman Capote, one of the screenwriters, jazzed up the symbolism of the film by adding images taken from a strange early renaissance printed book, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (which translates as The Strife of Love in a Dream of Polyphilus) published in Venice by Aldus Manutius in 1499. The authorship is unknown and there are many guesses as to who designed the hundreds of woodcuts with which the story is adorned; the current best guess is Leon Battista Alberti.

A brief article that conveys an idea of what the text is about and what its graphics look like is at

A photocopy of this rare text itself–yes, all of it, internet lovers–is online at “”

It has been argued that many of the visually effective things that establish the uncanny atmosphere at Bly (Flora’s turtle, the doves, the statues of lovers, the cupid with a beetle emerging from its mouth) have been ascribed to Capote’s encounter with this very strange erotic text. And anyone still looking for a paper topic has one ready made here….

Editing in The Innocents

There are three basic ways to splice two pieces of film: an abrupt cut, a fade to black, and a dissolve (where we see two scenes simultaneously with the first bleeding into the second).

When there is a shift in both time and place, cuts are rare in The Innocents. Only once that I can recall does director Jack Clayton use a cut between shots that are discontinuous in time: there is an abrupt cut at 15:08 when the scene shifts to Flora playing boisterously in the bathtub.

In many contemporary films the “grammar” of editing uses fades or (more often) cuts with a sound bridge to get us from one sequence to the next. Not in this film. Here Jack Clayton uses the dissolve far more often than in any movie we have seen thus far as a transition between sequences of shots indicating shift of time or place. He even dissolves between shots where there is NO shift of time or space, just a shift of camera angle–as when Miss Giddens goes up the stairs to the tower roof of Bly, then we dissolve (30:34) as she emerges onto the roof.

Dissolves with lots of disparate images are ALSO used in the film for dream sequences–in Miss Giddens’ nightmares as at 58:56 to 60:31–which are nothing if not subjective.

So here’s the big question: Could it be that by using the dissolve for transitions, as well as for dreams, Clayton gives the entire film an interior quality, as though the waking sequences were representing someone moving between memories? Is this the director’s subtle way of insisting upon the subjective quality of what we are ‘objectively‘ seeing?


Freeing the Heiress

William Wyler’s adaptation of Henry James’ Washington Square into his 1949 film, The Heiress, emphasizes the constrictions on the protagonist, Catherine. His camera work and set construction are used to create a constant awareness of her ensnarement. The set of her home is created with many framings. Many shots are of Catherine being seen through the mirror on the stairway landing or framed by the stone archway behind the house. Those framings are used to visually encase her within the home. That is reflected in the way Catherine is constantly restrained by her father and the way he mentally abuses her and tries to mold her into a daughter that would be shaped like the former mistress of that home.

The camera work is also employed to emphasize Catherine’s daunting lifestyle. Wyler often uses deep angles with his cameras. From the first introduction of the house when the dress is delivered for Catherine, rather than using medium shots to encapsulate the exchanges of dialogue between the maid and the dressmaker as well as between the maid and Catherine, Wyler instead places the cameras at the bottom of each stairway and uses low angles. It is almost in a way to show how high Catherine is placed on the social ladder and how far she has to fall. That is contrasted to the final scene when the positions of Catherine and the camera are switched. Catherine is seen ascending the stairs with the camera at the top of the steps and viewing her with a high angle. It is symbolic of how she is finally free to climb up now that she is free of her father and Morris. She is finally an heiress detached of any men to pull her down.