Author Topic: Whit Stillman  (Read 3555 times)

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Split Infinitive

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Whit Stillman
« on: March 20, 2006, 10:22:22 PM »
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I recently watched the Criterion Metropolitan DVD release, and was very impressed.  Stillman is no stylist, but he reminded me of Billy Wilder: relying on the strength of the script and actors, with some deftly timed shots to carry the weight of the film.  I'll hopefully be seeing Barcelona in the near future, and I'm curious to know what you all think of his stuff.

My quickie review of Metropolitan:

Whit Stillman earned an Academy Award nomination for the original screenplay of “Metropolitan” and lost to Bruce Joel Rubin for—get this—“Ghost.” Nobody gets freaky while molding a clay pot in “Metropolitan.” In fact, nobody does much of anything except talk, drink and jockey for social position with wit, earnestness and good manners, much as you’d find people doing in a Jane Austen novel. “Metropolitan” was briefly discussed in the coda to an edition of “Mansfield Park” I read recently, generally outlining the similarities between Stillman’s story of Manhattan debutantes and the landed gentry of Austen’s early 19th century fictional world. Like Austen, Stillman satirizes the socialites with a keen eye for detail and wicked ear for dialogue. Out of the maddening snobbery and parlor games, he also manages to fashion compelling romance.

Our entry point for this world is Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), a West Ender who tumbles into an elite rat pack of debs over Christmas vacation sometime in the late 80s. A self-described follower of “Fourierism,” Tom is no less pretentious than the aristocrats who take him under their collective wing but he’s basically a good guy. Nick Smith (Christopher Eigeman, in a commanding, acerbic performance) takes a shine to him, acting as a kind of Obi-Snob Kenobi to Tom’s proletariat Luke Skywalker. Though Tom is still hung up on his old flame, shy, Fanny Price-like Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina) latches onto Tom immediately, despite his obvious disinterest. She’s also captured the heart of Charlie (Taylor Nichols), a stuttering philosopher who bears more than a passing resemblance to Woody Allen; he carries his torch awkwardly and silently, harboring resentment for Tom. Fortunately for Tom, nobody listens to Charlie’s warnings that Tom is a “bad person.” There is almost no such thing in “Metropolitan.”

For a first-time director, Stillman displays a remarkable confidence in composition, structure and pacing. In many ways, “Metropolitan” reminded me of a less-polished “All About Eve.” Most of the dialogue was too good to be true, the performances were outstanding, if a little mannered, and the entire story takes place inside the bubble of an exclusive universe populated by a privileged class of characters that we would never want to know but can’t help rooting for in the context of their adventure (which is exactly the kind of feat Austen and Joseph Mankiewicz pulled off with relative ease at the height of their powers). Stillman stumbles a bit near the end, when the contrivances that Austen wove in with breathtaking satisfaction grind a little thin. “Metropolitan” has enough momentum to gloss over these cosmetic flaws and the lasting effect is one of clarity and piquant buoyancy.
Please don't correct me. It makes me sick.

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2006, 09:12:12 AM »
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Your review is nice and reads like one of the debs wrote, I will write like a West Ender.

I blind bought this for some reason, I guess because it seemed like an interestingly overlooked film during the burst of independent cinema. In those terms, this film is chatty and without much style like Clerks, but just looking at the upper crust instead of the bottom. It's actually got a bit in common with The Breakfast Club. The film didn't necessarily strike me as taking place in the 80s. Hell, it could have been the 30s or 40s for all I care, the way they behave makes it seem timeless and the setting doesn't really lend to one decade, though the Reaganomic decadence of the 80s made it applicable at the time, I guess.

