Comments on a favourite film: the sexual politics of “Metropolitan”

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One of my favourite films, “Metropolitan“, directed by Whit Stillman, gentleman auteur, has me thinking hard about what it is that is unsatisfactory about it. It has a conservative tone, and is a delightful movie which satisfies all the way through. But there is something not quite right about it.

It is not that it is a young director’s film. The strange editing may or may not have been studied, but it hardly spoils the experience. It just breaks the film up in odd ways. At times, the movie becomes a series of vignettes. And there are some really funny lines. It is the kind of film that I would have liked to make, if I had the requisite talent. It has the kind of joke that makes one think, “Exactly, someone has finally said that”.

I hope it is not glib to say that the film is like a Woody Allen film, made by a WASP.

Perhaps the problem is that it is made by a WASP. There is much play with the concept of the decline of the class it portrays, but it probably unwittingly says more about the reasons for the decline than it really intended. And the film ends on a hopeful note that is more wistful than real.

Does the boy, Tom:

metropolitan-the-criterion-collection-20060321113012361-000

get the girl, Audrey:

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No, not really. And that is part of the problem. In a later film, The Last Days of Disco, with some of the same actors and the same director, the girl (“Audrey Rouget”) appears again, briefly. It transpires that she never married Tom, or anyone else apparently. She is married to her job, the “youngest editor ever” at her publishing house in New York.

I shall probably expand this post, but my main point will be that I think Stillman sets his characters up for failure. Audrey is young and luscious, but she is going to rot on the vine, or rather go sour. Tom and Charlie, the good guys, are manly and direct enough to save Audrey from the evil, virile, Rick. But they don’t follow through. Tom suggests vaguely that he might visit Audrey when she returns to Grenoble to study, if he has the funds. And the story ends as they go all go off to hitch a lift back to New York from Long Island.

This is all quite unsatisfactory. There is only one point in saving a damsel from a fate worse than death; and that is to have her for yourself. Intentions, no matter how honourable, are not enough. Tom should have done something decisive with Audrey. Like marry her. It is no wonder she ended up as what would have once have been described as a literary maiden lady.

And so it goes. It is a portrait of a group of people who have forgotten how to reproduce themselves and their culture. Was Stillman deliberately implying the physical as well as cultural sterility of his otherwise admirable subjects?

If “demography is destiny”, this film sounds a warning. Tom never really does anything with Audrey, refusing at one point to even lead her in a “cha-cha” at one of the soirees they all attend. Courtship should not be an exercise in minimalism.

A review of the film in Slate.

Metropolitan 1990 Whit Stillman Edward Clements Carolyn Farina Taylor Nichols pic 3

88 responses to this post.

  1. I enjoyed all three Whit Stillman movies.

    “I hope it is not glib to say that the film is like a Woody Allen film, made by a WASP.

    Perhaps the problem is that it is made by a WASP. There is much play with the concept of the decline of the class it portrays, but it probably unwittingly says more about the reasons for the decline than it really intended. And the film ends on a hopeful note that is more wistful than real.”

    I don’t see a problem; Stillman was portraying the reality of the upper-class WASP world he knew intimately, himself. It was like that, for better and for worse.

    Woody Allen, by contrast, portrayed the world he knew, of wealthy Jewish New Yorkers. A different world than Stillman’s, for certain.

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  2. Hi Will. The film also contains a remarkable early statement of the power of the sociopathic alpha in getting women’s panties wet.

    I like Stillman and his films. I have only seen Metropolitan in full, a few times. The Last Days of Disco I have only seen bits of on YouTube. Same with Barcelona. I believe he has a new release.

    What I was trying to say was that it was not a conservative outcome for Stillman to essentially consign the nubile Audrey to spinsterhood, editing, and ultimately cats.

    I would love to find a copy of The Last Days of Disco. Hard to find in Oz. I only got Metropolitan through my daughter’s knowing her way around a bitstream. I felt no compunction since Stillman wants his films freely available.

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  3. Hi David, no, it’s not a conservative outcome, but alas, it’s an all-too-realistic one.

