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The return of Whit Stillman
March 23, 2012 10:39 AM   Subscribe

“A trio of girls set out to change the male-dominated environment of the Seven Oaks college campus, and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.” After a 14-year absence, director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco) returns with Damsels in Distress (trailer on site), opening April 6 in New York and Los Angeles. The New York Times Magazine did a story on Stillman’s return on March 16. (Previously)
posted by Clustercuss (51 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suppose this is an idiosycratic opinion, but I think he's the best moviemaker we have, and I'm glad he's back.
posted by escabeche at 10:41 AM on March 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was amazed by how earnest he was in the NY Times interview. I now wonder if I've been reading more irony into his work than was actually intended.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Double, but it looks like a great movie.

http://www.metafilter.com/97735/Whit-Stillman-returns
posted by Myca at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2012


Gah. Teach me not to check the 'previously' link. Still, though, it was 5 days ago.
posted by Myca at 10:45 AM on March 23, 2012


Oh, before this gets killed, I just want to note that the proper order of clothiers is: J. Press, Chipp (RIP), Paul Stuart, & Brooks.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


depression, grunge and low standards of every kind

MetaFilter?

I now wonder if I've been reading more irony into his work than was actually intended.

Yeah, Stillman's actually kind of the anti-Colbert in that respect: it's difficult to tell if he just has great affection for his characters or if he truly does lament the demise of WASP culture.
posted by gauche at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am mostly embarrassed to say that The Last Days of Disco is one of my favorite movies. I have terrible taste, though.
posted by atomicstone at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am mostly embarrassed to say that The Last Days of Disco is one of my favorite movies.

Get the soundtrack for your next roadtrip.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:52 AM on March 23, 2012


“A trio of girls set out to change the male-dominated environment of the Seven Oaks college campus, and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.”

Rescue us from boredom!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:56 AM on March 23, 2012


Okay, I know I'm not crazy, and I saw a post on this with almost the exact same wording like two nights ago, but looking through all deleted posts doesn't show anything. Am I crazy?
posted by Navelgazer at 11:04 AM on March 23, 2012


Navelgazer: That was my original post, which was hastily put together and subsequently (and rightly) deleted. Hopefully this one stays -- it's quite the update from from the November 2010 post.
posted by Clustercuss at 11:06 AM on March 23, 2012


OK... so I love The Last Days of Disco and Barcelona and like Metropolitan, but so far what I've seen of the new movie is not making me hopeful about it.
posted by Jahaza at 11:13 AM on March 23, 2012


I am mostly embarrassed to say that The Last Days of Disco is one of my favorite movies.

It is a sad comment on our culture that anyone would be embarrassed about this.
posted by escabeche at 11:14 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Last Days of Disco is a *fantastic* movie---even Criterion agqgrees! I could watch it pretty much daily. Barcelona is arguably deeper, but there's a rhythmic and tonal perfection to Last Days that Barcelona doesn't quite have.
As to whether Stillman is ironic or loves WASP culture---can't it be both? I think he's someone who sees WASP culture with a certain gimlet clarity, and he's both critical of its errors and affectionate towards its virtues (and vice-versa).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:15 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I only just recently saw Barcelona, and 35 year-old me liked it just fine. But I can't shake the nagging feeling that it would have been a transformative film for 21 year-old me. I honestly don't know what past-.kobayashi. was doing that was so gosh-darned important that he skipped out on this film but, man, did that guy ever drop the ball.
posted by .kobayashi. at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I suppose this is an idiosycratic opinion, but I think he's the best moviemaker we have

Dunno if he's the best, but he's one of the best, certainly and one of my favorites. I've been waiting for a new Stillman movie since, well, about 1998. (And as I write that date, it seems so long ago. Almost as far away as The Last Days Of Disco was from the period it was set in.)
posted by octobersurprise at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2012


I have always loved his movies. I can't really justify it, either: I generally didn't like the people like his characters I knew at that age.

Still, I'd be very surprised if I don't love this one, too.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:24 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I can't shake the nagging feeling that it would have been a transformative film for 21 year-old me.