The direction in the film is decent, but I listened to the commentary, and the guy was so green it's not even conceivable. He said he carried around a copy of "How to Direct Movies" and when it came to foreign, "technical" concepts like screen direction, he left it up to his DP. The dialogue and dynamics of the Debs is really interesting, and the Nick Smith character is just fucking brutally funny and arrogant. he's the most crass and yet you love to watch him accuse that European heir of all those horrible things. The scene at the end really makes this film along the lines of the Brat Pack films of the 80s, just the idea of overcoming machismo and staying friends.
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Split Infinitive

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2006, 01:55:09 PM »
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Your review is nice and reads like one of the debs wrote, I will write like a West Ender.
:yabbse-grin:

I pretty much agree with you, especially the bit about the timelessness.  A big part of Metropolitan for me was that this group of "untitled aristocrats" always has and always will exist.  Austen humanized and satirized them, and Stillman set out to do the same -- and succeeded, I think.  Chris Eigeman owns the screen, though I loved Taylor and Farina.

The Brat pack connection never occurred to me, though I can see the similarities.  However, in Metropolitan, they didn't all remain friends... Only a few of them.  It wasn't just a matter of overcoming machismo but of just learning to see past the end of their noses.  (For the men, at least.  Audrey learned that lesson earlier on.)
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SoNowThen

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2006, 12:49:13 PM »
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Re: Metropolitan -- this movie is a fucking masterpiece. Sort of a cousin in Salinger-ness to Wes Anderson.

I remember really enjoying Last Days Of Disco, and now will scramble like a bastard to get my hands on a copy of Barcelona. The big question is: what is Stillman working on now???!
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When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2006, 02:35:09 PM »
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The big question is: what is Stillman working on now???!
Checking in With ... Whit Stillman
Checking in with Whit Stillman -- The ''Metropolitan'' writer-director talks about his long hiatus from filmmaking
Source: Entertainment Weekly 02/17/06

The elusive writer-director of Metropolitan hasn't made a film since 1998's Last Days of Disco. We tracked him down in Paris.

What made you move to France?
Rent. The weekend that Disco came out was the end of my lease for an inexpensive SoHo loft. So I was priced out of Manhattan.

But you're such a New York director! Do you miss the city?
Um...uh...[laughs] no. But I'd like to spend more time in the States. I'd like to get to know California better.

What are you working on now?
I did a novel based on Disco that came out in 2000. And now, instead of working on one script, I'm working on three or four. One's really far along, and I hope to have a film going soon.

What's it about?
I make a rule of not talking about things until I'm about to shoot them, but the subject matter couldn't be more different from my previous films. It's not set in the U.S. It doesn't have American characters.

You were 37 when you made Metropolitan. How old are you now?
I'm aged. I'm, like, 87. I'm a late bloomer. I hit my stride in high school in spring term of senior year. When I reach retirement age, I'm really gonna click.
 
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Gamblour.

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2006, 02:42:31 PM »
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You were 37 when you made Metropolitan. How old are you now?

Wow, what a hard-hitting question.
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godardian

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2006, 12:58:43 PM »
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On my vacation, I watched the Stillman trilogy in order, in one day:

Metropolitan
Barcelona
Last Days of Disco (apparently a pricey eBay item now--I got it when it was first on DVD)

...and they are just wonderful, even more so than I remember. So gentle and (genuinely) droll, but not anodyne in any way. I once interviewed Stillman (for Disco promotion), and he was a really nice guy.

With his comedic/charac-terrific writing, I think he could create and write a really fine television comedy. Which, of course, means it would be canceled after 3 episodes aired.
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MacGuffin

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2006, 10:39:45 AM »
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Confessions of a serial drifter
His first three movies were acclaimed comedies of yuppy highlife, then Whit Stillman vanished. So what has he been doing for eight years? And why does it involve Jamaican churches?
Source: The Guardian
 
I have a happy novelist friend who operates on the principle "first thought, best thought". My own experience has been "first thought, unbelievably stupid thought". If a producer wants something cliched, forced and unfunny that's also weird and meandering ... yes, I can turn that in within the contractually mandated 12 weeks. Writing my three films so far, Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, I found that however much I might have wanted to "hurry", it was only through a fitful stop-start process, with long gaps between versions, that I could come up with anything worth holding on to.

