March 22, 2012

Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Metropolitan, the 1990 dramedy about a group of chivalrous preppies whose debutante ball after-parties are so articulate and decorous that they might have driven J. Alfred Prufrock to throw a TV out the window like Keith Moon trashing a hotel suite, earned auteur Whit Stillman the appellation “the WASP Woody Allen.” Stillman, who wrote for The American Spectator when young, developed a cult following among rightist intellectuals because of his out-of-the-closet political and cultural conservatism....
Since Metropolitan, however, the indefatigable Allen—who famously claimed that eighty percent of success is showing up—has released twenty films versus the defatigable Stillman’s two. Finally, though, Stillman’s first movie in almost fourteen years, Damsels in Distress, will be arriving in NY and LA on April 6th. 

Read the whole thing there.

Extra points for recognizing the mathematically correct classic rock lyrics reference in the last quoted sentence above.

By the way, Stillman found an astonishing location for filming his campus comedy just a few miles from lower Manhattan. I'd never heard of, nor can recall seeing in any film, Snug Harbor Botanical Garden in Staten Island, an old Old Sailor Rest Home with its delirious Greek Revival architecture on 83 landscaped acres. 

Whit Stillman lines are sometimes more quotable than actable, but they sure can be quotable. A miscellany:

I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. 
Well, the past is gone, so we might as well romanticize it. 
Christopher Eigeman on Disney's Lady and the Tramp: What's the function of a film of this kind? Essentially as a primer on love and marriage directed at very young people, imprinting on their little psyches the idea that smooth-talking delinquents recently escaped from the local pound are a good match for nice girls from sheltered homes. When in ten years the icky human version of Tramp shows up around the house, their hormones will be racing and no one will understand why. Films like this program women to adore jerks.  
On WASP declinism: Take those of our fathers who grew up very well-off. I mean, maybe their careers started out well enough, but just as their contemporaries really began accomplishing things, they started quitting—'I’m rising above office politics,' or refusing to compete and risk open failure . . . or gradually spending more and more time on . . . conservation or the arts, where even if they were total failures no one would know it.”

90 comments:

Dave in Seattle said...

Having seen all of his previous movies and enjoyed them immensely it's nice to see he has come out with a new one. Stillman is the only modern film maker where I can say each and every film he's made has been excellent and as Steve remarked, imminently quotable.

I wonder what the Hollywood bigshots think of Stillman or if he even registers on their radar?

Steve Sailer said...

Stillman got an Oscar nomination for "Metropolitan" and was modestly hot stuff in the Industry up until "Last Days of Disco" flopped in 1998.

But if you compare him to another Episcopalian auteur, Terrence Malick, who is sort of the mirror image of Stillman, being good with pictures and bad with words, and also tends to disappear to Europe for long periods, well, Hollywood hasn't moved heaven and earth to keep Stillman working the way it has to get Malick behind a camera again. Of course, I'm not sure if Hollywood has ever been more forgiving than with Malick.

I'm not sure if Stillman scripts are easy to act. I've read an interview with Mira Sorvino talking about how much easier it was to make the Mighty Aphrodite for Woody Allen than to make Barcelona for Whit Stillman, who was very insistent upon all of his punctuation being articulated by his actors.

Anonymous said...

"I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking."

Stilman must have gone to St. Paul's. This is classic prep school training and I recommend it for everyone.

You never waste your time actually reading the assigned books at Choate/Groton/Andover/Exeter/St. Paul's. You merely look up the literary criticism, read it in one tenth the time, and disgorge it on the test.

Next summer in the Hamptons, you can regurgitate it thoughtfully, hesitantly, and all listeners will consider you a smart, well-rounded fellow.

John Candy said...

Is this guy related to Slim Whitman?

Anonymous said...

the first thing i noticed is that even stillman has succombed to diversity - his first films were all white.
maybe that's one reason why this one is flat.

It reminds me of richard curtis the writer of notinghill and four weddings and a funeral. both films were largely devoid of minorities - in his next one "love, actually' its filled with carefully color coordinated characters - this is no accident he indicated, if inadvertently, in the director commentary on the DVD that he was pressured to do so..

DCThrowback said...

I am dead wrong, but I'd guess Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4". April 6 = 4/6?

Elli said...

Snug Harbor reminds me somewhat of the State Village for Epileptics/North Princeton Developmental Center in NJ. Buildings not as grand and no botanical garden, but same feel.

Because the state would not invest in a few thousand dollars of plywood to board up windows when the center was closed, and would not sell to the local township for more than a decade, weather ruined the buildings beyond repair and they were razed.

Gracious nineteenth century architecture, craftmanship and detailing unaffordable today - no one's job to care for it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Snug Harbor is great but not even newyorkers are aware of its existence. The Harbor's botanic garden is beautiful but there are many beautiful botanic gardens everywhere. On the other hand, Chinese Scholars Garden is unique. They say it's the only place of its sort in the US or perhaps even outside of China. This garden is probably the only reason to visit Staten Island.

Kevin Michael Grace said...

Chris Eigeman is the villain of Disco. It is Matt Keeslar who delivers the Tramp speech, warning against men such as Eigeman.

David said...

Rod Stewart - Mandolin Wind?

