More Whit Stillman ‘Damsels’ interviews

I have a big bunch of tabs in my browser to close, every one full of Stillman. So…

Even without having got through them all yet, if you only read/watch one I’m guessing that this 43 minute video interview with David Poland at Movie City News blogs seems like a good one (thanks Alberto):

I’ve only watched the first ten minutes or so but it seems intelligent and, as you’d expect from the length, nicely in-depth. He talks about being “brutally dumped” in France – which I think he’s only been vague about in other interviews – and how that experience lead to the story in Damsels in Distress, which he sees as his most personal film yet.

Next up, and rather late, an interview by a friend-of-a-friend of mine, Jonathan Crow at Yahoo!’s MovieTalk:

JC: in the movie, there’s a character, Xavier, who likes to show romantic love “the Cathar way.” What that actually means is elided over so unless you’re paying attention, it wouldn’t register.

WS: Yeah. Well, I’m really grateful to the MPAA for helping us out with that.

JC: How so?

WS: Well, they were going to give us an R rating. I had already an R rating with Last Days of Disco and I know how terrible that is for our kind of film. Our films really are intended to be kind of innocent. They’re supposed to be helpful guides to young women. So I went through with the editor, Andy Hafitz, we found that taking out of tiny, tiny bits of two scenes about Xavier, we could make it wonderfully vague in a kind of intriguing way. The laugh is still there but it’s when Violet says ‘Poor Lily, Xavier used her body, not even the right side.” Before, they got the joke early and then it becomes a little lame if you keep talking about it. So we felt that MPAA helped us by nudging us to clean up our act.

Next up, at the website of the magazine Stillman used to edit four decades ago, the Harvard Crimson has this article with Alexander E. Traub. Much of it is interesting background, and a look at the verdicts of film critics David D’Arcy and Anthony Lane:

David D’Arcy is incredulous. “Are you trying… I’m not sure you’re doing this, but do you want me to try to identify something that’s actually earnest in one of Whit’s films?” … “Even the distress of the title could, and probably should, be taken as a straight-faced joke,” Lane wrote in a review. In Stillman’s world, Lane claims, “Beauty is not truth, nor truth beauty; both are cradled in quotation marks.” … But their distant, ironized reading of Stillman’s works has more serious consequences. Understood properly, Stillman’s four movies – beginning with Metropolitan in 1990, then Barcelona in 1994, The Last Days of Disco in 1998, and finally Damsels, make a claim for the utopian value of social communities.

From that to this brief video interview at Kare 11 which, for us, is probably not worth sitting through the 30 second advert for.

Next, at Edge On The Net, is a short interview with David Lamble:

David Lamble: Discuss Adam Brody’s obsession with “The Decline in Decadence.”

Whit Stillman: I think there was a higher decadence in the past. I don’t know Jersey Shore, but that is like true decadence. Before, the decadents were trying to get by the obstacle course of respectable society, and the tension led to the creation of these artistic personas that were so interesting. I’m not sure what Max Beerbohm’s relationship to that group was, he was very close to the Oscar Wilde group, but when everything became controversial, he exiled himself to Italy and stayed there. It was an interesting dynamic of camouflage and daring, and it led to some really interesting comic creations.

At the Boston Phoenix, Eugenia Williams has an interview annoyingly split over three pages:

“Of all the characters I’ve written, I feel closest to Violet. And of all the performers I’ve worked with, I’m probably closest in karma — where we’re coming from — to Greta. I would say she just comes out of some place which is like home — better than home. More like a cooler cousin.”

With the movie opening in countries outside the USA, we’re starting to get more interviews from elsewhere. In Now Toronto Norman Wilner interviews Stillman (in text, but also with a couple of audio clips):

“I don’t think I’ve ever been cynical,” Stillman says. “I always feel positive about unlikely people. I sort of defend people who are despised by society, or despised by those who write about society. I’d like to make a film sometime where there’s not a big sociological barrier to liking the characters.

From the same city, Peter Howell at asks Stillman about some of the not-yet-made films:

Howell: Do you think people just weren’t interested in your dramatic ideas?

Stillman: The thing is, the projects that didn’t go ahead, part of the rap was, “What does Whit Stillman know about a black Jamaican church? What does Whit Stillman know about the cultural revolution in China?” That’s what the UK Film Council was saying: “Where does this guy get off doing this?”