In my 20's, a screening of Barcelona was always a test of sorts to see whether a girl I'd begun to date would be compatible with me. It worked surprisingly well.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:38 AM on March 23, 2012


I'll have to revisit his films; I really liked them 10+ years ago but my taste for fiction about crappy people has shifted notably. I think they had sufficient nuance and earnestness to redeem spending time with them but I can't honestly recall. I still am delighted by Chris Eigeman though.
posted by phearlez at 11:39 AM on March 23, 2012


I was amazed by how earnest he was in the NY Times interview. I now wonder if I've been reading more irony into his work than was actually intended.

I had just started my radio show (the rural Maine version of Fresh Air) back in the summer of 1998 when somebody told me, "I know a film director visiting town who probably would come talk about his new movie. It's called The Last Days of Disco."

Stillman did come by, a change from the local people I usually interviewed, and talked at length. He was not ironic in the least... and not much perturbed by the fact that I knew almost nothing about him or his work. A very smart, very nice, very straightforward guy.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:48 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


escabeche: "I suppose this is an idiosycratic opinion, but I think he's the best moviemaker we have, and I'm glad he's back."

So this thread so far proves the joke I was going to make immediately after first seeing your comment but couldn't phrase in a way that didn't sound like an asshole. Basically it was something along the lines of either you have a different definition of 'idiosycratic opinion' or you've been hanging out at a different Metafilter than me.

I guess I'm not a huge on the qualifier 'best' but 'one of the best' certainly. The only thing that might disqualify him in my mind is the 14-year absence but that's just me being greedy. (Another response could be asking me 'how many movies have you made in the last 14 years?')

On a related note, I just realized Metropolitan, which I have not seen in what feels like forever, is on Netflix streaming and I've got an open afternoon and am meeting up after work so can't leave early. Hmmm...see you guys in a bit.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:52 AM on March 23, 2012


Every day, in every way, I'm becoming a better Lieutenant- Junior Grade.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:57 AM on March 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is the Damsels in Distress trailer confusingly edited, or is it just me? There are some girls who are going to fix things, some guy is awkward, some girl is suicidal, some guy is an op-er-ay-tor, what?
posted by ropeladder at 12:01 PM on March 23, 2012


either you have a different definition of 'idiosycratic opinion' or you've been hanging out at a different Metafilter than me.

OK, how about this -- I think he's much funnier and offers a much richer portrait of contemporary life than Louis CK. Is that MetaFilter-idiosyncratic enough for you?
posted by escabeche at 12:05 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


When a friend recently told me he was going to Navy officer training school the first thing that entered my mind was the charactor in Barcelona which I watched when it came out (18 years ago!) so that goes to show how indelible Stillman's movies are.
posted by joseppi7 at 12:10 PM on March 23, 2012


I just recently watched Metropolitan for the first time and found it ok.. but a bit tedious. The preview for this new one did not look promising though.
posted by mary8nne at 12:16 PM on March 23, 2012


Yeah, Stillman's actually kind of the anti-Colbert in that respect: it's difficult to tell if he just has great affection for his characters or if he truly does lament the demise of WASP culture

He really, truly does. That or he takes the persona all the way even into private life (yeah, I've met him IRL--made me like the movies a lot less).
posted by yoink at 1:05 PM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loved Metropolitan.

When the cat jumps on my chest and shows me her butt, I say, "This is untenable."
posted by Trurl at 1:08 PM on March 23, 2012


I still wish people "Good luck with your Fourierism!"
posted by octobersurprise at 1:13 PM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I loved Metropolitan and Barcelona when I saw them in high school. And I think that affection carried me through Damsels, which I enjoyed enormously when I saw it a few weeks ago (Stillman came to Indiana for screenings and lectures at the phenomenal IU Cinema). I was an overly verbal teenager, sarcastic on the surface but really earnest underneath, and a bit afraid to actually live and preferred to talk about modes of living, so maybe this affection is sourced in over-identification. But these movies were great ways for me to laugh at that part of myself, without becoming mean-spirited.
posted by amelioration at 1:13 PM on March 23, 2012


amelioration, you just hit the nail on the head for what I was going to say. Having not watched Metropolitan having maybe not watched it since college and having just watched it like I said I would earlier in the thread, I'm not sure how I was able to like it so much back then and not ask myself "how can you laugh at those characters and not laugh at yourself and/or friends?"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:23 PM on March 23, 2012


I wonder if there are any other living artists (using the term as broadly as you like) who would get this kind of love from both the Metafilter crowd and the National Review crowd? Does it mean that one group or the other is "misinterpreting" the films, or does it just mean that the works are inherently ambiguous?
posted by yoink at 2:32 PM on March 23, 2012


The only thing that might disqualify him in my mind is the 14-year absence but that's just me being greedy.