I started writing Barcelona in 1983, while I was working as a foreign sales agent for Spanish producers, and also getting to play the "stupid American" role in some of their films. Watching their shoots, I started to think Barcelona was too ambitious for a first film and shifted to writing Metropolitan.

Without realising it, I had got into perhaps the best writing situation I would ever have. My day job was running a small agency representing some great US and European cartoonists and illustrators. While nearly everything about it was pleasant, the problem was that when I was actively selling, I couldn't really write. The script had to be put aside repeatedly. Pauses of weeks or months were normal. When I returned to the script, its weaknesses were clear, but I had less temptation to fret over and disguise them. I usually only had time to work late at night, and that borderline between waking and sleeping states seemed good ground for comedy. And so eventually - by which time I was long gone from being a foreign sales agent - Metropolitan was made, coming out in 1990, followed four years later by Barcelona, and another four years later by The Last Days of Disco.

I can't recall now which came first: the intention to take on more than one script at a time as a better way of working, or having more than one project that I wanted to do. Just as the seed for The Last Days of Disco came from the "beautiful women in discos" scenes in Barcelona, the idea for what I hope will be my next film came from the early Jamaican music we tried to use in Disco's non-club scenes. Justin Hinds & the Dominoes' song Carry Go Bring Come - used during the semi-climactic taxi escape scene - fell into my life like the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy. Where did this come from?

Becoming fascinated with early-1960s Jamaican music 20 or 30 years after everyone else did not seem disconcertingly different from any other passion I've had. But when I started visiting Jamaica to research the music milieu, I fell in love with something else: Jamaica's gospel churches and the people who attend them. The weekend Disco opened in 1998, I lost my New York apartment to an unfavourable lease, so I decided to return to Europe to live, with the film's screening at the Edinburgh film festival a first stop. There I met a Channel 4 promotion whiz who put me in touch with a top dog at the channel who liked the idea for a Jamaican story.

So why haven't you seen the Jamaican film yet? Not long after that Edinburgh encounter, a producer friend called to apologise for having claimed I was "attached" to a project he was trying to get a studio to buy, which turned out to be Anchee Min's memoir of the Chinese cultural revolution, Red Azalea. I just replied: "Don't apologise, let me read it." The book was wonderful, as was the prospect of beginning a script with fascinating characters and incidents, and an established conclusion, rather than the march into the void of an original story. Other producers were involved who wanted to take it immediately to FilmFour (then in its Medici period), which meant putting aside the contract for the Jamaican idea. I was a bit worried - I had liked the idea of doing the small, difficult Jamaican production before the enormous, frightening Chinese one, but the option on the Red Azalea book rights was ticking.

There is an area of discord in the film business (from the little I know of it) as to whether one is honour bound to start work on a project before contract and payment terms have been set. As this story was not mine it seemed risky to do so. That meant a delay, which was welcome as I had not entirely left Disco behind. First, I had worked on the film's French and Spanish subtitled and dubbed versions. Dubbing one's film into a foreign language is one of the greatest experiences a film-maker can have. I had first tried it with the Spanish version of Barcelona, which allowed us to play with accents and modify the jokes - and the film goes over much better in its Spanish than its Catalan incarnation. To be able to recast and redirect your film in the calm and comparatively happy atmosphere of a dubbing studio, with the great types who work in this area, is a delight, especially after the panic that it's going to go badly subsides a bit.

The other unfinished Disco business was a novel. I had thought of writing an after-the-fact novel for each of the films. In the case of Metropolitan this had got to the point of a listing in a publisher's catalogue before I put it aside to finish the Barcelona script. (This phantom Metropolitan novel still crops up occasionally as an offering on Amazon.) The Disco novel had a more promising start - with a great editor and publishing house, happy to have it come out long after the movie. In my writing experience, the start of a project always seemed full of worthless weeks, flailing around without accomplishing much, while the priceless weeks came at the end, when the fictional world is fully existent and the characters begin to operate with apparent autonomy. In this last phase, improvement can be quick and major. Then this blossoming fictional world must be cut to the scale of a feature film. The prospect of finally getting to develop it in the comparatively free form of a novel was alluring.