    Chris Eigeman is a terribly underrated actor. He was in all three of Stillman’s movies, playing different characters, ostensibly, but all with the sarcastic, worldly-wise tone.

    Stillman’s movies are great for quotes, esp. The Last Days of Disco, the best of which is:

    “I don’t know,” Alice said, “I’m beginning to think that maybe the old system of people getting married base on mutual respect and shared aspirations, and then slowly, over time, earning each other’s love and admitation, worked the best.”
    “Well,” Charlotte said. ” We’ll never know.”

    And secondly:

    “I consider you to be a person of some integrity, except in your dealings with women.” (Josh, to Des)

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  4. Eigeman is good, but limited. More a character actor than a lead. Carolyn Farina had a few small roles thereafter, and a cameo in Stillman’s latest as “Carolina” I believe. I suspect she was simply not sexy enough for the movies. Ingenues have limited appeal in modern times.

    What surprises me is that The Last Days of Disco is not better known. It had two still working actresses in it, both lookers. What I have seen of it seems good, but I am of the disco era myself, so I am favourably biased.

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  5. Chloe Sevigny became fairly well-known, but mostly because of her actual act of fellation in “The Brown Bunny”. Sad.

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  6. Mind you, she also is known for her role in HBO’s “Big Love”, as one of the wives.

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  7. Yes, I know her from Big Love.

    Sorry to hear about her other claim to fame.

    I felt she and Kate Beckinsale were playing against type in The Last Days of Disco. I know you can’t always tell, but Beckinsale seems like a better woman than Sevigny, who looks like a sulky piece. I don’t really “believe” her in Big Love either.

    Kate was a serious student at Oxford and seemed a sensible woman when I saw her interviewed about those SF or fantasy movies she now does.

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  8. Oh yes, I forgot Kate Beckinsale. Indeed, a shame she seems to have gotten stuck with those kind of roles, and (ugh) “Pearl Harbor”; she’s a great actress.

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  9. Glad to see that your back in the blogging business, David. It has been a good while.

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  10. “Oh yes, I forgot Kate Beckinsale. Indeed, a shame she seems to have gotten stuck with those kind of roles, and (ugh) “Pearl Harbor”; she’s a great actress.”

    Haha, Clyde Wilson has a thing for her: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2011/06/09/three-score-and-ten-a-meditation/

    “Right now, dinner finished, 1 P.M. I should have had a smaller bowl of ice cream. Time for a nap. And if I happen to dream about Greta Scacchi or Kate Beckinsale, forgive me Lord, although we both know I won’t be sorry.”

    Haha. I really enjoy his posts.

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  11. I think she is cute, but a little icy. I know those Underworld movies look a bit silly, but they keep her in work I suppose.

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  12. I recently found out that Chloe Sevigny is a practising Catholic. So I like her better now.

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  13. Is she, now? I wonder if that’s a post-Brown-Bunny development, or if she considered herself one all along…

    Her name is quite French…

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    • I don’t know. I do know that her doing that was classic hypergamy. She gave it up for him because he was a director – the only man with any power over an actress – and she thought he was a genius auteur. The film flopped, and now she regrets it.

      I don’t blame her. She is a woman. That is the nature of the creature. She probably went to Confession.

      I just like my co-religionists. It gives me a fellow-feeling with them. Even when I know they are probably highly imperfect people.

      BTW, I have tried to put a blogroll on this darn blog, but stupid WordPress is clunky and useless.

      It is funny that both “Alby” and the No. 2 wife in Big Love were together in The Last Days of Disco.

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  14. I think the not quite right ending is because that’s what we see when we look at the world, anywas: even when it’s good it’s often not quite right.

    Barcelona is excellent, too. I haven’t seen LDoD, but it’s next on my Netflix queue. I put it there after I though of Metropolitan the other day.

    How I found Whit Stillman in the first place was, a couple years ago someone linked to a YouTube video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71Mwd4Uw9v4 ). I’ve been impressed ever since.

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    • Yes, but it is like a copy of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth does not marry Darcy but sets up a successful agency for governesses.