Actually, the long wait is one of the things I like about him. He's willing (or forced to?) wait until he has something to say to actually put out a movie. Doesn't flood the market with frequent duds like certain other quasi-indie auteurs I can think of....
posted by IndigoJones at 2:53 PM on March 23, 2012


Does it mean that one group or the other is "misinterpreting" the films, or does it just mean that the works are inherently ambiguous?

I think you're over-thinking it. They're movies. Well made, funny movies.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:55 PM on March 23, 2012


I think you're over-thinking it. They're movies. Well made, funny movies.

Well, except that the National Review crowd like them specifically because they see them as promoting conservative values, not because they see them as good, apolitical fun. Stillman regularly gets held up by conservatives as the 'exception' to the general liberal consensus in Hollywood.

Unless this is bizarro world Metafilter, I'm assuming that those praising Stillman in this thread don't see the films in that way. Hence the question.
posted by yoink at 3:00 PM on March 23, 2012


Unless this is bizarro world Metafilter, I'm assuming that those praising Stillman in this thread don't see the films in that way. Hence the question.

Umm... I wasn't going to say anything, but now that you mention it again, yes, there are conservatives on Metafilter! Some of us even read National Review. There used to be a National Review Online writer who was a regular MetaFilter commentator.
posted by Jahaza at 3:03 PM on March 23, 2012


I wasn't going to say anything, but now that you mention it again, yes, there are conservatives on Metafilter!

True, but you will agree that they're very much in the minority. If this thread is anything to go by, Stillman receives a generally warm welcome here--which is, in itself, a rarity. It's even more surprising, then, given the marked political valence of his acceptance on the right. It's like finding a Metafilter thread where everyone's singing the praises if the Left Behind books.

And, truly, I'm not trying to float a subtextual "you shouldn't like him because conservatives do" argument or anything like that--I just think it's interesting that someone could be so highly regarded for openly espousing certain values by one community and highly regarded by another community who usually revile those values.
posted by yoink at 3:10 PM on March 23, 2012



Watch out, he's a Fourier-ist!
posted by y2karl at 3:17 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just think it's interesting that someone could be so highly regarded for openly espousing certain values by one community and highly regarded by another community who usually revile those values.

Now I have to rewatch them all (haven't in about a decade but still have very fond memories) because, at least at the time, it didn't seem like he could possibly have been actually espousing those values - it seemed obvious that he was mocking them. The idea that any other thing is possible sort of blows my mind. Maybe I finally need to read the book I picked up when Kim's was going out of business too.
posted by louie at 4:38 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that book's a good example of the kind of reading of Stillman I'm talking about. If he and the various conservative scholars he gathered for that book are right, then it really is interesting that Stillman has so many fans on a site with such a decidedly liberal bent.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on March 23, 2012


If he and the various conservative scholars he gathered for that book are right, then it really is interesting that Stillman has so many fans on a site with such a decidedly liberal bent.

Heh, I picked it up because it was two bucks, and it's sat on my shelf for 4+ years now.

I'm guessing, of course, that the answer to the supposed conundrum is fairly straightforward: much of what I am amused and entertained by in the movies is the complete lack of self-awareness in the characters, and it sounds like real-life Stillman, and perhaps some of the conservative scholars, suffer from the same problem.
posted by louie at 5:13 PM on March 23, 2012


I'm guessing, of course, that the answer to the supposed conundrum is fairly straightforward: much of what I am amused and entertained by in the movies is the complete lack of self-awareness in the characters, and it sounds like real-life Stillman, and perhaps some of the conservative scholars, suffer from the same problem.

That may well be the answer, but if it is that's not all that straightforward--it would suggest a really interesting slippage between the director/writer's intent in the film and the audience's response.
posted by yoink at 5:49 PM on March 23, 2012


except that the National Review crowd like them specifically because they see them as promoting conservative values

In my experience, whenever the "National Review crowd" likes some piece of art, they like it "specifically because they see [it] as promoting conservative values." The "National Review crowd" is practically Zhdanovite when it comes to novels, movies, TV shows, etc. (Cf. their endless lists of shows, books, movies, songs, etc. ranked by their "conservatism." Andrew McCarthy is particularly egregious in this respect, as I recall, and Goldberg isn't much better.)

