Whit Stillman Takes Los Angeles
The "Metropolitan" writer/director on the 20th anniversary of his witty indie classic and why there needs to be more evil in cinema.
Just slightly over a week ago, Hadrian Belove of the Cinefamily in Los Angeles introduced a screening of Tom Noonan’s “What Happened Was” by recalling the era it came out in which “a great movie was coming out every week.” That feeling is being recreated for the next month with the series “When Indies Rocked,” a veritable wonderland for fans of the ’90s boom that introduced the world to writer/directors like Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Neil LaBute, and Todd Haynes, among others.
Throughout Fridays in February, Payne, Russell, “In the Soup” director Alexandre Rockwell and “One False Move” star Bill Paxton are all scheduled to stop by the theater on Fairfax to reflect on their early work, but a tone of celebration is being set early with a 20th anniversary screening of Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan” this Sunday night. The ideal reminder of a time in cinema when dialogue often danced and low budget-inspired ingenuity led to a deeply-felt visual style, Stillman’s first film in what would become one of the finest runs of any writer/director during the era (including “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco”) has the fizz of a cocktail and the satisfaction of a main course as it follows a group of upper-crust collegians as they attend one debutante ball after another in New York, told from the perspective of a man of more humble means (Edward Clements) looking in.
Any time the film is presented on the big screen can be considered a rare treat in and of itself, but though the writer/director’s fans know no bounds, “Metropolitan” hasn’t strayed far from its east coast setting for a special screening, save for an gala in its honor at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. So it is with much-deserved pomp and circumstance that Stillman will accompany the film out to California for the first time and while he was in the editing bay for his next film “Damsels in Distress” – words the writer/director’s fans have been dying to see in print for over a decade – he took the time to share some thoughts via e-mail on the series and how this screening came together.
How did the Cinefamily screening come about?
The Sundance Film Festival paid for a new 35mm print for last year’s festival – which was fortunate as our lab, DuArt, has since halted film printing. With the Sundance print heading to the UCLA archive, Hadrian Belove of Cinefamily saw a chance for a screening. Meanwhile, we delayed our plan for a small anniversary re-release of “Metropolitan” as backing for our new film came together just after Sundance; but we hope it will go forward close to the new film’s release.
Does it really feel like 20 years has passed?
No, it doesn’t – or it feels like 21 years: “Metropolitan” had its first public screening at Sundance, late January 1990, but the theatrical release ran through March 1991 — in those days releases could last much longer: ours was August through March.
After the theatrical run, have you ever shown the film on the west coast? If you’ve seen it with an audience here, is it much different than with the hometown crowd in New York?
“Metropolitan” really played as a hometown film – one-third of its theatrical gross came out of Manhattan. I’ve only seen it with audiences in New York and at festivals and premieres – the worst were those at a Brussels disco with a very noisy and at the Hof festival in Germany where almost everyone walked out.
The series is called “When Indies Rocked” – and Hadrian of Cinefamily said at the earlier screening of “What Happened Was” that he recalls the ’90s as a time when a great movie was coming out every week. As someone who was in the thick of it, is that looking at it with rose-colored glasses or was there something genuinely special going on?
Generally, that’s right — but film history doesn’t strictly respect decade divides. I’d put the early “golden age” as the ten years from 1984 – for a lot of us, the artistic and commercial success of Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger than Paradise” was the big inspiration, followed by Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It.” My only film school was his account of putting together that film. As the ’90s wore on, the indie films became a business, a bubble and then a bust. Roberto Rossellini said that in cinema, money is the root of all evil; if that’s true, there’s a lot less evil around now.Cinefamily, interviews, Metropolitan, Whit Stillman
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