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Director Whit Stillman


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Whit's well-liked around here, but (at least on this incarnation of the board) we've not had a focused discussion about the lad and his films. So I say it's about time. Criterion released METROPOLITAN earlier this year, and apparently Mr Stillman is at work on film number four, so... Let's dig in!

I'll be heading into town this Sunday to rent all three of the DVDs, so I won't have much to offer until I've started rewatching the movies, but feel free to kick in your two bits worth any time.

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In this post nominating Metropolitan for the Top 100, I gave a link to a very good First Things article on all three films--actually a very substantial review of Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman, by Mark C. Henrie.

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I watch Barcelona at least once a year. One of my all-time favorite films. Priceless. M and LDOD were enjoyable, but for me B is the best.

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We're in a minority, but Barcelona's my favorite as well.

Dale

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We're in a minority, but Barcelona's my favorite as well.

Becoming a distinct majority on this particular thread, because it's my favourite as well.

Watched it last night. Love the tensions between the characters' absurd statements that actually contain layers of truth. The character of the cousin is an amazing creation. Reminds me a bit of the outspoken, opinionated, somewhat gauche character in METROPOLITAN with the hate on for Rick Von Slonecker (sp?): both refreshing for their unguarded, unpretentious qualities, however grating or annoying they might also be.

I've been puzzling a lot over the faith element in these films. You get hymns, you get assertions about Christianity, and while they always seem ironized, they also seem to carry weight (as with so much in these films: they mock and value a thing all at once, or by turns, in a most disorienting, pleasingly giddy sort of way). Sometimes I think these characters' protestantism is just a "symptom" of their social milieu, other times it seems an authentic spiritual element is being layered in. Curious to know what others make of this. Viewpoint character in BARCELONA speaks of his religious conversion, vows celibacy, then without further comment ends up in bed with a woman. Which his cousin mentions, and to which we hear no real response. And how about that prayer?

Didn't the cousin open his eyes before the prayer, but not let anyone know he was now conscious? So what kind of miracle is it? Or is it anyhow? The eye-flicker is indecisive enough to maybe not indicate anything in particular. Seems Stillman is taking pains to make the miracle indecisive, but possible. What think ye?

Watched BARCELONA (for the second or third time) the day after PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and am quite interested in the similarities between Stillman and Austen. Both focus on social nuance among privileged people who aren't entirely conscious, who are somehow waking up through the course of the film. Affectionate parody, mocking tribute, something like that. Tiny stories of more or less inconsequential lives that mostly ignore the Big Historical Events also unfolding: no mention that the desirable soldier-boys in P&P are off to fight Napoleon. Only BARCELONA of the Stillmans (Stillmen?) references the larger political context.

Going to watch DISCO tomorrow afternoon, then try and write about all three. They're elusive, their spiritual aspects are elusive, that's what I think. Elusive but, at least to my eyes, inescapable.

Edited by Ron

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These movies are proving harder to write about than I expected. Maybe it's just that I've been away from the writing for a month, or maybe there's something about the complexity and subtlety of the films. Or maybe I've spent too long getting lost in their details, or maybe I've read way, way too much about them!

In any case, here's the first of my attempts.

*

METROPOLITAN (1990, USA, Whit Stillman)

Of course there

Edited by Ron

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BARCELONA (1994, USA, Whit Stillman)

What is this? Some strange Glenn Miller-based religious ceremony?

No. Presbyterian.

Whit Stillman's wonderful trilogy of serious comedies about rich kids in love might almost be dubbed "The Discrete Charm of the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie." The second, a story of not-so-much-ugly-as-absurd-but-still-rather-charming Americans abroad, is the lightest of the three, the characters' upper-class foibles extended to the point of likable ridiculousness (to borrow Donald Lyon's apt description). It is probably also the most spiritually explicit

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THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998, USA, Whit Stillman)

I'm going to turn over a new leaf in Spain. I'm going to turn over several new leaves. You know that Shakespearean admonition, "To thine own self be true"? It's premised on the idea that "thine own self" is something pretty good, being true to which is commendable. But what if "thine own self" is not so good? What if it's pretty bad? Would it be better in that case not to be true to thine own self? See? That's my situation.

Indeed, that's the situation of all the characters in this closing chapter of Whit Stillman's NYC WASP triptych (acronyms cluster around these films like debs around a punchbowl). Of course, none of them know it at the outset: when first we meet them, they're out for a disco night on the town, flushed with youth, good looks and the high spirits that come from gaining admission to New York's most exclusive dance club. They're on top of the world, neither sadder nor wiser than their younger METROPOLITAN counterparts

Edited by Ron

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A Stillman update, courtesy of Adam Walter.

