Whit Stillman

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Not to be confused with Slim Whitman.
Whit Stillman
Born John Whitney Stillman
(1952-01-25) January 25, 1952 (age 62)
Washington, D.C.
Alma mater Harvard University (1973)
Occupation Screenwriter, film director
Years active 1973–present
Notable work(s) Metropolitan (1990)

John Whitney "Whit" Stillman (born January 25, 1952) is an American writer-director known for his sly depictions of the "urban haute bourgeoisie."[1][note 1] He is perhaps best known for his 1990 film Metropolitan, which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Early life[edit]

Whit Stillman was born in 1952 in Washington, D.C.,[2][3] to Margaret Drinker (née Riley), from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a Democratic politician, John Sterling Stillman, an assistant secretary of commerce under President John F. Kennedy (a classmate of Stillman's father at Harvard), from Washington, D.C.[4][5] He grew up in Cornwall, New York. His godfather is academic E. Digby Baltzell.[6] [note 2] He attended Harvard University, where he was a member of the Fly Club and wrote for The Harvard Crimson.[7][8]

Career before filmmaking[edit]

After graduating from Harvard in 1973, Stillman began working as an editorial assistant at Doubleday in New York City, followed by a stint as a junior editor at The American Spectator.[7]:41[9][10] (Stillman has since downplayed his work at The American Spectator, expressing a desire to remain "apolitical".)[11][12]

He was introduced to some film producers from Madrid and persuaded them that he could sell their films to Spanish-language television in the U.S. He worked for the next few years in Barcelona and Madrid as a sales agent for directors Fernando Trueba and Fernando Colomo, and sometimes acted in their films, usually playing comic Americans, such as his role in Trueba's film, Sal Gorda.[13][14]

Filmmaking[edit]

Stillman wrote and directed three comedies of manners (or "comedies of mannerlessness")[15] released in the 1990s: Metropolitan[16] (1990), Barcelona (1994), and The Last Days of Disco (1998); he published a novel based on the last of these films.[17] After completing his film trilogy, Stillman departed from independent comedy and started researching and writing a series of scripts set abroad.[17][18] In August 1998 (shortly after The Last Days of Disco was released) he left his loft conversion in Manhattan's SoHo and relocated to Paris.[11] He returned to New York in 2010.[11]

A fourth film, Damsels in Distress, was released in 2011, premiering out of competition as the closing film at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.[19] The Guardian in 2012 compared Stillman to Terrence Malick, another filmmaker who has "come to owe a good part of their mystique to the very paucity of their oeuvre ... [t]he lengthy gaps in between [films] have created expectations that are hard to fulfil, and admirers have been inclined to overestimate their achievement."[20] A reviewer at Salon opined that the reason for the long gaps between his films is that "Stillman is sometimes simply too damn smart for his own good. You can't always tell at whom he's poking fun, or why, and it becomes unfortunately easy to typecast him as the WASP answer to Woody Allen and conclude that his movies are insufferably irritating documents of privilege. He himself is aware of that possibility the whole time, and bastes his entire worldview in a rueful, ironic-romantic glaze."[21]

Metropolitan[edit]

Stillman wrote the screenplay for Metropolitan between 1984 and 1988 while running an illustration agency in New York, and financed the film by selling his apartment (for $50,000) and with the contributions of friends and relatives.[18] Loosely based on real-life events Stillman had experienced while living in D.C., with his divorced mother during the week of Christmas break 1970 during his first year at Harvard, Metropolitan tells the story of the alienated Princetonian Tom Townsend's introduction to the "Sally Fowler Rat Pack" (SFRP), a small group of preppy, Upper East Side Manhattanites making the rounds at debutante balls during Christmas break of their first year in college. Though he is a socialist deeply skeptical about the SFRP's upper-class values, Tom (Edward Clements) grows increasingly attached to the cynical Nick (Chris Eigeman) and plays an important part, of which he is largely unaware, in the life of Audrey (Carolyn Farina), a young debutante. Many of the exclusive interior locations were lent to Stillman by family friends and relatives.[18]:18

Stillman won Best First Feature at the 6th Independent Spirit Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991 for Best Original Screenplay.[22] Metropolitan was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (Drama) at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival. He won the 1990 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best New Director.[23] The movie was a financial success, grossing about $3 million on a budget of less than $400,000.[24]

In an interview Stillman said of the film, “The material seemed pretty rich, almost rank. And perhaps it’s better approaching a subject people feel strongly about, even if that strong feeling is hatred, than something colorless and unspecific. Also, I love anachronism and this was the chance to film, essentially, a costume picture set in the present day or recent past. But a large part of the idea was to disguise our pitifully low budget by filming the most elegant subject available.”[25]

Barcelona[edit]

Barcelona, his first studio-financed film, was inspired by his own experiences in Spain during the early 1980s. Stillman has described the film as An Officer and a Gentleman, but with the title referring to two men rather than one. The men, Ted and Fred, experience the awkwardness of being in love in a foreign country culturally and politically opposed to their own.[26]

The Last Days of Disco[edit]