So in 1999 and the start of 2000, I was still with the Disco characters who, refusing to be limited by the film version, took the story forward and backward. To reflect the changed story, a new title - Cocktails at Petrossian - was considered, then compromised, with the book coming out that summer as The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards. It would go on to win Shecky's Bar Guide's first (and last) nightlife literature award.

Silence is one of the greatest and least used weapons in the film business arsenal. The best rule seems to be: when a project is completed or nearly so, don't shut up about it. But when it's still in its early stages, don't say a word. That rule will be massively violated next week when the annual Cannes non-existent-film festival gets under way. This event, running parallel to the actual film festival - or the festival of actual films - features the trumpeting of entire slates of films that will never be made, at least not by the people announcing them.

While Red Azalea was announced with hoopla at Cannes, I suspect that it was idle chit-chat at a film party that led to the project's ultimate undoing. Someone with a special interest in the subject returned to Los Angeles and interested a far more important director in the book, who then started a long behind-the-scenes campaign to get it for himself - or so rumour has it. But I also had problems with the adaptation. That great opportunity - fascinating characters, situation and story already existing - became a straitjacket. The characters remained book-bound. Perhaps I could have ultimately worked it out, but the ground was shifting under our feet. Our project for Red Azalea came apart in early 2002. I still had the beloved Jamaican project to return to, and was lucky soon to find backers for that script.

My idea for the new millennium had been to use competing scripts, with their differing deadlines and urgencies, to create the stop-start pattern I found so helpful in my day-job period. The priority Jamaican script would alternate with other ideas to be kept under wraps. Finally, just in the last few weeks, that script has seemed to take its proper form - heartfelt apologies to any producer I rushed a draft to last winter. Any script with a date prior to May 12 2006 - please discard.

So I now have a project to take to Cannes, and large or small parts of others in the trunk. But I will still be keeping my eyes open for the right day job. The other evening in Mayfair, I passed a high-end yacht brokerage - they were having a glass of champagne with clients - and that seemed like very good work for a slow screenwriter. Cannes itself has its share of enormous yachts - someone must be helping the very rich buy, sell or charter them. And, based there, one wouldn't have to look for accommodation when the festival rolls around. When I go next week I'll look into it. I have never met a billionaire I didn't like.
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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2006, 09:40:35 PM »
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I just finished watching Barcelona.  Not as entertaining as Metropolitan, and clearly a film that took a more "serious" approach.  I guess I have very little to say about it at this point, because I think that, in the end, the film had very little to say about anything.  It took a patently "American" approach (that is, as "American" was defined in the film).  One of the things that really put Metropolitan over the top for me was that it took a somewhat ironic pose, yet allowed its characters to be human.  This one starts out arguing that its protagonists are "human" characters without realizing that an ironic approach to them might have given them a little more breathing room.  Still, it was well-written and well-acted; I can't fault Stillman for not satisfying me, because he did.  All the same, it's like having having a nice, filling order from Fazoli's after dining in Rome.

Now, I am distressed to say, I have no way to see The Last Days of Disco unless I blind-buy it, since Netflix doesn't carry it and no video store that I've been in for the last three years seems to have a copy.  I'll keep searching, but I'm anxious.  Stillman had better get off his yuppie ass and make another movie -- hopefully putting Eigeman back in the limelight where he belongs.  (I'd also be much obliged if he'd put Carolyn Farina back on screen.)
Please don't correct me. It makes me sick.

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2006, 10:48:12 PM »
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You may have to blind buy The Last Days of Disco on DVD, but if we're hanging out tomorrow and watching The New World then I'll give you my copy of the novel for free.

Split Infinitive

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2006, 11:09:19 PM »
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You may have to blind buy The Last Days of Disco on DVD, but if we're hanging out tomorrow and watching The New World then I'll give you my copy of the novel for free.
That would be very generous, and I thank you for it. :)

I'll probably blind-buy it.  I liked his other two movies enough to make the gamble.