Glad to see Stillman is bringing out a new film.

Thursday said...

The biggest problem with Stillman is that all his characters sound the same. He doesn't fit his dialogue to the character.

Victor Morton said...

That quote about "Lady and the Tramp" was not by Des (Chris Eigemann), but by Josh (Matt Keeslar). Indeed, it's Des who then rebuts that speech by saying "isn't the point though, that Tramp *grows*?" The two men are, of course, really talking about each other, as competition for Alice / Lady.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

This was not your most descriptive review you've ever written. Although you do acknowledge that so you must have struggled somewhat writing it.

Worse the subject matter just left me cold. The review did not make me want see the movie or even intrigue me enough to watch the trailer.

And I've said it before but does the Takimag site have to look so relentlessly gay? Is there anyway you could maybe suggest to Taki's daughter that perhaps her changes were a tad too much?

TWS

Ariston said...

Stillman is a Presbyterian, last I heard.

Last Days of Disco is my favorite of his movies… the commentary track on the Criterion edition of it is really good (and I normally do not listen to commentary tracks). Barcelona is probably the most accessible, though— but it's my least favorite.

Normally, its flopping is blamed on its releasing close to 54, which provided a more stereotypical look at the era, versus his (he claims… I wasn't alive then) realistic look.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm..., given that the official trailer you link to (on Taki's) has been up for a month, and it's gotten 1396 hits and 0 comments, it looks like Stillman has another hit here!

Victor said...

"...who was very insistent upon all of his punctuation being articulated by his actors"

How does one articulate punctuation?

Marlowe said...

Having watched Heathers 22 years ago I don't know if I could face this new Stillman picture without laughing at the wrong points. "they battle a campus suicide epidemic by teaching the lovelorn to tap dance" sounds like a scene out of the Winona Ryder flick.

I watched Metropolitan around the same time and Stillman strikes me as the intelligent man's Brett Easton Ellis. I've always identified with Delta Tau Chi anyway.

Mr. Sailer's comment on productivity in film making versus quality reminds me of a story concerning Vincent Price, who, while working on the movie Witchfinder General, found himself disagreeing with his director, Michael Reeves, over how he should interpret his part. Price reared himself up and defiantly exclaimed "I have made more than 50 motion pictures young man. How many have you done?" to which Reeves quietly replied: "Two good ones."

Conatus said...

On Wasp declinism:
Wasps were just too worried about being liked, it was in their genes, coming from the empty north they wanted to be trusted so they would have help to fight Mother Nature.
So they contented themselves with "gentlemanly C's" and bought the lies of people from more crowded lands where the premium was on fooling your fellow man and not in creating trust. But too late the Wasps have realized that Mother Nature has long ago been vanquished and the fight now is against your fellow man. Alas,the Wasps were fooled and now forgotten, except when they are used as a straw man elite, held up by the New Elite that dare not speak its name.

teneby said...

Steve,

I'd like to correct you on something you wrote. In The Last Days of Disco, it was Matt Keeslar's character Josh that spoke about Disney's Lady and the Tramp. Chris Eigeman's character Des was "the icky human version of Tramp" and was one of the people that Josh's speech was directed at.

Anonymous said...

Typical blank slate adherent's reversal of cause and effect:

"Films like this program women to adore jerks."

Really should be:

"Women like films like this because, for some HBD reason, a lot of them are programmed to adore jerks."

The second statement would be a much more interesting discussion. Having been a jerk during my young womanizing days, I've got a lot of opinions and first hand experience on the topic.

riches said...

Allen has been helped … by investors who admire what he represents

I’d be interested in who backed the black/white romance in his "Melinda" film. (An added hoot was the sophisticated Manhattanites in the movie didn't notice the races.)

PublicSphere said...

That classic-rock reference is Rod Stewart's "Mandolin Wind"!

For me this world of WASP splendor is somewhat remote but worthy of high, slightly qualified admiration. [The decline is a problem.]

The Park Avenue debs' world, for instance, is outside my daily experience, though I've certainly walked down Park Avenue and admired how well-tended the co-op buildings are, and how brightly polished the brass buttons on the doormen's suits.

But it's unfamiliar enough that I didn't realize, until reading this review, that Metropolitan, one of my favorite movies, was set in the late 1960s. I just assumed that this is how they all dressed in the 1980s and 1990s.

I can attest, however, that even in the post-WASP, Asian-Jewish meritocratic Ivy League of the 1990s, there is a great appreciation for Stillman, probably on account of the verbal acuity. Whereas Yale can claim many drama types who went there for the professional MFA degree in drama without other academic talents, Stillman, like 1990s Harvard alumni Elizabeth Shue, Mira Sorvino, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and Rivers Cuomo, had to have enough verbal SAT to succeed in a liberal-arts curriculum.

Discussions of "Metropolitan," "Infinite Jest" and "Pulp Fiction" are for me emblematic moments of the somewhat pompous, self-conscious, Ivy League undergraduate liberal-arts dining-hall experience of the 1990s.

http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~memhall/images2/annen1.jpg

There really is something "gay" about the upper-crust milieu, though, whether liberal or conservative. Those people, in other contexts, come across as very gay, regardless of their actual orientation. Probably a lot of good explanations for that. A combination of verbal facility, self-conscious irony, low testosterone, refined tastes, etc.

