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….


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?


The Duet in Washington Square

The haunting duet that Morris and Catherine sing in Holland’s Washington Square is not a famous number by Verdi or anything. The music was written by the composer who did the rest of the score, Jan Kaczmarek. The lyrics are taken from a poem by the Nobel-prize-winning Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-68), titled “Tu Chiami Una Vita”:

Fatica d’amore, tristezza,
tu chiami una vita
che dentro, profonda, ha nomi
di cieli e giardini.
E fosse mia carne
che il dono di male trasforma.

The following translation is my improvement on one that I found online:

Weariness of love, sadness,
You evoke a life
That within, deep inside, has the names
Of skies and gardens.
As though it were my flesh
That the gift of evil transforms.

<<By contrast, in The Heiress, the song, “Plaisir d’Amour,” sung solo by Morris, is eighteenth century (1784), with music by the minor French composer JPE Martini, of a poem by Claris de Florian. It’s very familiar because it has been sung by everyone from Joan Baez to Brigitte Bardot, and has appeared in half a dozen other films.>>

There is also a French song in Washington Square.  We hear it at 64.33 as a musical bridge between the “Carnival in Paris” scene, through a short scene where Catherine buys sheet music (where we see the soprano who is singing it), into the scene in Paris where Catherine is having her white wedding dress fitted.  Again the music is by Jan Kaszmarek, the words are taken from a poem, “Absence,” by the nineteenth-century French poet Theophile Gautier:

Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée !
Comme une fleur loin du soleil,
La fleur de ma vie est fermée
Loin de ton sourire vermeil.

Entre nos cœurs tant de distance !
Tant d’espace entre nos baisers !
Ô sort amer ! ô dure absence !
Ô grands désirs inapaisés !

D’ici là-bas, que de campagnes,
Que de villes et de hameaux,
Que de vallons et de montagnes,
À lasser le pied des chevaux !

In English that would go: “Return, return, my beloved!  Like a flower far from the sun,/ the flower of my life is closed, / far from your rosy smile.  / Between our hearts such a distance/  So much space between our kisses / O bitter fate, o hard absence/ O great desires unfulfilled/  From here to down there / So many towns and hamlets / So many valleys and mountains / To exhaust the feet of the horses.”

One other song needs to be mentioned: the one Catherine is too nervous to sing on her father’s birthday….

Catherine’s solo performance

It’s the very same song–“Tale of a String”–that she performs on the piano together with the chorus of appreciative children in the “day care center” she runs in her Washington Square parlor.  (Lyrics are by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, music by the versatile Jan Kaszmarek.)

She’s No Angel!

The “woman in white” whom we see in the Pincio Gardens during the Punch and Judy Show is almost certainly a high class Roman prostitute (or courtesan, if you prefer).  The speculation in class that she is Winterbourne’s “foreign lady… older than himself” from Geneva is highly implausible: she is alone and unchaperoned, exposed to view in a public park.

Peggy McCormack’s article says: “This woman very deliberately attracts Winterbourne’s glance in a clearly suggestive manner.” And Winterbourne obviously doesn’t know her, when he meets her glance, he looks away, he’s not interested. McCormack goes on to say that this encounter causes Winterbourne to doubt Daisy’s innocence again, but I’m not sure she’s right about that, though it’s possible. My own view would be that we are to take in the contrast between the openly flirtatious girl dressed in white with her innocent delight in the puppet show, and the slyly suggestive posture of the courtesan who is also dressed in white.


Lend Me a Tenor

The Bogdanovich Daisy Miller includes two tenor arias: One is sung lightheartedly by Mr. Giovanelli at Mrs. Walker’s party,

The other is sung with deadpan expression and great seriousness by an operatic tenor in seventeenth-century military costume (played by Salvatore Lisitano) in a production attended by Winterbourne at the Teatro dell’ Opera in Rome.

What I didn’t notice till this time through the film was that they were the very same aria, “La rivedrà nell’ estasi,” from Act I of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.