      I must admit that I have a crush on Carolyn Farina. But I also think it is a gem of a film, which remains interesting right through to the end.

      There is further recent discussion here:

      http://isteve.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/whit-stillmans-damsels-in-distress.html

      Stillman was an acute observer. He got a lot of female psychology right, in an industry which is almost wilfuly blind to the reality of female desire.

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      • Interesting comparison. The difference being that Stillman switched the roles around to fit modern realities: Darcy is Rick, and Wickham is Tom. In this modern confusion the conservative will deduce that Audrey simply comes unmoored from marriage, as Lizzie Bennett fears for herself. Metropolitan is Pride and Prejudice if Lizzie’s misconceptions about Darcy had been true.

  15. That is an interesting reading. But Audrey never falls for Rick. Her Prejudice about his Pride is never replaced by respect. She remains fixated on Tom. “Tom is the only boy I have ever liked”. Stillman comes so close to pointing the moral – show a modicum of independence and enterprise and you can have a pretty virgin. I think we are meant to think that Tom will marry Audrey. But Stillman squibs it by turning her into a dried up career woman in the next movie.

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    • I sympathize with this desire, too, that Audrey and Tom get together. But I think, in America, Audrey doesn’t flaunt the culture; wise enough to reject Rick; privileged enough to think a Darcy is still out there.

      Maybe I’m just pessimistic. Also, it’s been awhile since I watched it. I don’t remember anything after the beach house rescue/confrontation.

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      • Well, that is really the end of the film. All the gentlemen are rather ungallant about Audrey’s flat chest, but Tom clearly wants Audrey, and the other chap tactfully cedes her to Tom, settling into his Beta Orbiter role.

        I concede that an alternative reading is that Audrey is still playing the field, in a larger world in the next film. She has risen in the world and is still dating and dancing. She may be hoping to snag a real Darcy, and be mistress of Pemberley (New World version). But, as all us Manospherics know, women’s stock declines in their late 20s. The actress was 34 in the latter film, and it shows.

        I haven’t seen her in the latest Stillman film, but she is cast as an Italian surnamed character. Stillman is no longer presenting her as a WASP, it seems.

      • I checked Last Days of Disco. The “Beta Orbiter”, Charlie, is in a group of four at the disco with Audrey Rouget. But he seems to be with, and dances with, an attractive blonde. Audrey is with a beefy, dark-haired man. So, it looks like Charlie and Audrey are still friends. Tom is not there. Perhaps Audrey’s date is a senior executive in publishing, or something.

        In any case, Stillman said in a recent interview that he is not much interested in what happens afterwards to his characters. Perhaps we should respect that.

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 18, 2014 at 9:19 am

        No, I was wrong. Audrey is dancing with Fred from Metropolitan. I was fooled by his remarkably changed appearance, but apparently it is Fred and played by the same actor in both movies.

  16. Audrey’s date better-looking on review; Charlie’s less.

    I think the evidence is that Audrey has left Tom behind, and Charlie still carries a torch for her.

    I still think Farina had lost her unique charm by the second movie.

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  17. Stillman said in a recent interview that he is not much interested in what happens afterwards to his characters. Perhaps we should respect that.

    That’s probably a healthy perspective for the artist to have (When he doesn’t, we get interminable versions of Star Wars), but it should be expected of the interested viewer.

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    • Yes, well, I have a thing about Carolyn Farina. She is my type, and reminds me a bit of my wife, when she was young. The Mrs had bigger boobs though.

      Star Wars is a sore point with me. Many fine works are ruined by sequels.

      I suspect Damsels will flop. Shame. What saved Metropolitan was the male energy.

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      • On another viewing of Disco, Farina’s boyfriend looks kind of Italianate, and kind of thuggish. I wonder if they did not dance with their real-life partners (first time I have used that stupid word). “Charlie’s” blonde is not that hot.

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 18, 2014 at 9:21 am

        No, I was wrong. Besides Charlie and Audrey, they are Fred and Sally from Metropolitan, apparently, and played by the original actors.