Jim in Alabama said...

Like Stillman, Chris Eigeman is vastly underappreciated by Hollywood even though both have a sizable indie fan base.

One of the best lines in Metropolitan was when Eigeman's character was busted lying about the sexual proclivities of a girl in his circle to jazz up some tale. When confronted about it he claimed he wasn't being literal; "it was a composite, like New York Magazine does."

He got punched in the face but not without earning Stillman's dialogue some well-deserved notice and gaining lots of fans.

It used to be that you dropped out of a profession to become an actor; in Stillman's world you go from being a beautiful actress in Metropolitan to being a high executive at Kaplan, the software company.

See: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/allison-rutledge-parisi/8/140/6a1

Anonymous said...

His movies are pretty good, though the dialogues and monologues are unnatural and awkward. And no, that isn't how wealthy WASPs talk in real life.

Anonymous said...

The Park Avenue debs' world, for instance, is outside my daily experience, though I've certainly walked down Park Avenue and admired how well-tended the co-op buildings are, and how brightly polished the brass buttons on the doormen's suits.

Not many WASPs live there anymore, especially under 80. Any sort of WASP elite collapsed 2 generations ago. Stillman himself is a good personification of the decline, as he lives in sublets in NYC. Those buildings you admire and imagine being populated with old-school WASPs are more likely filled with media execs and hedge fund strivers.

Austin Bramwell wrote a good article related to this in Taki's tilted "Where the WASPs Aren't":

http://takimag.com/article/where_the_wasps_arent

Anonymous said...

There really is something "gay" about the upper-crust milieu, though, whether liberal or conservative. Those people, in other contexts, come across as very gay, regardless of their actual orientation. Probably a lot of good explanations for that. A combination of verbal facility, self-conscious irony, low testosterone, refined tastes, etc.

The best explanation is that you're misinformed. You've just admitted that you don't really know these people and get your impression of them from pop culture. They're not effete, smarmy types like they've been portrayed.

PublicSphere said...

The best explanation is that you're misinformed. You've just admitted that you don't really know these people and get your impression of them from pop culture. They're not effete, smarmy types like they've been portrayed.

Let me clarify my comments. The "gayness" I observe is in the post-WASP meritocratic Ivy League fans of Whit Stillman, who inhabit such formerly WASP domains as Harvard dining halls and do indeed display arch irony, verbal facility and suspiciously refined tastes. Yes, I don't know the WASP inner world personally but the "upper crust gay" thing seems to cross ethnic lines.


In terms of imitative flattery, obviously the New Elite, and even the rappers, have been aping the WASPs for a long time just as the WASPs aped British country-house life. Just Google "Kanye West tweed" or Farnsworth Bentley, the valet / umbrella holder for Puff Daddy, for examples of black homage to WASPs.


As a fan of the literature of WASP decline, I can also recommend Tad Friend's book Cheerful Money, George Howe Colt's The Big House, and above all, John Marquand's Late George Apley.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but when it was discovered that the Toulouse killer was a Muslim, the Silent March of Solidarity slated for this weekend in Paris (which would undoubtedly have had a high turnout had the killer been white), was called off.

Ray Sawhill said...

Nice review.

Stillman's a funny one for me. I generally like the idea of him (and interviews with him) better than the actual movies (though I liked "Barcelona" quite a lot). He says smart and funny things, it's great that he's this Waspy/conservative guy making sophisticated minor comedies, he certainly has talent ... But I found "Metropolitan" and "Disco" pokey and stilted. (I know that pokey and stilted are two things they're supposed to be, in a touching/witty way. But still ...) But at the same time he's a great figure.

Steve Sailer said...

I kind of feel the same way about Neal Stephenson -- great interviews, but could somebody please edit his novels?

David Collard said...

Metropolitan is one of my favourite films, and Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget is one of the most charming and lovely of all actresses.

Here is what I said about the sexual politics of Metropolitan, not long ago:

http://davidcollard.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/comments-on-a-favourite-film-the-sexual-politics-of-metropolitan/

Truth said...

"the first thing i noticed is that even stillman has succombed to diversity - his first films were all white.
maybe that's one reason why this one is flat."

The first thing you noticed...and presumably, the last thing you noticed. Big shock there; not a word about the director or his actual films.

scw said...

I'm not sure why your article at TakiMag says that Stillman "was married for 22 years." According to the entry for Mr. and Mrs. J. Whitney Stillman in the 2011 Social Register, at least, he still is; the couple is shown as living at an address on the calle de los Martires Concepcionistas in Madrid, with their younger daughter Isabel still at home.

WASP decline is overstated. People of old American stock are still disproportionately represented in the much-bruited top 1%. What has changed is that the elite are not exclusively WASPs, nor are WASPs disproportionately represented in the uppermost reaches - the top 0.01%, where they have been overshadowed by the nouveau riche. This is not so much a consequence of WASP decline as it is of the ascendancy of outsiders whose success has not been dependent on WASP capital. Even so, there still American social institutions, dominated by WASPs, into which it is impossible merely to buy one's admittance. In this, the old WASP elite rather resemble the class their ancestors of the Gilded Age strove so hard to imitate, the English squirearchy.