If you’d like to hear Placido Domingo sing it for you, check out

The words go:

La rivedrà nell'estasi 
Raggiante di pallore . . . 
E qui sonar d'amore 
La sua parola udrà. 
O dolce notte, scendere 
Tu puoi gemmata a festa: 
Ma la mia stella è questa 
Che il ciel non ha!
Quest'è mia stella!
When I see her, pale and radiant,
my soul will be in ecstasy,
and as I listen to her voice,
it will seem to speak of love.
O sweet night, come down,
Bejeweled as for a feast;
Ah, but she is my only star
A star the heavens cannot boast

Tiffany Robinson’s Post on Daisy Miller

The consequences and benefits of following the norms of society:


Daisy Miller was a victim of society. Her potential at love was snubbed by the high ideals of the European society around her. Bogdanovich did a good job of portraying Daisy as a fun, free spirited American girl. We see this in her undying resistance to the societal norms when she walks about with two men in the park and goes out late with men. The portrayal of Daisy and her mother as people who do not know how to hold intellectual conversations shows the viewers that Daisy is acting from learned behavior. They often babble and speak very quickly about topics which no one else seems to care about. When discussing romance Daisy and Winterbournes attraction was instant. This can be seen in the scene on the open terrace where Winterbourne first meets her brother Randolph and Daisy. We continue to watch Winterbournes amazement and intrigue with Daisy throughout the movie. WInterbournes attraction lay in the fact that Daisy was not stuck up and stiff like the other women in the society around him and even though those were the standards in which he was raised he realizes that the fun loving spirit of this girl is in fact refreshing. It’s always said that old habits die hard though and WInterbourne lives true to this saying when he returns to find Daisy spending ample amounts of time with Mr. Giovanelli. WInterbourne starts to loose site of the free spirit Daisy is and in turn begins to judge her just as everyone else in society had all along. He could no longer ignore his upbringing. But even in his efforts to look at Daisy as a woman not deserving of his attention we see that Winterbourne still cares very deeply for her in the scene in the coliseum in the middle of the night. Winterbourne sternly reminds Mr.Giovanelli that Daisy is at risk of catching Roman fever. A man who did not care would’ve looked upon those two together and turned away without even saying a word to them as he had intended to do when he first took notice of them. His hesitation and turning back around was the true expression of his emotions for Daisy.


Throughout the movie it was said by the high society members that the fault of Daisy’s behavior was her mother’s. I believe that even though the judgments passed against Daisy were harsh these statements were in fact correct. If Mrs.Miller had raised Daisy to be more aware of the risks running around late at night could cause to her health and to her reputation as a woman she would have faired better in life. Even though one likes to say that they are not a slave to society there are certain norms in which we all must keep to have certain successes. Daisy’s stark defiance ultimately caused her untimely end.

The Verse That Daisy Doesn’t Sing


The Verse Daisy Doesn’t Sing

In Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller, Cybill Shepherd sings one verse and the chorus of “When You and I Were Young.” Here is what she sings:

I wandered today to the hill, Maggie,
To watch the scene below;
The creek and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
As we used to, long ago.
The green grove is gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
The creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young.

And now we are aged and gray, Maggie,
And the trials of life nearly done;
Let us sing of the days that are gone, Maggie,
When you and I were young.

The irony is clear enough as it stands–Daisy will not live to be “aged and gray”–and like the early spring flower mentioned in the verse she will bloom and die.

But if you want a little extra irony, and don’t we all, here is the second verse–which Daisy does not sing–and which is even more appropriate for the cemetery where we finally hear the tune again, right at the very end, transposed into a minor key:

A city so silent and lone, Maggie,
Where the young and the gay and the best;
In polished white mansion of stone, Maggie,
Have each found a place of rest,
Is built where the birds used to play, Maggie,
And join in the songs that were sung;
For we sang as gay as they, Maggie,
When you and I were young.

(Actually this is the third time we hear it.  When we first hear the tune, it has been transposed into a minor key, and we hear it when Winterbourne and Daisy are walking toward the gloomy Chateau de Chillon. It seems to be nondiegetic mood music — until the two of them pass a wounded soldier playing the tune on a concertina….)