And at the Canadian National Post Stillman and Nathalie Atkinson discuss youth and music:

If [Stillman] feels much less alienated than before, it’s because he likes the young people of today. “I didn’t like my generation. I …” he pauses, “think we were real jerks, a generation trying to be cool. And maybe I’m being romantic about it but we had this youth army making our film, both the actors and the crew. So much of the crew was like within two years of college. People still working at our budget level!”

The topic then turns to Adam Schlesinger and Mark Suozzo’s buoyant score and its musical cues (“Were they OK?”), with original songs reminiscent of the sophisticated teen hits born in the last days of Eisenhower. “I like that period of music and this seems to me kind of that Brill Building sound,” Stillman says. “The songwriters doing the pop stuff in the early ’60s, that’s so great.”

“We really couldn’t afford to have much licensed music in the movie so an economy move was to have our own music,” he adds, explaining the score’s percussive nod to Henry Mancini. “There is this retro thing in the film with the girls loving the style of Grace Kelly and it’s Holly Golightly-ish. Like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we’ve got a sentimental love ballad like Moon River.”

Next, we have Eric Henderson at CBS Minnesota with a brief interview:

“I’ve gotten into the European habit of having the unbuttoned shirt,” [Stillman] said right off. “There, ties are very unfashionable.”

Winning the prize for the most awkward pun, the Dallas Voice’s interview by “A.W.J.” is titled “Stillman waters run deep”:

“I think every visualization of the film is a different performance,” he says. “Theoretically, a film is always exactly the same, but the reaction of the audience and the projection affect it a lot. I find the screening room experience isolating and slightly banal. An empty room eats up every chuckle. Still, you really cant anticipate any laughs and hold for laughter in a film— you just hope for laughter.”

Colin Covert at the Star Tribune has a brief interview with Stillman:

“I was in director jail,” he said. “I’m not a very good producer, and I never married the production manager and had a good built-in producer, which is what all my Spanish director friends did. They either turned their wife into their producer or their producer became their wife. I only dated for romance, never for practicality.”

Still with me? Only a handful to go… CTV News has Sheri Block talking to Stillman:

“I love films from the 30s and one thing you see in them is what a great social glue that kind of dancing was, and still today, you go to some sort of dance where there is ballroom dancing and the best dancers are the 75-year olds. No one under 70 seems to know how to dance that well anymore.”

The Suffolk [University] Voice’s Jake Mulligan has an interview that begins:

Voice: The philosophy that you should “date plain people” pops up here, after being delivered via monologue in Barcelona too.

Stillman: Right. Well, it’s a girl articulated it in [Damsels], opposed to a man articulating it [in Barcelona.] But I don’t think it really works. But it’s funny; you’re the first person to catch that.

OK, hands up who else picked up on that? Yes, I didn’t think Mulligan was the only one…

Katherine Monk at the Vancouver Sun has Stillman reveal this for (I think) the first time:

“[Metropolitan, Barcelona and Last Days of Disco] all came from me hazily remembering a time period and then populating it with characters,” he says. “This one is different from the other ones. The only idea that I had to start with was the floral names, and the idea of a Roman letter fraternity instead of a Greek letter fraternity.”

Stillman says he’s being sued at the moment by a Greek society, but he’s not worried. “I think my defence is quite clear: We’re talking about a Roman letter fraternity, not a Greek letter fraternity.”

Dallas’s Front Row has this interview by Peter Simek:

“I think I know what killed cinema: film noir,” Stillman tells me, revealing himself as something of a cinephile-heretic.

“I think the so-called sex comedies of the early-1960s, late-1950s, those slightly risqué, but within the code movies, they are really fun to watch with the kids,” Stillman says.

The Province’s Katherine Monk has this interview:

“One of my central ambitions was to go to Harvard. And I nearly didn’t get in, and when I did get in, I was insanely happy about it … until I was insanely depressed about it.” Stillman isn’t sure what happened. “It was pretty sick. Maybe it was hormonal or developmental, or something, but I was incredibly depressed and I remember competing to join the student newspaper,” he says, explaining the inspiration for a specific scene in Damsels.

And, phew, that’s all for now. Congratulations on getting this far. In a couple of days we’ll have another round-up of Damsels reviews.