PublicSphere's recommendations are all good, and to them I'd add Bill Patten's "My Three Fathers."

The "upper crust gay" phenomenon noted in the article and some of the comments seems to me to be a characteristic not so much of old upper class manners and mores, but rather of the well-remarked propensity of homosexual men to be social climbers, in contrast with that of lesbians to be social descenders.

Thus on one hand we observe the young homosexual man of middle-class suburban or provincial parentage who seeks out the rich and socially prominent, particularly the females, and is accepted by them as an amusing and sexually unthreatening companion. Some well-known examples of the type were Harry Lehr, Noel Coward, and Truman Capote. From this arose the stereotypical gay male interests in art, ballet, opera, and women's fashion. On the other, middle-class lesbians stereotypically indulged in earthy coarseness, and sought employment as stevedores or prison wardresses.

The "gay" upper crust manners attributed to the "post-WASP meritocratic Ivy League fans of Whit Stillman, who inhabit such formerly WASP domains as Harvard dining halls and do indeed display arch irony, verbal facility and suspiciously refined tastes" seem that way because both they, and the manners of the sort of social-climbing homosexual just described, are imperfect apings of real upper-class manners (particularly those of upper-class ladies) of perhaps a century or more ago.

This all seems to be fading with the emergent openness of homosexuality and its channelling on one hand into the exhibitionism of "gay pride" and on the other into the demand for suburban middle-class respectability via "gay marriage." It is unfortunate, because neither is nearly so entertaining.

Peter A said...

"arch irony, verbal facility and suspiciously refined tastes."

Those aren't really hallmarks of true upper class WASPS. The real WASP elite tends to be sporty, and lacking in irony (which is more of a Jewish or Irish trait). John Kerry is actually a pretty typical WASP. So is, for that matter, Mitt Romney.

David Collard said...

Stillman comes from a wealthy family. Supposedly one of his relatives, a Stillman, invented the term WASP. But he himself is not especially rich.

The woman who acted in Metropolitan and went on to a good career as a lawyer and beyond may have been one of the rich friends that Stillman was able to access to get the interiors he used in making the film. I understand that he had to go into personal debt to make it.

Carolyn Farina supposedly has a minor part in the latest film, as Carolina. What does one call a cameo role when the actor or actress is not actually all that famous? A "guest appearance"?

I suspect Carolyn Farina was simply not busty enough to succeed further. A lack of curves actually referenced in Metropolitan. The film begins with one man, her brother, critiquing her bottom and ends with another man critiquing her bosom.

In real life, Farina was a working class girl from Queens. Her love interest, whose real name escapes me, has gone on to a career in religious evangelism.

Based on the trailer, I don't think I would enjoy "Damsels in Distress". It looks a bit too girly. Suicide and tap dance. Oh dear.

Metropolitan did have quite a bit of drama and action, despite its drawing room feel. As Audrey says, quoting from memory, "life is pretty dramatic, if you consider it in its entirety".

Anonymous said...

The first thing you noticed...and presumably, the last thing you noticed. Big shock there; not a word about the director or his actual films.

Truth, we notice it because it is such a terrible, heartbreaking sight.

And, quite frankly, because we're sick to death of it.

Lucius said...

$3mil isn't even chump change: it's Troma change. And the trailer looks it (in fairness, even today trailers are often only a pale forecast of the final, processed product).

Stillman's problem isn't being fey; it's that he's too arch. He may aim for Austen but he winds up in Wycherley. Like Neil Labute, he takes his 18th Century enthusiasms perhaps a bit too literally.

A prolific film career isn't really anybody's option. Even Coppola has expressed envy for Woody's setup (now that he's flush in wine cash, he's got it). Woody, like Clint, is a "known" entity: usually the films make some money; Oscar nods come every few years; appearing in one is an actors' rite de passage. And at worst, nothing's gonna blow up like "Heaven's Gate."

Malick's not my pet auteur, but there are haunting words in his films. But if anything cuts through the bottom line in Hollywood, it's the ambition to make a film that'll beat big odds and make jaws drop. An "Apocalypse Now" or "Avatar" has that gambler's thrill, not a talkie arthouse pic. So getting Malick back in the game (and that took a *long* time) makes sense. Visual poetry can seduce even a Player's heart. Stillman's words won't do.

Marlowe said...

The WASPs have been expiring from consumption for some time judging by the literary archeological record:

"The boy, Adam Ulysses Patch, became an inveterate joiner of clubs, connoisseur of good form, and driver of tandems—at the astonishing age of twenty-six he began his memoirs under the title "New York Society as I Have Seen It." On the rumor of its conception this work was eagerly bid for among publishers, but as it proved after his death to be immoderately verbose and overpoweringly dull, it never obtained even a private printing.

This Fifth Avenue Chesterfield married at twenty-two. His wife was Henrietta Lebrune, the Boston "Society Contralto," and the single child of the union was, at the request of his grandfather, christened Anthony Comstock Patch. When he went to Harvard, the Comstock dropped out of his name to a nether hell of oblivion and was never heard of thereafter.

