Tag Archives: interviews

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 Toronto.com 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.

More Greta Gerwig interviews

Four more interviews with Damsels in Distress star Greta Gerwig to catch up with here. Although, while some of the interviews with Stillman were repetitive in places, it seems like there’s an even narrower range of topics to ask actors…

Greta Gerwig
Damsels in Distress: Greta Gerwig

At ArtInfo, Graham Fuller has a reasonable interview:

ArtInfo: Tell me about speaking the very ornate, hyper-articulate dialogue that Whit Stillman wrote for Violet and if it affected your acting.

Gerwig: It did. I think the biggest thing for me was that I had to get the voices of other actors [who worked with Stillman earlier] out of my head, specifically the voices of Chris Eigeman and Kate Beckinsale. They were great favorites of mine in his films, which I love. I have such a good idea of what the parts he writes are like when they are executed well, and I didn’t want to merely imitate them. A lot of it was trying to find my own way of doing it in my own rhythm. I don’t know if it was successful, but that’s what I did.

Playing Violet, I had the largest number of words I’ve ever had to work with on a movie script, and it was a wonderful challenge because the words are so good. It’s much harder when the writing’s bad. You’ve a lot more work to do. With good writing, you have to figure out how to let it come through you instead of imposing yourself on it.

Gerwig was interviewd on NPR’s All Things Considered by Robert Siegel. You can listen to the five minutes or so and some quotes are pulled out on the page:

“He writes in such a specific rhythm,” Gerwig says, “and he has such a strong voice that a lot of what I did was to try not to imitate the other actors who had done it so brilliantly before me. A lot of it was trying to find the words in myself, and not simply imitate what it was.”

“I really try to come at it,” she says, “like I’ve never seen any of his films before and I don’t know what it’s supposed to be like. It involves a lot of almost self-hypnosis.”

And then there are often comparisons between Stillman and Woody Allen, whose next film Gerwig is also in. At the Daily Herald Dann Gire asks:

Gire: What’s the major difference between acting for Mr. Stillman vs. acting for Mr. Allen?

Gerwig: They’re similar, but Woody is much less precious about his words. He doesn’t need you to say the words as written. He’ll say, “If this isn’t working for you, just throw out the script. Say whatever you want and get the gist of it.” Of course, he has written jokes that don’t work unless they’re said exactly as written.

Gire: What about Mr. Stillman?

Gerwig: Whit is a completely unique auteur voice in films. The thing about him is his careful attention to language and how much he cares about words and syntax and vocabulary. I think he expresses his cinematic ideas through dialogue. It’s different from working with someone who’s visually based.

And at the Guardian Gerwig talks to Tim Lewis:

Guardian: Whit Stillman has been called “the Wasp Woody Allen”. Now that you’ve worked with the real one, on his new film To Rome With Love, do you see similarities?

Gerwig: In a way, I find it strange that people put them together. I suppose they are both very funny and the characters who say their lines are smart and self-aware. But as film-makers, they are totally different. Woody Allen, for the most part, doesn’t really want you to stick to the script. He doesn’t need it to be word for word the way he wrote it, which is the opposite of Whit.

And that’s all from Greta for now!

Whit Stillman interviews

First, sorry the updates here are a little sporadic. I can’t keep up with this temporary flood of material! That said, onward…

Whit Stillman
Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman on set

Stillman’s been busy chatting away to support Damsels in Distress recently and here’s the latest batch of interviews.

I completely forgot to post this interview by Farran Smith Nehme at Joan’s Digest when I last updated, but if you’re only going to read one of this bunch, then this is probably that one. Long and interesting:

Stillman: We sort of have to struggle in the film to get people to like Violet better. There’s this default, rather cliched – although we can’t criticize cliches in our film, as we raise them – there’s a cliched response where the outside character is the likable one from the audience point of view, and the insiders are the rather bad characters who need to be reprimanded and changed. Generally in our film it’s the reverse. It’s generally the outside character who has to wake up and be changed, in terms of transforming themselves. And in this case, the Lily character is not at all that idea… in fact, she’s the nemesis character in the film. It’s amazing that people don’t get that. And they say absolutely absurd things; they compare them to Mean Girls or Heathers or something like that. And they say, “The film finally comes alive when they meet the outsider Lily character.” That is the first scene in the film.