Speaking only for myself, I like Stillman's movies because they have been beautifully shot, funny, and oh-so-human. Even when I imagine I might not agree with (or even like) his characters, I still identify with them. I know these people. And however Stillman, personally, might feel about his characters, he's a subtle enough creator to let the viewer decide if he's treating them earnestly or ironically (Both, I agree.).
posted by octobersurprise at 6:44 PM on March 23, 2012


Girls?
posted by ODiV at 8:25 PM on March 23, 2012


Who will speak for the Urban Haute Bourgousie?! Why, the Fourierian Socialists at debutante parties who only read criticism of Jane Austen, not her actual novels, that's who!

Seriously excited, Metropolitan is one of my all time faces!
posted by chapps at 9:10 PM on March 23, 2012


Metropolitan is a real favorite of mine too. I especially love the dialogue, Stillman's great way with the words he puts in his characters' mouths. For example, this line, delivered deadpan: "The most important thing to realize about parents is that there is absolutely nothing you can do about them." And, dammit, it's true. I watch it every Christmas season and fall in love with Audrey all over again.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:53 PM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yay! My favorite living writer-director returns!

I'm pretty sure both my own diction and thought processes have deteriorated after fourteen years of LOL BRB OMFG I-don't-even-watch-youtube-videos-because-they-are-too-long internet-speak. I am curious to see how Whitman held up.

It will probably be like watching a foreign film without subtitles. *sobs*
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:39 PM on March 23, 2012


Stillman's conservativism is real, I think, but that's less offensive to MeFites' liberal sensibilities because a)he's an artist first, and a conservative second ; b) he represents the Northeastern WASP conservatism that the "conservative movement" exists to drive out.

As an artist, it's not that Stillman's view don't affect his art, it's that his first obligation is to the truth of his characters and their situation. So you get movies that are funny, well-shot, and believable, rather than tracts. There's a long history of great conservative and Tory artists; it's the current state, where there are so few, that's unusual. And I think that has everything to do with movement conservatism's obsession with ideological purity---when you believe that there's no book other than the Bible, you're never going to write a good book.

But it's worth noting that yes, his conservatism is visible in his art, and even for a liberal-to-lefty like me, that is no small part of what makes it distinctive and interesting! One of the most notable characteristics of Stillman's worldview is his dislike, even contempt, for pleasure-seeking. Most movies are built around a 60s ideology of following personal satisfaction, especially in comedy, where anyone whose agenda is not one of personal happiness is usually caricatured as a Malvolio. But Stillman always likes best the characters who are motivated by restraint, belief, and earnest thought, while critiquing the illusions of pleasure-seekers.

That's part of why LAST DAYS OF DISCO is his most interesting---he's writing about an environment that is just the opposite of his values, and that generates sparks. It's easy to imagine how another---just about *any* other---writer/director would tell the story: It would be about uptight Alice learning to have fun. Some of the disco scenesters would become causalities because they Went Too Far, but Alice would discover the joy of dancing, sex, and love (in that order), and would be liberated by her experiences. Stillman doesn't see it that way---he thinks there is no such thing as liberation from self-consciousness, awkwardness, and your own values, which is why all the disco scenes are so consistently interesting. When Alice hooks up with her crush object, it's just another thing that happened, and another thing that subtly disappoints, rather than the standard Hollywood orgasm-as-epiphany.

So why don't more conservatives make movies like this? I'd say it's in part because, as a Northeastern WASP conservative, Stillman really believes all this stuff about restraint, duty, and careful thought over romantic impulse. For most conservatives, they're just words. Conservatives talk about politeness while eulogizing Breitbart, weep about duty while collecting lobbyist checks, yell about values when the only "value" they care about is not having gay sex (which they don't want) and not having an abortion (which they can't have). That is to say, they're liars, and one who lies to himself cannot produce great art.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard--thanks for the really thoughtful and interesting response to my question.
posted by yoink at 9:35 AM on March 24, 2012


This is awesome. I loved Metropolitan as well, and this film feels right in my wheelhouse.
posted by teekat at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2012


Rereading, I'm kinda off-base about the 60s--- pleasure-seeking has defined American movies, and the comedy genre, since long before that (as the Malvolio reference makes clear!). Plus it's not really accurate to talk about family values conservatives regarding gay sex as something they don't want :)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:50 AM on March 24, 2012


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