Young Anthony had one picture of his father and mother together—so often had it faced his eyes in childhood that it had acquired the impersonality of furniture, but every one who came into his bedroom regarded it with interest. It showed a dandy of the nineties, spare and handsome, standing beside a tall dark lady with a muff and the suggestion of a bustle. Between them was a little boy with long brown curls, dressed in a velvet Lord Fauntleroy suit. This was Anthony at five, the year of his mother's death.

[...]

His recollections of the gallant Ulysses, the first man in America to roll the lapels of his coat, were much more vivid. After Henrietta Lebrune Patch had "joined another choir," as her widower huskily remarked from time to time, father and son lived up at grampa's in Tarrytown, and Ulysses came daily to Anthony's nursery and expelled pleasant, thick-smelling words for sometimes as much as an hour. He was continually promising Anthony hunting trips and fishing trips and excursions to Atlantic City, "oh, some time soon now"; but none of them ever materialized. One trip they did take; when Anthony was eleven they went abroad, to England and Switzerland, and there in the best hotel in Lucerne his father died with much sweating and grunting and crying aloud for air. In a panic of despair and terror Anthony was brought back to America, wedded to a vague melancholy that was to stay beside him through the rest of his life.
"
-- The Beautiful and Damned
F. Scott Fitzgerald 1922

Anonymous said...

The real WASP elite tends to be sporty, and lacking in irony (which is more of a Jewish or Irish trait). John Kerry is actually a pretty typical WASP.

???

You are kidding, right?

[By the way, here's some real-life irony for ya: JOHN KERRY IS JEWISH - which is even doubly ironic because he's NOT Irish!!!]

Anonymous said...

WASP decline is overstated. People of old American stock are still disproportionately represented in the much-bruited top 1%.

It's not overstated at all. It hasn't been a decline, but a total collapse. There is no WASP elite or establishment to speak of these days.

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify my comments. The "gayness" I observe is in the post-WASP meritocratic Ivy League fans of Whit Stillman, who inhabit such formerly WASP domains as Harvard dining halls and do indeed display arch irony, verbal facility and suspiciously refined tastes.

You're confused. If you want to know what the WASPs were like, look at the Mormons, not contemporary Ivy League strivers.

Anonymous said...

Those aren't really hallmarks of true upper class WASPS. The real WASP elite tends to be sporty, and lacking in irony

Yes. They've been generally known for being relatively reserved and taciturn, and for more outdoorsy, sporty hobbies than extremely expensive or refined tastes.

Dahinda said...

I will not watch it because it is arriving in NY and LA.

Anonymous said...

“Those people, in other contexts, come across as very gay, regardless of their actual orientation.”

“Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them.”

Steve Sailer said...

And, I have been told, John Kerry is, in private, quite witty.

Truth said...

"Truth, we notice it because it is such a terrible, heartbreaking sight.

And, quite frankly, because we're sick to death of it."

Bro, you misunderstand, I agree with both of you:

The casting of 16% black Jennifer Beals in a supporting role interrupted this record-breaking filmmaker's string of box-office BLOCKBUSTERS!

Hunsdon said...

Steve said: And, I have been told, John Kerry is, in private, quite witty.

Hunsdon replied: Setting aside partisan (or, even, tribal!) hatreds, I'm pretty impressed by Kerry. He went and served, and if his resume shows some puffery, well, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and all that.

I think in the 14th century, he'd have been an earl you could trust to have your back. (French and all.)

Anonymous said...

Director closest to Stillman is Noah Baumbach. KICKING AND SCREAMING is like a Stillman film directed by some Jewish kid without the Allen complex. But then, Baumbach is only half Jewish.

Anonymous said...

"WASP decline is overstated. People of old American stock are still disproportionately represented in the much-bruited top 1%."

Sure, there are still many privileged wasps around. But, the top 1% don't really control society. It's the top .001%, and in areas like media, academia, law, and etc, Jews dominate.

Anonymous said...

"But if you compare him to another Episcopalian auteur, Terrence Malick, who is sort of the mirror image of Stillman, being good with pictures and bad with words..."

No, Malick was pretty good with words in BAD LANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN. And though THIN, NEW, and TREE are very image-centric, I wouldn't say they are very good even on that level. Artsy pictorialism isn't good imagery.

As for Stillman, his use of images suit his design and purpose, and so one cannot say he's bad with images. One might say he's limited, but his world--social milieu and manners--tend to be restrictive, and so his limited imagery is more than appropriate. In this regard, he owes something to Eric Rohmer.

Anonymous said...

Stillman is, if anything, a neocon. He wrote for American Spectator, the arch-enemy of Paleocons, a magazine that ran one of the most anti-Pat-Buchanan articles ever.

Anonymous said...

"Chris Eigeman is the villain of Disco."

There is no villain in LAST DAYS OF DISCO. Eigeman is a jerk, but not really a bad sort. Stillman is very forgiving of his characters, and this may owe something to Renoir. I think every director like Stillman tries to make his RULES OF THE GAME.
Alexander Payne does too, but I can't stand him.

Anonymous said...