A little later in the interview, on the same theme:

Stillman: I adore [The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie]. One of the things I don’t like about it is that once again, this incredibly magical, dynamic character has to get her comeuppance. She has to be revealed to be sad, and misguided, and all these other things. And I just think there’s this form of movie, where they have an incredibly charismatic character, and they think the interesting, modern thing is to show the unhappiness and despair behind the mask, blah blah blah. I think that’s become a hoary cliche. The truth is that some of these people are great and fantastic.

Next, David Lambie has a very brief interview in the Bay Area Reporter but there is some new stuff:

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

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.

Also, I had no idea that, as this interview reveals, the guy who plays the “haughty bouncer” in The Last Days of Disco, Burr Steers, wrote and directed Igby Goes Down, and is Gore Vidal’s nephew.

At Time Out Chicago, Ben Kenigsberg has a brief interview in which we read this about Stillman’s long years between movies:

He wasn’t completely absent from behind the camera. “I shot commercials in Indonesia and Singapore,” he says. “I had a friend who was working for a chocolate company over there, and so I shot commercials for the chocolate company. Which were kind of like mini versions of the films I did – there’s a lot of music and dancing.”

I don’t think I knew that either… now, how do we track those down…?!

Another brief interview, this time at SF Gate with G. Allen Johnson ends on a slightly sombre note:

“I have a lifetime supply of scripts written, but I’d like to write some new stuff, too,” [60-year-old] Stillman said. “The window-closing thing is so true. In the last two years I’ve had to face reality, and realize I have to focus on those things that would be gratifying and doable.”

Peter Suderman at the Washington Times has an interview, the title of which reflects this segment, about the way rich people are often represented on TV:

Mr. Stillman recalls directing an episode of the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street. He had a script he liked, but a rewrite turned a yuppie victim – whose family had been murdered – into “this awful, caricatured yuppie villain.”

“We don’t necessarily want to do a PR job for them,” he says of the character type. “But we also don’t want to dehumanize them, either.” He objected to the rewrite and is sure he was “blacklisted” – his explosive and unprompted term – from directing television as a result.

This topic crops up again as the Guardian’s Xan Brooks interviews Stillman on video (which I haven’t watched yet). From the article:

In any other movie, [Greta] Gerwig’s infuriating, Stepford-esque co-ed would be relegated to the sidelines and played as a grotesque. Yet the director clearly adores her; even identifies with her. He explains that his heroine is an idealist and that he has always loved idealists, because they are fragile, often lonely, easily shattered. … The problem, he suggests, is that Hollywood has conditioned its audience to pre-judge people in terms of their class background and to dismiss the heroines of Damsels in Distress as “pampered little rich kids”, undeserving of our sympathy.

Miriam Bale interviews Stillman about fashion for ‘The Measure’ at The L Magazine:

I got a really nice Madras jacket from Ralph Lauren, so reduced they almost paid me to take it out of the store. And I was so happy to put it on and see how it looked on a hot summer day in New York, this very light Madras jacket. … I love them. They’re so light and comfortable, and I think they can be so good-looking.

Chris Eigeman, on the other hand, doesn’t share the same point of view. He hates them. And for some reason I always dress Chris in Madras. There’s a scene in Barcelona where he’s supposed to be a very badly dressed civilian, so we put him in yellow trousers and a Madras jacket. And there’s a scene in Last Days of Disco, when he’s leaving to go to Europe with Jimmy Steinway, and I think he wears another Madras jacket. And when it came to record the DVD commentary, he was going on about how ugly that jacket was and how he hated wearing it, but I was dressed exactly like he was in the film!

