While reading about the work of writer/ director Whit Stillman (our interview with him from earlier this year can be found here), one often comes across the word “erudite” which isn’t surprising if you consider that he graduated from Harvard, pursued journalism in New York and lived in Europe before ever shooting a single frame of film. While the talky, tongue-in-cheek intellectual films themselves could be compared to those of say, Linklater, Baumbach or even Allen, I cannot think of another career trajectory quite like his.
By the time Stillman made his first film in 1990, the self-financed Metropolitan, he was already 17 years out of University and had many life experiences he would draw on for inspiration. It would be the first in a semi-autobiographical trilogy that he’s referred to as “comedies of mannerlessness.” Metropolitan examines the debutante-ball scene of the late 1980s, but the airs these youths put on make it feel as though it could just as easily be set in the 1880s. Stillman’s screenplay garnered him an Oscar nomination and the film won Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards among many other accolades, making it safe to say he began his film career with confidence and competence to back it up, despite a lack of formal training.
In 1994 Castle Rock financed his sophomore film Barcelona, loosely based on his time spent living there as a sales agent. The “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love” series was capped off with The Last Days of Disco in 1998. Set in the “very early 1980s” the film centres on a small group of young professionals (who adamantly deny being “yuppies”) as they poke the embers of the dying Disco inferno. Disco probably remains his most seen film and helped launch the careers of Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale (the casts of Metropolis and Barcelona remain unknown for the most part).
Despite the varying settings several characters do crossover between films, often in brief cameo appearances ala Kielsowski’s Three Colors. All three films were received with enthusiasm and acclaim, particularly on the festival circuit, yet it would be 13 years before he made his fourth film Damsels in Distress. Between 1990 and 1998 Stillman carved out a niche for himself and established his voice, it’s rare that we see a filmmaker take such a long hiatus after achieving this, the upside being that his filmography has not been watered down with any duds.
The impetus for this look at Stillman’s work is a special presentation by Toronto’s The Seventh Art, an online video magazine that takes an in depth look at cinema via video essays and long-form interviews with filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors. Whit Stillman will be in attendance for their inaugural Live Directors Series which will include a screening of Metropolitan on Wednesday December 12 and The Last Days of Disco on Thursday December 13, both of which will be followed by a Q and A with the director himself. Disco will be presented on 35mm and while they did locate the only print of Metropolitan in Canada, it was a little too beat up to exhibit, so Stillman’s first film will be projected on blu-ray. Fortunately the blu ray was released by Criterion so you will be getting the best possible transfer. You can read our reviews for the blu ray releases of both titles here.
If you’re already familiar with the films this will likely be your first opportunity to experience them in a theatrical setting since their initial release and you should not miss the chance to see Stillman speak about his work in person. For those who have not seen Metropolitan or The Last Days of Disco, I cannot think of a better introduction to a filmmaker who had a great run in the 90s but has become unfamiliar to many of today’s viewers.
Both screenings will take place at The Royal at 7:30pm. Advanced tickets are $15/ night or $20 if you wish to attend both nights. They can be purchased here.