Stillman's female characters seem more natural than his male characters. In LAST DAYS OF POMPEI, I mean DISCO, the female characters come alive and have personalities. The male characters come across too much as sockpuppet variations of Stillman though it was much less of a problem than with METROPOLITAN and BARCELONA. Maybe BARCELONA is the weakest of his movies because the females are just dolls than characters. They are mainly there to gawk at or admire.

The mental problem kid in LAST DAYS worked best among the male leads. His funnyheadedness worked as good cover for the way he spoke--grammatically correct automaton.

Anonymous said...

The thing about gays losing their sublime creativity due to loss of inhibitions... maybe something similar could be said of conservatives. Compare Bill Buckley and Rush Limbaugh. When conservatives were expected to have manners, refinement, honor, dignity, and etc, they had to convey their values in terms that had some class, wit, and flair. But with the rise of populist talk radio as exemplified by Rush Limbaugh, conservatism has turned into something like a game of supersize me with big guns, big butts, big bellies, and big Bibles.

Anonymous said...

"But I found "Metropolitan" and "Disco" pokey and stilted."

That was not a problem for me because I think the world of METROPOLITAN is supposed to be kinda weird and unbalanced. It's like the kids are carrying on a tradition in a world that has no use for it. They are not typical elite wasps but outliers still clinging to some semblance of tradition, which makes it all so quaint, funny, ridiculous, and charming.

As for LAST DAYS, which is his best work and maybe only great movie(though I hated the ending with dancing in the subway which was so gay), again, the whole thing is very off the wall. The kids think they are SOOOOOOOO disco, but like SWPL phonies, they frequent this haute disco club which turns away most people. They are phony but so sincere in their phoniness.

Steve Sailer said...

"Rod Stewart - Mandolin Wind?"

right.

Anonymous said...

"But I found "Metropolitan"... pokey and stilted".

Well-put, I felt the same way.

"I suspect Carolyn Farina was simply not busty enough to succeed further."

Most Hollywood actresses are small-breasted (sadly), though perhaps not as flat as Farina.

Steve Sailer said...

"Coldest winter in almost fourteen years"

What almost fourteen years? Thirteen?

Presumably, Rod Stewart intended to sing "Coldest winter in almost forty years" but for whatever 1971 rock and roll reason, the hook to Mandolin Wind came out "almost fourteen years," which is a lot more interesting sounding, precisely because it doesn't make sense, but is part of a lyric that does make more sense than most rock lyrics. (For a couple of years in the early 1970s, Stewart was an excellent writer of lyrics with lots of realistic detail and coherence relative to the drug-addled nonsense everybody else was putting out on vinyl.)

Marlowe said...

The Coen brothers' Burn After Reading seemed to present The Death of the WASP and his replacement by The Mormon ("Compared to you we all have a drinking problem!"). Like Adam Ulysses Patch, Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) writes a memoir (CIA as I have seen it) and no one wants to read it apart from two gym morons who don't actually want to read it and who just sell it to the Russians.

Anonymous said...

@ truth 3/22/12 4:31 PM
buttercup, my point is valid. he HAD to put a black character in there, the way all universities now photoshop 'people of color' into their brochures

Anonymous said...

Stillman is, if anything, a neocon. He wrote for American Spectator, the arch-enemy of Paleocons, a magazine that ran one of the most anti-Pat-Buchanan articles ever.

He was trying to break into journalism. Perhaps he wasn't in a position to cherry-pick the perfect gig (ideologically pure yet paying a living wage).

Cennbeorc

David Collard said...

Farina did not age well. In The Last Days of Disco, she looked OK, but the pretty ripeness had left completely. She looked stringy, which suited her cameo role as an apparently unmarried career woman.

Atoz said...

The stilted dialogue in Metropolitan lends the movie a certain charm though it probably could have benefited from more pausing for effect. Though seeing as how the 3 main characters are basically a tripartite composite of the writer/producer/director, that might have made the movie feel too contrived.

Unfortunately it seems that this auteur has been greatly SWPLified. His latest movie is female-centric and features a multi-ethnic cast.

Oh well, guess he was right about being doomed to fail.

Anonymous said...

At his best moments, Stillman walks the fine line between agreeing with his characters and poking fun at them, which is what made MET and LAST work so well.

But in BARCELONA, the jerk guy(who turns out to be half-decent)--it seems Eigeman plays the same type of character in all three movies--is made into a martyr(with the assassination attempt), and suddenly there's no more irony but only 'good conservatives' vs 'bad leftists'. I don't mind political movies but BARCELONA didn't start out that way and so the mood shift feels all wrong. Also, reading WAR AND PEACE in the hospital is sooooooooo precious.

And basing the movie in BARCELONA was a clever way to make the movie both multicultural and Eurocentric. Spain is part of Europe but part of Hispaniola. Thus, two white guys falling for darker-hued Spanish chicks works as both interracism and whites-in-love.

vinteuil said...

@Lucius: "Stillman's problem isn't being fey; it's that he's too arch. He may aim for Austen but he winds up in Wycherley."

Hey, if only!

*The Country Wife* is every bit as full of insight into the human condition as, say, *Sense & Sensibility* - and at least twice as LOL funny.

Well acted, the "china" scene suffers few rivals in the whole history of comedy.

"...we women of quality never think we have china enough..."

Svigor said...