  18. Ok, later than I wanted, but the good news is that I made notes.

    1) Unrelatedly to what we were discussing, but there’s a funny part where Charlie says that Fourierist commune Brook Farm was a failure because it ceased to exist. Tom replies that such is an impossible standard since everyone ceases to exist, and we can’t all be failures. The funny part is they both look away concerned that Tom may be wrong, and what the implications are. Hadn’t noticed that before.

    2) Audrey liked Tom a lot more than I remembered. I forgot she kissed him goodnight, and that she picked up the Trilling critique of Austen.

    3) Rick Von Sloneker is a great character. He’s a real threat, but he’s still much less successful than his image. Also, he takes out Nick, just like in life. White-knighting takes a licking.

    4) Audrey’s rejection of Charlie is pitch-perfect. She thinks so little of Charlie that when he professes his love for her, she becomes even more upset than she was before. It’s bad enough to be rejected by Tom–but for Charlie to think he’s good enough for her is too much for Audrey to take.

    5) Rick is Cynthia’s 5-minute alpha forever.

    6) Nick and Rick, RIck and Nick, Rick Fancylastname, and Nick Justplainsmith. Eternal enemies.

    7) Something that happens to Tom that would never happen to Mr. Darcy is that when Serena gets dumped by Rick, she runs to Tom for a self-esteem boost, and Tom totally falls for it.

    8) Tom blew it. The rescue operation could never bring Audrey back to her affections for him. She friend-zoned him.

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    • 9) I’m unconvinced by Audrey’s innocent explanation of how she came to be at Rick’s beach-house. It seems likely that she thought she was up for it, and then came to her senses by the time she got there.

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  19. 1) The weakness in Tom’s argument is that individuals must die, but institutions are supposed to outlive them. A social model that dies is a failure.

    2) Audrey liked Tom before she even met him. She had saved his letters, when they would have been thrown out. Her response to his Trilling comments was in defence of her favourite author. (I do think it odd that she wanted to buy more Austen at Xmas. After all, this is a girl who has had a good education. Why is she only reading her favourite author comprehensively now?)

    3) Rick wins the battles, but he loses the war. He ends up with his character exposed. Even Audrey laughs at his panty pretensions.

    4) I think you are too hard on Audrey. She makes it up with Charlie and clearly respects him. We must not let the Gameboys limit our categories. A woman can want just to be friends with a man without it being a reflection on his manhood.

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  20. 5) I don’t think Cynthia will pine. The rules are different for really pretty girls. It is only the average girl who will be “fucked up” permanently by a close encounter of the alpha kind.

    6) Yes. I suppose so.

    7) Possibly. Not sure. I think one could argue that Tom and Rick together would make one Darcy. The decency AND the money. I do think that Audrey’s obsession with Tom is a bit unlikely really. He is a bit of a dull dog. I mean, who really cares about 19th century socialism?

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  21. 8) I disagree. There is a reaction shot of Audrey’s face, and she is clearly delighted with Tom and his gunplay and his concern to rescue her. She is being fought over. And she must know that the ultimate prize is her maidenhead. That is the way Audrey thinks.

    9) Audrey is torn. She wants to be the Austen heroine, but so far that has not worked out. So, she is toying with the idea of joining the rest of the girls, and slutting it up, to get experience at least. She has a literary mind. What Tom does puts her back in her fantasy world. However it is pretty clear that she has left the fantasy behind by the time she is dancing in “Disco”. The guy she is with in the later film looks like a real alpha, not a situational alpha like Tom. She is quite a pretty woman still, with some respectable accomplishments, and a serious guy might be interested in her, perhaps as an intellectual “trophy wife”. Tom was never entirely serious. And he was arguably egged on by Charlie. Charlie uses Tom to do his dirty work. I notice he is still there in the later film, hanging around her.

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  22. […] Here. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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  23. Just found this relevant essay:

    Click to access young.pdf

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    • I have started reading this, but not finished

      I’m watch TLDOD tonight, for the first time.

      Did you say you had, or had not seen Barcelona?