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Stillman's top 5 books about Hollywood. (HT: Spoutblog)

Edited by Christian

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YES.

It's called Dancing Mood.

Vulture:

If, like us, you've been wondering what on earth Whit Stillman has been doing since 1998, and when he might direct another movie, check out his interview with Karina Longworth at Spoutblog. The director of urbane and beloved nineties indie comedies Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco says that he's finally preparing to shoot a movie set in Jamaica in the sixties called Dancing Mood. (He described the movie to "Page Six" last year as being "about the gospel church and the music scene from pre-reggae days, including ska," which sounds, um, awesome.) Here's hoping this actually turns out to be true!

And the best DVD news in ages....

The good news? There's word a Criterion edition of Disco might be coming out soon

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News: We'll be treated to a Criterion Collection edition of the long-out-of-print The Last Days of Disco this August! (So... does that mean my copy of the old DVD release just went up or down in value?)

Edited by Overstreet

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Interview with Stillman. Apparently Little Green Men, the adaptation he was supposedly (it's still listed on IMDB) working on of Christopher Buckley's alien abduction story starring John Malkovich and Peter Sarsgaard isn't going too happen. Too bad. I'm not a big Stillman fan, having watched Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco in the past few days, but I would have paid to see that.

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News: We'll be treated to a Criterion Collection edition of the long-out-of-print The Last Days of Disco this August! (So... does that mean my copy of the old DVD release just went up or down in value?)

I finally got to see The Last Days of Disco on this Criterion DVD, completing my Whit Stillman viewing (so far--get on with the next movie, Mr. S!) I really think this may be my favorite of all three, but it's possible that my joy may be influenced by the discovery that "Josh" is played by a raw young Matt Keeslar, AKA "The Middleman." In fact, according to the linked notes, Javier Grillo-Marxuach cast him because of the monologue about Lady and the Tramp he delivers in Last Days. Brilliant!

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I'm pleased to see a new Stillman film in the works:

[The picture] centers on a group of college girls who take in a new student and teach her their own misguided ways of helping people. Lily, a new student at Seven Oaks University, winds up filling in with a dynamic and highly individualistic group of girls, addicted to the elegance of the past: Heather, Violet and Rose all volunteer at the campus Suicide Prevention Center, convinced that musical dance, sharp clothes and good hygiene — the Dior perfume “Diorissimo” is their trademark — can all contribute to staving off the inevitable self-destructive impulses that follow hard on the heels of failed college romances. Despite their sophisticated talk and savvy use of perfume, the girls are plagued by Cupid’s arrows and must adjust their psyches to the onset of amour.

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Looks like The Criterion Collection may well acquire Barcelona.

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Greta Gerwig tells WWD.com:

WWD: How do you balance your work between big movies and indies?

G.G.: It seems to find a natural balance, so far. In two weeks I’m starting Whit Stillman’s new film, called “Damsels in Distress.” I play a girl named Violet who runs a suicide-prevention center at a liberal arts college. She prevents suicides through the powers of Thirties song-and-dance numbers. So it’s a very dark comedy. I’m not really worried about my indie cred. I don’t think there’s any danger of me going, “I only do franchises now.”

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That's just ugly, JO. Or am I just not cool enough to get that it's supposed to be funny?

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Huh. I haven't seen any of this guy's films. Which one should I start with?

Greta Gerwig tells WWD.com:

I didn't start a thread, but I thought she was so cool in The House of the Devil, which is actually the all-time best 80s horror film (outside of Halloween, which was out in '78, but I saw it in '83...)

She was such a cool friend to Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, who I haven't seen before or since). Do we have a thread on friendship? Cuz her character should be represented...

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Huh. I haven't seen any of this guy's films. Which one should I start with?

Start here.

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Goodness. There's a substantial profile of Stillman in the December 2010 issue of First Things!

(Seemed I should put this here, since it's a general thread about Stillman.)

Edited by Overstreet

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For those in the Los Angeles area, the New Beverly Cinema is showing Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco on April 20th and 21st (I have not become a bot for the New Beverly Cinema... they just have a good month of films, well regarded by many A&Fers).

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I caught up with METROPOLITAN finally this past winter, and re-visited THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO. My estimation of Stillman has gone up.

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For what it's worth, I finally caught Metropolitan and Barcelona over the past month or so. I absolutely loved both, and I'm excited to see them again (and watch his other films too).

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