Typical blank slate adherent's reversal of cause and effect:

"Films like this program women to adore jerks."

Really should be:

"Women like films like this because, for some HBD reason, a lot of them are programmed to adore jerks."

The second statement would be a much more interesting discussion. Having been a jerk during my young womanizing days, I've got a lot of opinions and first hand experience on the topic.


I think women are programmed to adore status. I think a lot of people have trouble with multiple factors, so once they get over a taboo, they go too far. Hence, the HBD hate-on for the realities of human psychological plasticity.

Anonymous said...

"Most Hollywood actresses are small-breasted (sadly), though perhaps not as flat as Farina."

Maybe death of wasp has something to do with preference for waify heatherish women. As elites married and had kids with such women, the kids became dorkier and dorkier and lost the killer instinct.
Consider Daisy in THE GREAT GATSBY.

Anonymous said...

Wasp elite men should have married more Helgas. Maureen O'Hara, NOW THERE'S A WOMAN. Big strong gorgeous girl with wide hips.

Truth said...

"@ truth 3/22/12 4:31 PM
buttercup, my point is valid. he HAD to put a black character in there, the way all universities now photoshop 'people of color' into their brochures"

Well we've had plenty of Rocket Scientists come through the chat room, nice to have a wealthy Jewish Studio Mogul stop by.

Anonymous said...

Thus, two white guys falling for darker-hued Spanish chicks works as both interracism and whites-in-love.
buttercup, the women Chris E' character marries is blond, angel cake.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn Farina is in the new film too- i wonder what she did in between acting in whit stillman films, according to Wiki, not much.
She's from the same neighborhood in queens as me, one year older, but i dont recall her...

Anonymous said...

@ truth 3/23/12 6:38 PM
angel cake, are you denying what I say is true? You CAN"T have all white casts ANYWHERE these days without your ilk complaining. Even the LOR new movie has to have 'diverse' hobbits!

Anonymous said...

interesing little mini bio of farina here: http://storage.people.com/people/archive/jpgs/19901001/19901001-750-85.jpg from 1988 or so when metropolitian came out.

Lucius said...

@vinteuil: I always laugh over the pages of "Sense & Sensibility", so I'll object to your scoring. All the same, your point is taken.

I may be guilty of lassoing Wycherley in for alliteration; but still, there's something more Restoration than Regency in Stillman that marginalizes him. I don't think it's 'bad' at all, but it's a far cry from the relative naturalism of most Allen or Rohmer.

David Collard said...

Farina had minor roles in some costume dramas, after a major role in Metropolitan and a very small, non-speaking role in The Last Days of Disco.

Stillman thought she would have a solid career, but Metropolitan may have typecast her, and her ingenue role was probably of limited future appeal.

Stillman called Farina's character Audrey Rouget, perhaps to finesse her slightly ethnic appearance. But she is portrayed as an Episcopalian, attending Midnight Mass at Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I've long been a fan of Stillman. Since you posted your piece on Stillman, I've watched a few interviews on youtube and kinda get a gay vibe...closeted WASP?

Truth said...

"angel cake, are you denying what I say is true? You CAN"T have all white casts ANYWHERE these days without your ilk complaining. Even the LOR new movie has to have 'diverse' hobbits!"

I don't know if what you say is true, in order to find out, you will have to ask Stillman if two illuminists from that hidden 10,000,000 square foot synagouge deep under the streets of Manhattan, that you guys are all convinced is there, mysteriously knocked on his door at midnight with an ominous message.

What I do know is true is that black people watch 40% more TV, buy 20% more movie tickets, and are are correspondingly more apt to purchase concessions at the movies and make buying purchases based upon commercials.

And they don't make movies for art. Them make them to make money. That much I know.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Marlowe, I knew from the opening words of your quote that I had read that before. I liked that one better than 'Tender is the Night', which I thought rather sad. They are here, I think, somewhere in the stacks.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if what you say is true, in order to find out, you will have to ask Stillman if two illuminists from that hidden 10,000,000 square foot synagouge deep under the streets of Manhattan, that you guys are all convinced is there
You have to resort to 'argument' by caricature because you have no other recourse. Which isn't surprising. That's how the tiny liberal mind works.you have never thought to question the notions you were carefully spoon fed, and when someone does you have no other response but accuse them of racism (which won't fly here) or resort to nonsense like this.

Truth said...

"You have to resort to 'argument' by caricature..."

What dah 'Efff' is you Tom Bout, Maing?

You said he HAD (emphasis, yours) to put a black character in there. Now remember, I have an 85 IQ but HAD to me implies, THERE WAS NO OTHER CHOICE; is this correct?

And this implies to me that someone suggested to him that in order to get the movie made, he would have to put a (16%) black person in the movie. Is this correct?

Great we are in accord up to this point; now, do your part and tell me who this mysterious, all-powerful entity was, and I will not need to resort to sarcasm.

If you are the Jewish movie mogul you claim to be, come up with names, dates, information, or something other than"

"buttercup, my point is valid. he HAD to put a black character in there, the way all universities now photoshop 'people of color' into their brochures"

"angel cake, are you denying what I say is true? You CAN"T have all white casts ANYWHERE these days without your ilk complaining. Even the LOR new movie has to have 'diverse' hobbits!"