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      • It is quite a good article, oddly conservative. The writer seems to think Tom led Charlie at the end, but I seem to recall Charlie egging him on. And Charlie was likely most interested in preserving Audrey’s innocence.

        I have only seen bits of Disco and Barcelona as clips on YouTube. If you want to see Audrey, Charlie and companions at the disco, look up Kate Beckinsale in Last Days of Disco Pt 4. Audrey is on screen for maybe one minute. No dialogue. A tiny role.

  24. Tom did lead Charlie. When Tom finds out from Serena that Audrey kept all his letters, he decides he loves her. So, he looks her up, no one can find her, and talks Charlie into checking with her parents. The ruse Sally and Audrey cooked up to be free to go to Rick’s (By the way, I think the “pulling a train” story about Rick is real. Sally is naked at the beachhouse, and so are both Rick and his stoolie.)

    I did watch Disco tonight, and liked it. The conversation is very dense, though. I want to watch it again before I comment too much; especially now that I know you haven’t seen it. Here are my initial thoughts:

    Stillman’s sexual politics are sharper than ever.

    The actor who plays Charlie in Metro plays Charlie, briefly in Disco. He also plays He also plays Ted in Disco, which was one of the main characters in Barcelona. Strange. He’s even credited twice.

    Kate Beckinsale’s character is the embodiment feminist-inspired entitlement.

    The two Tom characters in both Metro and Disco are both committed lefties: Metro Tom is the Fourierist; Disco Tom is an lobbyist for enviromental agencies.

    There’s some very good (interesting, at least) analysis of Disney movies in Disco; Bambi and Lady and the Tramp.

    Among the several male characters, there is not one white knight. Stillman must must have moved beyond his clear-eyed view of them, straight on to dismissal.

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  25. I’m looking forward to seeing Whit Stillman’s new movie; I fear, though, that in the intervening years between Days of Disco and now, that he may have embraced some modern ways of thinking; the fact alone that he feels the need to include a non-white female protagonist, whereas his previous movies all concerned the lily-white WASP world he grew up in, seems itself like a sop to political correctness and modern sensitivities. Ah well. We’ll see…

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  26. Yes, I said at Steve Sailer’s site that it is a modern mistake to have an ensemble of females lead a movie. Superheroine movies flop, perhaps for the same reason.

    One of the girls at Rick’s beach house is half-naked, but they have probably been swimming or trying to get a tan. I agree that Rick probably did what he was accused of. But I don’t read too much into the beach house situation. Another Rick conquest, yes. But Audrey is sitting with them, reading Austen. Maybe Rick is angry because she is cramping his style, or wouldn’t join a threesome or something.

    Metropolitan is quite dark in places. The strip poker scene is damned uncomfortable. As is the truth game.

    Do you see what I see in Disco? Charlie with an average blonde, still beta orbiting. Audrey with a tough-looking Italianate type, who looks like he could take care of her.

    I don’t read the Beckinsale character in Disco as a feminist. Just a bitch. They had bitches in Austen’s time too. Also, I am of the disco era, and I think women were a bit less consciously feminist in those days.

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    • Yes, indeed; the fact that new movie is all about teh wimminz, rather than focusing on both men and women, is also a sop to PC, and indeed, a departure for Stillman. There are enough such movies; why add another, when he could do what he’s always done, instead? I guess he’s aiming for the big time… While superheroine movies do poorly, that’s because it’s males who like superhero movies; alas, I don’t think mostly female protagonists will cause this to flop, but may well make it succeed with women… {Sigh}

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  27. “One of the girls at Rick’s beach house is half-naked, but they have probably been swimming or trying to get a tan.”

    No, it’s still winter. Charlie and Tom wear coats the whole time. Audrey has hers on when they start walking back. Rick and stoolie are wearing boxers; Sally is wearing panties, and her bra is on the floor.

    I’ll pay more attention to Charlie’s date next time. It’s hard to tell since he’s playing two characters. He’s with a pretty good-looking blonde in another scene without Audrey, but he might be Barcelona Ted in that one.

