While relaxing a bit at home today, my channel-flipping came across "Metropolitan," the first of three films by writer-director Whit Stillman. I've seen it -- and the other two, "Barcelona" and "The Last Days of Disco" -- more than once; "Barcelona" is probably the least interesting to me, but I very much admire "Last Days of Disco" and today reminded me how many things I like in "Metropolitan."
Stillman's preoccupation is with educated, urban sophisticates, often with money and at least a patina of class. The movies are driven by those characters' talking: They have plenty to say, though much of it is foolish. Still, they are interesting to listen to, especially when we sense that their foolishness is going to catch up with them.
I am tempted to say that nothing much happens in Stillman's movies, but that applies only if you consider explosions, death and melodramatic monologues as stuff happening. All that talking in Stillman's ways is also a door into the characters' hopes and dreams and hearts, although they may be lacking in those departments, too.
To me, Stillman can be summed up as two people sitting in a corner, having a quiet conversation so burdened with their respective, and often unelaborated, emotions that you lean forward, wanting to pick up every word and inflection; then you wait through more scenes of conversation because you have become wrapped up in the characters and these glimpses of their lives. I have the same feeling I used to get from the stories of Donald Barthelme; that's not a literary comparison as much as a visceral one, a sense that in each case I should be a good boy and listen, and I might learn something.
I've found Stillman's movies perfect to watch on television, where you're sitting in your own little corner. At least, they are to me, since I have never seen one of Stillman's movies in a theater. I had hoped for a chance after seeing "Last Days of Disco," but Stillman hasn't done any movies since then. I don't know if he said everything he had to say and moved on, or if he simply lost his enthusiasm for moviemaking. I do know that I haven't my enthusiasm for the movies he made.