Until you come up with something, your "point" is nothing but an opinion, and you know what those are like.

Anonymous said...

You said he HAD (emphasis, yours) to put a black character in there.
you either are dumb or are playing dumb.
This has been a black MO since Star Wars - jesse jackson complaining about a lack of black charcters and poof.. in comes the billy dee williams character... blacks complain that black actors never get the oscar and wow what a coincidence! A black gets the oscar that year.. EVERY year blacks complain about the lack of black characters. ..

You Can't Make This Stuff Up, etc: "Anti-Racists" Say Lord of the Rings too "Eurocentric"
http://www.vdare.com/articles/you-cant-make-this-stuff-up-etc-anti-racists-say-lord-of-the-rings-too-eurocentric

you tell me buttercup, why have whit stilmman's previous films had an all white cast, and now suddenly there two of the female leads are 'people of color'. Pretty obvious they are just whit stillman white characters in 'blackface'(i guess you'll take that literally too?), like blacks in a brooks brothers catalog.

Truth said...

"you tell me buttercup, why have whit stilmman's previous films had an all white cast,"

I don't know, you will have TO ASK HIM. I'm not Whit Stillman, and I have no intention of trying to read his mind as to why he the audacity to cast half-black Jennifer Beals as 7th lead in a film with over 30 credited actors, maybe he (gasp) though she was the best for the job, maybe you're right and maybe he gave her the position for the same reason many heterosexual directors do: He thought it would encourage her to fuck him.

The point is I AM NOT MAKING SUPPOSITIONS.

David Collard said...

The Metropolitan characters and Whit Stillman are not my people, but I felt some fellow sympathy with them nonetheless. I know people a bit like them, and yes, they do talk like that. It used to be that people knew how to speak well and articulate their thoughts, or if they were not very smart, the polished thoughts of others.

Well educated people can sound like that, even when they are young. I don't know whether Stillman is gay. I rather doubt it. But some perfectly normal men talk and act like him. It used to be commonplace. He sounds and thinks like, as I called him at my blog, a "gentleman auteur".

He has the old gentleman amateur thing as well. His lack of productivity and his shoestring approach fit with the understated style of his type of person. I do not discount some actual depression in his makeup too, which could explain his less than manic productivity.

If his Disco film flopped, that seems surprising. It included two very attractive actresses, in their prettiest years, still productive, and even the actor who went on to play "Alby" in Big Love. Speaking of which, I notice that Chloe Sevigny was looking her age in that series towards the end.

I tend to agree that he has gone modish by apparently putting women in the foreground of his latest film. In art, as in life, women are better used as foils for male protagonists, because men tend to have more interesting things to say. A film that depends on the thoughts and actions of young women, in relation to, God help us, suicide and palliative tap dancing, sounds like a natural loser.

People go to films to gawk at the girls and giggle at the antics of the boys. Only a very good film can break this mould. If you are going to put women in the foreground, they had better be stunning women, and I don't think the women in his latest film are in that category.

Anonymous said...

Until you come up with something, your "point" is nothing but an opinion, and you know what those are like.

right buttercup, no one trying to force diverisity on anyone
http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-657604.html

"In a 2003 federal lawsuit, some Hispanic, Asian and black job applicants accused the company of favoring good-looking young white people"
http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/22/shirtless-models-turn-heads-and-raise-eyebrows/

http://adage.com/article/news/lack-diversity-advertising-hiring/148565/

Truth said...

"right buttercup, no one trying to force diverisity on anyone
http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-657604.html"

Sorry Bro, I have a three "that's not the point" limit per thread. I'm out.

Anonymous said...

.I don't know whether Stillman is gay. I rather doubt it.
he married a Spanish woman, sunshine. (Spanish, not latin/ amerindian/ mestizo). I believe he met her while working in Spain....Thus the storyline of Barcelona.

David Collard said...

Homosexual men have been known to marry. Oscar Wilde was married and had two sons.

As I said, I very much doubt that Stillman is gay. But it is not impossible.

always be closing said...

Well I dunno about yer Wasps but the re-whitening of NYC is more or less on track:

"...in addition to migrants from other boroughs, she often sells or rents to Europeans unaware of the Bronx’s reputation..."

morleysafer said...

That news story up above on Abercrombie and Fitch selectivity (Guido/ettes Need Not Apply) is kinda interesting in light of my struggle with New York's Century Association

DaveinHackensack said...

Finally saw this on DVD a few hours ago. Not my favorite Stillman film. I agree with Ray Sawhill's comments about Stillman (and also Steve's comments about Stephenson, for that matter, who seems to lose steam in the last few hundred pages of his novels).

Something occurred to me watching the dance number at the end of Damsels: Stillman had a dance number at the end of The Last Days of Disco too. Several years ago, there was a Broadway musical (I forget which one) where, after the show had ended, the band would play on, and the cast would prod the audience to stand up and dance in front of their seats for a minute.

I remember there being some criticism of this practice, saying that this was basically a psychological trick to make the audience feel better about the show they just saw. I wonder if Stillman didn't have a similar idea in mind with Damsels. Maybe he should just make an old-fashioned musical next, one where heterosexuals in formal wear fall in love.