Plus, me blind-buying it is a surefire guarantee that Netflix will start stocking it within the month.
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MacGuffin

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2006, 11:42:40 AM »
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Stop Press: Whit Stillman is Back! Seriously!

That Whit Stillman is such a kidder. Less then two weeks ago, he wrote a piece in The Guardian, detailing all the meandering his movie career has done since The Last Days of Disco was released seven years ago. In the article, he discussed two concrete projects, one of which (a film version of Red Azalea, a memoir of the Chinese revolution) was dead, and another (a small film about ... Jamaican churches) that was sort of getting close to happening. Mostly, though, he made it sound like he had nothing cinematic really going on. Until, that is, the end of the piece, when he snuck in a suggestion that something might actually be percolating, saying "So I now have a project to take to Cannes;" the clear implication was that the project was the Jamaican churches movie.

It turns out, however, that he had a secret up his sleeve: The movie Stillman is talking up at Cannes has nothing to do with churches. Instead, it's a screen version of Christopher Buckley's (he of Thank You for Smoking fame) Little Green Men. Check out this summary: The book is "a Washington, D.C., insider comedy about a political talkshow host who's plucked off a golf course by aliens after a particularly probing presidential interview concerning America's space program."

According to Stillman, the film's schedule depends entirely on the whims of "Mr. Big Comedy star," a mysterious fellow who is currently being courted to star. The screenplay is done (but not by Stillman -- that's a first for him), though, so if the cast can be brought together with reasonable speed, the hope is that the movie will go into production later this year. (That said, however, Red Azalea was also once announced at Cannes as Stillman's next project, so these are chickens we really shouldn't start counting just yet.)
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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2006, 06:17:35 PM »
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I hope it's Colbert.
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godardian

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2006, 07:22:55 PM »
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I hope it's Colbert.

That would be nice, but when then say "Mr. Big Comedy Star," I think they mean:

-Will Ferrell
-Ben Stiller
-Jim Carrey
-Owen Wilson
-Vince Vaughn
-Adam Sandler
-etc., etc.
""Money doesn't come into it. It never has. I do what I do because it's all that I am." - Morrissey

"Lacan stressed more and more in his work the power and organizing principle of the symbolic, understood as the networks, social, cultural, and linguistic, into which a child is born. These precede the birth of a child, which is why Lacan can say that language is there from before the actual moment of birth. It is there in the social structures which are at play in the family and, of course, in the ideals, goals, and histories of the parents. This world of language can hardly be grasped by the newborn and yet it will act on the whole of the child's existence."

Stay informed on protecting your freedom of speech and civil rights.

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Re: Whit Stillman
« Reply #14 on: March 29, 2011, 08:56:30 AM »
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Sony Pictures Classics To Release Whit Stillman's 'Damsels In Distress'
via Deadline

NEW YORK, NY (March 29, 2011) –Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they will release Oscar nominated Whit Stillman’s latest film Violet Wister's DAMSELS IN DISTRESS worldwide. Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer produced alongside Stillman, who also wrote the screenplay.

The film stars Greta Gerwig (GREENBERG, upcoming ARTHUR remake), Adam Brody (THE ROMANTICS, upcoming SCREAM 4) and Analeigh Tipton (CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE with Steve Carrell, America’s Next Top Model).

Violet Wister's DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is a comedy that follows a trio of beautiful girls who set out to revolutionize life at a grungy East Coast university – the dynamic leader Violet Wister (Gerwig), principled Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and sexy Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They welcome transfer student Lily (Tipton) into their group which seeks to help severely depressed students with a program of good scent and musical dance numbers. The girls become romantically entangled with a series of men --including slick Charlie (Brody), dreamboat Xavier (Hugo Becker) and the mad frat pack of Frank (Ryan Metcalf) and Thor (Billy Magnussen)—who threaten the girls’ friendship and sanity.

 

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