The Last Days of Disco was loosely based on Stillman's experiences in various Manhattan nightclubs, including Studio 54. The film concerns Ivy League and Hampshire graduates falling in and out of love in the disco scene of Manhattan in the "very early 1980s". It concludes a trilogy loosely based on his own life and contains many references to the previous two films: a character considers a move to Spain to work for American ad agencies there after meeting with the Barcelona character of Ted Boynton, and Metropolitan's heroine Audrey Rouget reappears briefly as a successful publisher, as do a few other characters from that film, as clubgoers. In 2000 Stillman published a novelization of the film, The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards.[27]

Damsels in Distress[edit]

After a 13-year hiatus, Stillman released his fourth film, Damsels in Distress, starring Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Hugo Becker and Analeigh Tipton. It premiered September 10 at the 2011 Venice Film Festival as the closing film, to favorable reviews. The film is "about three young women at an East Coast university, the transfer student that joins their group and the young men they become entangled with."[28]

Other projects[edit]

Stillman stated in 2006 that he was working on several unfinished scripts.[24] He had been slated to direct a film adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel Little Green Men,[29] but in a 2009 interview, Stillman said the adaptation is "[not] happening, at least with me."[30] He is writing another film, Dancing Mood, set in Jamaica in the 1960s.[30]

Bibliography[edit]

Books
Articles

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Urban haute bourgeoisie" is how a character in Metropolitan terms the film's upper-class WASP milieu
  2. ^ Stillman had a photo taken of Taylor Nichols and E. Digby Baltzell. Stillman wanted to have the inventors of the terms UHB and WASP on record.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stillman, Whit (Director), Whit Stillman (Scriptwriter), Carolyn Farina (Contributor), Edward Clements (Contributor), Chris Eigeman (Contributor), Taylor Nichols (Contributor) (1990-08-03). Metropolitan (Motion picture). Event occurs at 1 h 38 min. 
  2. ^ Whit Stillman at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Whit Stillman profile, AlloCiné (in French)
  4. ^ Sherrill, Martha (1990-09-14). "Director Whit Stillman's (Upper) Class Consciousness". The Washington Post. 
  5. ^ "Miss Margaret Riley Married". Marriage announcement (The New York Times). September 13, 1944. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 
  6. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (July 29, 1990). "'Metropolitan' Chronicles Preppy Angst". New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b McGee, Celia (1994-08-01). "A Wasp's Buzz". New York Magazine 27 (30). pp. 38‒41. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  8. ^ "Articles by Whit Stillman". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 
  9. ^ Samuelson, Couper (2001-07-15). "Last Rewrites". The Harvard Independent. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 
  10. ^ Mara Altman (December 2010). "Whit Stillman is Running Late". First Things. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  11. ^ a b c Brown, Chip (March 18, 2012). "Whit Stillman and the Song of the Preppy". The New York Times. p. 30. 
  12. ^ David Haglund (2012-04-05). "Brow Beat: The Whit Stillman Short Story That Foreshadows Damsels in Distress" (Weblog). Slate.com. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  13. ^ Christopher, Noam (Summer 1994). "Sketches of spain: Noam Christopher visits Whit Stillman's Barcelona". Filmmaker 2. 
  14. ^ Trueba, Fernando (Director) (1984). Sal gorda [Coarse Salt] (Motion picture) (in Spanish). Madrid, Spain: Opera Film Produzione. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  15. ^ John Lopez (2012-03-29). "Director Whit Stillman on His Upcoming Damsels in Distress, Influencing Wes Anderson, and the Healing Power of Soap". Grantland.com. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  16. ^ Stephen Holden (1990-08-03). "New Face; Crashing A Socialite's Cozy World". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  17. ^ a b Stillman, Whit (2006-05-11). "Confessions of a serial drifter". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  18. ^ a b c James Mottram (May 15, 2007). The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood. Faber & Faber. pp. 17–20. ISBN 978-0-86547-967-8. Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Damsels in Distress: Venice Film Review", The Hollywood Reporter
  20. ^ French, Philip (2012-04-28). "Damsels in Distress – review". The Guardian. Retrieved January 17, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Pick of the week: Delirious college comedy "Damsels in Distress"". Salon. April 6, 2012. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  22. ^ List of 1991 Academy Award Nominees from IMDb
  23. ^ List of Awards & Nominations for Metropolitan (1990) profile at IMDb
  24. ^ a b Kaufman, Anthony (Winter 2006). "Down and Out on Park Avenue". Filmmaker. 
  25. ^ Interview, Sussler, Betsy. BOMB Magazine Winter 1991; retrieved May 31, 2013.
  26. ^ Levy, Emanuel (1999). Cinema of outsiders: the rise of American independent film. NYU Press. pp. 200‒201. ISBN 9780814751244. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  27. ^ Stillman, Whit (August 2000). The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards (1st ed.). Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374183392. 
  28. ^ Cox, Gordon (March 29, 2011). "Sony Classics picks up Stillman pic". Variety. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 
  29. ^ Saito, Stephen. "Interview: Whit Stillman on "Metropolitan"". IFC.com. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  30. ^ a b Merwin, Hugh (2009-08-26). "Whit Stillman, Filmmaker". Gothamist. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Doomed Bourgeois in Love : Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman. Mark C. Henrie (ed.). Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 2001. ISBN 1882926706. 

External links[edit]