    If you watch the first scene of Disco, Beckinsale goes on a soliloquy about how this a women’s world now. Anyway, in my statement, ‘feminist’ modified ‘entitlement’. It’s certainly true that there have always been entitled women, but Beckinsale’s character explicitly notes the permission granted by feminism and the sexual revolution.

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    • It is a bit unfair to add this now, almost exactly one year later, since canecaldo will probably not see it. But I remain pretty sure they were trying to get a tan. Audrey says something about coming to the Hamptons to get a tan. I read a fairly serious review of the film recently that referred to the scene as involving tanning. And, as far as I can see, Rick is wearing some kind of eye protection. They are in a solarium or under UV lamps, perhaps.

      Sally is half-naked getting her tan. She looks a bit of a fool when the others arrive. It is almost certain that Rick has been having sex with her at his holiday home.

      Stillman really shows his conservatism, which I share, but it is hardly fashionable, in the later scene on the beach where Tom as good as asks Audrey if she put out! She assures him that “nothing happened”. So her maidenhood is intact. Phew!

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  28. So, I went and saw “Damsels in Distress” tonight.

    It was fun; it had Whit Stillman’s trademark wit, and funny observations about society and pop culture, and featured upper-class WASPs (notwithstanding the racial inclusiveness of this one, in terms of some characters being black, race wasn’t even discussed, so it was as though it was entirely incidental, a bit fake in that); it certainly had several things in common with Stillman’s previous work. (Cameos by Taylor Nichols and also Carolyn Farina, but I didn’t even recognize her, oddly…)

    And yet… The flavour was quite a bit different, with the film’s focus being all on the young women, and how they related to each other and the guys they met, rather than it being about a group of young men and young women, with strong male and female characters. I suppose one could argue that The Last Days of Disco was slightly similar to that, in that two women served as the focal points of that movie; yet with four women in this movie, it just became all the more so; none of the male characters in this movie were fleshed out as much as the women were.

    So… It was good, still worth seeing, but not, IMO, on the level of his previous work.

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    • Thanks for the report, Will.

      It is unlikely that I will see it or find a copy, but funny things happen. I might get my daughter to download it eventually. Stillman approves of availability (although I have grown cynical enough to recognise that as a mark, perhaps, of a creator whose creations are not that sought after.)

      I have a major boyish crush on Carolyn Farina. I think she is my favourite actress as regards appearance. Since this is my blog, I have a licence to witter on, and I shall add that my second favourite would be Sean Young in her prime, and third maybe Elizabeth McGovern (I saw her trying to play a feminist tart in a couple of movies, and she just seemed risibly miscast.)

      But Farina is only a bit younger than my wife, and I suspect my wife looks at least as good these days (she told me she got “hit on” at work recently, and there is a local literary gent who seems a bit interested – bastard.) Poor women, they are sexual targets from cradle to grave (and beyond).

      Anyway, ahem, yes, as I suspected the latest Stillman film sounds a bit watery. I am sure it will appeal strongly to the teenage girls who are interested in witty repartee demographic. So, a probable flop. I would likely enjoy it, but men who enjoy comedies of manners is another small demographic, I suspect. What Stillman needs to do is get unaccountably taken up by the French, like Woody Allen.

      BTW, I have totally dumped Kate Beckinsale from my private pantheon since her pro-abortion ad. I prefer Chloe Sevigny. Sulky, a public cocksucker, but a Catholic!

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      • Posted by pb on May 28, 2012 at 7:30 am

        A lot of socons have been appealing to the movie as evidence that (1) women civilize men or (2) women wish for the good old days with respect to courtship. At first I thought Stillman might be trying to show that the main character (can’t think of her name at the moment) is both naive and arrogant in thinking she can change the world (and thus like a liberal), but at the end I wasn’t so sure.

      • pb

        It is a surprisingly hard film to parse and interpret. I think this is because it is hard to place it in time; it was a time of rapid change anyway; and Stillman’s intent, and his level of irony, are hard to determine.