At the Wall Street Journal they have an odd half-interview by Thomas Vinciguerra, in which the questions are omitted, leaving a series of unconnected statements from Stillman:

The three films I find most perfect are The Shop Around the Corner, Top Hat and Howards End.

My favorite director is Mark Sandrich because he made my favorite film, which is The Gay Divorcee.

Jack Giroux at Film School Rejects has a good interview with Stillman that focuses more than most on the process of writing and making movies:

Stillman: …there’s a course I took very seriously and enjoyed a lot of aspects of, the Robert McKee story course. My best relationship with that course is I had a friend – who had very forward notes and had this weird curly-cue handwriting – and he took very sparse notes of the class. Extrapolating from his notes, I found it really stimulating and used that when I was writing Barcelona. Just having a key few phrases was great. When I took the course itself, and it seemed really good, McKee said, “You cannot create characters based on dialogue and you can’t create a story writing scenes.” I figured out later what he said you could not do is the only way I knew how to do it. The only way I knew how to do it is having people say something to each other, and maybe they get their voice, come alive, and maybe they start doing things. For me, the dialogue thing is kind of helpful.

We’re nearly there, only a few more interviews to go today. Come on!

The New York Post has an average interview by Kyle Smith:

As befits the creator of memorably threadbare preppies who discourse about the problem of being ornately spoken but shabbily funded, Stillman … is not awash in riches. He shops at Ralph Lauren Polo, but “on the fourth sale,” he says. “The first week in August, when they try to unload the really unfortunate mistakes.”

So he’s on the low end of the high end, much as George Orwell described himself as “lower upper-middle class”?

“I am so Orwell,” Stillman replies. “I went from Down and Out in Paris and London being a project I wanted to film to a life I was living.”

At the Globe and Mail, Rick Groen interviews Stillman:

Stillman: The strange thing about my period of failure, of not making a film, is that I felt much better about the thing I most worried about – writing a script. Because I really didn’t feel I was best suited to being a writer. There’s so much fighting with it. Now I just think people must be bad writers if they love it.

However, when I’m actually making a film, there are always naysayers in the process and production ends up being like 18 months of pure, sweating tension. So I want to be on a film to escape the solitary writer’s life, but now the solitary writer’s life seems very appealing to me. You know, after Krzysztof Kieslowski made Three Colours, they asked him what he wanted to do, and he said he just wanted to sit in a dark room and smoke. I’m not a smoker, but that just seems to me the perfect image.

Leo Robson at the Financial Times has an almost oddly short interview after a longer introduction. But there’s still a good bit on Stillman’s influences:

Stillman talked at speed, and almost always with love. “I adore Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise. Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is one of the greatest things ever.” His frame of reference goes from Robert L Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers (a primer on economic thought) to the novels of Louis Auchincloss (a character in Metropolitan is shown reading The Rector of Justin) to Walter Jackson Bate’s biography of Keats.

Stillman prizes most in other people’s work what he excels at in his own. He loves “the first five or 10 minutes” of true crime documentaries, “when they do the scene-setting”. He emphasises the elements of “social reality” in Hitchcock’s films, so often associated with enclosed or paranoid worlds.

Finally for today, Stillman was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, which can be listened to here (starts at 21:16), although I suspect that might only work for those in the UK. The host John Wilson finds it hard to be sympathetic to the movie’s girls:

Wilson: I found that pretty hard.

Stillman: I know, it’s very hard for people. It’s the struggle in the film to get beyond what people assume. Because they see these girls who are well put together, and very opinionated, and they think they’re mean girls. This is not Mean Girls.

Wilson: No, it’s not that, it’s that they’re not worldly wise, they’re very self-obsessed, and there’s an arrogance to them.

Stillman: Oh no, no, that’s a misinterpretation. Yes, there is arrogance and condescension but in the service of humanity. I think the comparison, and it’s only something I thought about after making the film, is really with Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. This is the prettier, female, university version of Rushmore.

