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EDITH WHARTON — The Sense of Harmony

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 by

IndiePix is very pleased to welcome Elizabeth Lennard, Director of Edith Wharton: the Sense of Harmony to the IndiePix Blog. We were attracted by her documentary’s revelation that Ms Wharton, a member of Society in what is often referred to now as “America’s First Gilded Age”, was such a critic of that society in her writing and such an engaged activist in her life. The message of a “Sense of Harmony” seemed especially appealing in this current moment. IndiePix will be releasing this work before Christmas. Ms. Lennard writes …

Like many Americans, I grew up associating Edith Wharton with “Old New York”, and the frigid New England winters of “Ethan Frome”. So I was much surprised to discover, as a Paris-based American, how much of Wharton’s life was spent in France. In a letter to Andre Gide, she explains that the novel “Ethan Frome” itself was begun as a French exercise during an exceptionally cold winter in Paris. “Summer”, its counterpart, also set in New England, was based on tragic stories of World War I victims Wharton witnessed in France, where she contributed extensively to the war effort.

Researching the film was full of encounters and discoveries: I managed to unearth, after a long pre-internet search, the only known film footage of Wharton herself –If only a few seconds. I had the privilege of meeting and filming two people who actually knew her: Colin Clark shares childhood memories, (son of art historian Kenneth, and author of “My Week with Marilyn”) and Sir Steven Runciman, the great historian of the crusades, aged 98, was eager to share recollections of staying at Wharton’s Villa Saint Claire at Hyeres. Not to mention, getting to interview the great Wharton scholars, the late RWB Lewis and Louis Auchincloss.

I’m thrilled to hear that Scarlett Johannsson will be Undine Spragg in a new mini-series based on Edith Wharton’s “Custom of the Country”. Wharton centers her novel on the ascendency of the vivacious and unscrupulous Spragg, a redheaded Midwesterner, who social climbs her way into French aristocracy. Actress Johannsson fits the physical description of Spragg to the tee.

I admit having read “Custom of the Country” for the first time while researching my documentary “Edith Wharton, The Sense of Harmony” and I devote a sequence in my film to the book. Not as well known as “The House of Mirth” or “The Age of Innocence”, one is struck by the timeliness of the novel. Written one hundred years ago, the description below of Undine’s banker husband Ralph Marvell, could just as easily describe a Wall Street banker today:

“He stood at the corner of Wall Street, looking up and down its hot summer perspective. He noticed the swirls of dust in the cracks of the pavement, the rubbish in the gutters, the ceaseless stream of perspiring faces that poured by under tilted hats. He found himself, next, slipping northward between the glazed walls of the Subway, another languid crowd in the seats about him and the nasal yelp of the stations ringing through the car like some repeated ritual wail. “

- Giacometti and Dora Maar biographer, the late James Lord, is the narrator.

- New York born art critic Lisa Liebmann lends her voice for Wharton

Thanks to INDIEPIX my documentary “Edith Wharton, the Sense of Harmony” produced for French public television, will at last be available (in its English version) to an American public.

IndiePix Thanks You, Ms. Lennard!

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