        SoCons, of whom I used to be, but now I am less sure, are so desperate to find any film that is not luridly liberal, that they grasp at straws like this. A lot of so-called conservative films and famous lines are actually liberal in intent when you look closely. The famous line “This. Is. Sparta.” is actually a feminist retort, when you check. “Red Dawn” has a feminist statement. So did the Bill Cosby Show. Conservatives are like the victims of bullying who congratulate themselves when the beating they receive is relatively light.

        (cont.)

    • Some of the films that do in fact contain an anti-progressive message are disqualified in the conservative mind because they are morally offensive in some way, or too crude.

      That said, I think Metropolitan comes awfully close to a true polite, conservative film. It has a drawing room feel, and even the scenes on the road are rather sanitised. At the same time, the issues dealt with are not light. It is quite a sombre film: the decay of a social class; the possibility of failure in life; and, oddly for the time, a rather dark view of human nature. The film touches on topics that conservatives often choose not to advert to. It must be one of the few conservative films that goes into detail about things like a threesome, and subsequent suicide; parental alienation (two cases); post-divorce poverty; and engineered social humiliation. Nobody seems to be having much real fun.

      (cont.)

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      • So it is not as if Stillman lives in some kind of hermetically concealed, conservative arcadia. It is not a fey film. Stillman knows that there is wickedness in his little world. In fact, he rather overdoes it. The German baron, Rick Von Slonecker, is almost demonic. That gives the film its moral strength. Stillman and his characters confront real evil.

        The startling thing about the film is that Stillman does not absolve women of blame. I don’t think he imagines that women really want genteel wooing. The message seems to be that they do not. Tom only has some success because he stops being precious about his affected political views, and descends to the world of action, improbably aided by Charlie. Stillman does not use the term “gina tingle”, but he effectively does. The most extraordinary speech in the entire film would have to be Nick’s horribly and uncannily accurate presaging of Game concepts. He explains precisely whey Rick is such a ladykiller, and the explanation is not flattering to either sex. He as good as says that Rick is a pantie-wetter because he has Dark Triad (sociopathic) characteristics. The implication is that even the saintly Audrey nearly falls for his charm. Only her strict moral code; and I suspect her small-breasted, schoolmarmish style; save her from becoming another notch on Rick’s bedpost. He is like an eagle who has prey all around him and chooses to ignore the least tasty morsel.

        (cont.)

      • As I have said, I found the denouement far less satisfying than I think the filmmaker intended. And the sequel appears to confirm that Audrey outgrew the rather dull Tom, and ended up with a frankly thuggish looking man in the disco scene [Note added later: apparently that man is just Fred from Metropolitan]. Possibly Stillman gave no thought to what really happened to Audrey, but it is tempting to surmise, in a satirical fashion, that one could describe her in Manosphere terms as having “ridden the cock carousel” and “hit the wall” and probably headed for spinsterhood and cats.

        Not a very happy conclusion really. But the essence of some strands of conservatism is a rather low mood and pessimism.

        I would have ended the film with a shot of Audrey waddling around, knocked up by Tom, and seeing him on his way in the morning to his power Wall Street job as a Master of the Universe.

        But that is just me.

      • Posted by pb on May 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm

        The Cathar in Damsels was an interesting character; I don’t see much moral conversion in the girl who hooks up with him but eventually breaks up with him.

      • That was just weird; the Cathars actually eschewed sexual intercourse, AFAIK; they didn’t do anal as a way of avoiding procreating. No, the girl didn’t really experience moral regret – any more than Alice did in the Last Days of Disco, after her negative sexual experience…

      • Well, you have me at a disadvantage, because I haven’t seen Damsels. I think only the top Cathars, the Perfecti, totally eschewed sexual intercourse. I don’t know whether they did anal, but they probably believed it was wrong to procreate, so it would have been a good solution for them.

        I don’t think Stillman is a moralist, in the sense that he provides happy endings. There was kind of a happy ending in Metropolitian, but it was only notional, and he had apparently forgotten about it by Disco.

        If it were a RomCom like She’s Having a Baby, Audrey would have been married and having a baby in the final shots of Metropolitan.