And it goes on. Worth a listen if you can.

Well done for getting through all that. Tomorrow we’ll catch up on all the reviews.

‘Damsels in Distress’ roundup

A bunch of odds and ends to get us up-to-date.

Nate Freeman has a slightly rambling article which is ultimately a report from last week’s screening of Damsels in Distress at Film Society of Lincoln Center, with Stillman and some of the cast. It starts with an anecdote from when the crew were scouting for locations for the movie. Whit Stillman had gone missing.

[A production] assistant ventured into the museum-hosted gala and circulated among the men in suits, hoping to spot the director—the beloved scribe of Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco – who had finally come around to making a new movie. And then, between men bearing canapes and women in big dresses, there was Whit Stillman chatting up a guest. The assistant politely waited for the conversation to end before interrupting.

“I’m sorry, Whit,” he said. “But we have to get back to the scout.”

“How did you find me?” the director said, smiling.

“Whit,” the assistant said. “All of your films are about parties, so when I heard this one going on …”

Amusing enough, although saying Stillman had “finally come around to making a new movie” seems a little, er, ignorant.

Next, Forrest Wickman at Slate investigates the important question Were the Cathars Really Sodomists? prompted by a line in the movie.

Moving on, at Huffington Post there’s a video of the cast and Stillman (scroll to the bottom for the article and endure the pre-roll ad) chatting about the movie, parties, and their college experiences:

Greta Gerwig ‘Damsels’ interviews

In reviews of Damsels in Distress Greta Gerwig has been getting as much attention as the rest of the cast put together, so I guess it’s not a surprise that nearly all the interviews that aren’t with Whit Stillman are with her.

Greta Gerwig
Damsels in Distress: Greta Gerwig

From last Friday we have this interview with Christopher Rosen at the Huffington Post:

“[Whit] was thinking about me for the role of Lily [played by Analeigh Tipton in the film]. I would have played Lily happily, but I had kinda fallen in love with Violet. I begged him to read for it; I wanted to audition for it. I brought my tap shoes. I did a tap dance and I sang. They didn’t ask me to do that, I just did it on my own. But I really wanted the part. In retrospect, it seemed like a really Violet move.”

The next day she’s interviewed by Tara Aquino at Complex at a little more length:

Do you believe any of [your character Violet’s] offbeat convictions?

Gerwig: I believe all of it. My mom is actually a psych nurse. She saw the movie when it premiered in L.A. and she had really interesting things to say about it. She really thought it was very smart, and very, in its own way, realistic about how something like dancing can make you feel better and connect you with people, and get your body moving and get your endorphins going, and how it’s really helpful.

The following day Hermione Hoby had an interview with Gerwig in the (UK) Sunday Telegraph, although despite the headline (“Whit Stillman’s new star”) Damsels is a minor point:

Gerwig was desperate for the part. ‘I tap-danced!’ she exclaims, when she describes her audition. ‘He didn’t ask me to, I just showed up and said I had tap shoes and I’d like to tap and then I’d like to sing a song. I just really went for it. Ha!’

Ha, yes, who knew?!

On Monday it was the turn of Matt Pais at RedEye who interviews Gerwig on video. They also have a transcript of the exchange:

What do you think the movie is getting at with the passive-aggressive, arguable empty-headedness of the leader?

Gerwig: I think actually the leader of the pack—it is a situation of, “Physician heal thyself”—but I think she’s not empty-headed. And I do think that Whit really loves Violet. And I think of all the characters I think Violet is the closest to his worldview. I think he actually does think that tap dancing and musical theater and sharp dressing and perfume can make people feel better about themselves. That’s not satire for him; that’s totally 100 percent how he thinks. So even though she suffers from some of the things that she’s trying to correct for other people, she’s incredibly sincere about what she’s trying to do. She really does believe in all of it. And she really wants to help people. She’s not just trying to control them for the sake of controlling them. She really wants people to be happier.

That’s all the Greta for now!