        WASPs are like Cathars it seems; they don’t actually seem to do sex and babies any more. Rather, they pump huge amounts of time and money into making sure lesser breeds don’t either. E.G. the Ford Foundation.

      • Posted by pb on May 31, 2012 at 3:28 pm

        Will S. Both Alice and Lily are shown doing a walk of shame; Alice does seem sad after the experience, and I think she expresses some regret, but not contrition? (Not explicitly, anyways.) There isn’t much closure with Lily though she decides to separate somewhat from the group.

      • They both indeed do a walk of shame, pb, but like most young women today who go through that, doesn’t seem to have all that much effect on them, alas…

        Lily’s withdrawal from the group, somewhat, seems more due to differences with their way of thinking, than any sense of shame, though.

      • Posted by pb on June 1, 2012 at 1:10 am

        Yes, I was going to say that it seems that Lily is content with who she is and what she is willing to do as part of a “normal” relationship. On the other hand, the girls are too prudish by comparison.

      • Posted by pb on June 1, 2012 at 1:12 am

        And she doesn’t really want any part of that.

      • So, does this Lily girl (hardly a Lily of Purity) allow her bf to use her anally? [Some material redacted.]

      • @ DC: It isn’t explicitly delineated, but it seems implicitly so; as if Cathars were into that…

      • Well, this goes back to one of my points about Stillman as a writer for films. He is happy to go into some really disturbing territory, including sexually. Threesomes in Metropolitan and now alleged Cathar sex practices in Damsels.

        It makes for uneasy viewing, and quite a bit of what TV Tropes calls “Mood Whiplash”.

  29. I saw that ad which was supposed to have Kate Beckinsale in it, but I didn’t recognize her in the least! It doesn’t look at all like her, compared to her previous look. Not just the hair, or the American accent she’s putting on – she always does when she plays Americans – it just doesn’t seem like her.

    Speaking of not recognizing people, and speaking of Carolyn Farina, I certainly saw the scene she was in as a cameo in Damsels in Distress, but I didn’t recognize her at the time, and I can’t visualize the faces of the two women behind the counter now, a day later… Men really do age better than women; I totally recognized Taylor Nichols immediately, but I can’t visualize Carolyn Farina’s current face even now… I’m sure she still looked fine, but just as I didn’t recognize Kate Beckinsale in that clip, I didn’t recognize her in Damsels. Weird.

    Reply

    • Yes, I didn’t recognise Kate B in that video either, and I wonder if it was really her.

      I never fancied her that much. She is a bit too linear and, while her skin is great, it is not uniquely great. The best skin I ever saw on a girl was a young woman on a bus I used to travel on regularly. She looked like she could be making ads for quality soap. She was literally all over this bloke too. He was quite handsome, but it was still weird. He had what I would now recognise as good “aloof game”. Or maybe he just thought she was nuts.

      Women, especially women who aspire to use their beauty professionally, have a very narrow window, sometimes only a matter of years, even months. I once read a man who said it could be months, which I thought was silly, but I now think he may have been right. If beauty is intended to attract a male at time of peak fertility, it could easily be highly ephemeral. There is a time in a woman’s life when she is likely to be at her dewy best. Even quite average women look great then. They almost glow. I suspect there is a good life-history explanation for this.

      (continued)

      Reply

      • Frankly, I’m wondering too if it really is her in that video; the only references I can find to that video, are links to it; no news stories or interviews with Kate Beckinsale about it; I wonder if the original poster of the video was in error…

        You think someone would ask her about that, in an interview or something…

      • Yeah. It didn’t look like her. She is quite distinctive, for an actress, a profession in which the girls tend to be generic. (It reminds me of this crap mag my wife buys every week, That’s Life, in which I swear they alternate the same blonde and the same brunette week by week. Not really, but they are dreadfully generic.) They have to appeal to a lot of men at once, and so you tend to get a generic blonde and a generic brunette. All the actresses I have mentioned are a bit individual and I couldn’t detect Kate Beckinsale in that clip. Still, I could be wrong. I would like to think that a class act like Kate B, Oxford languages scholar and so on, would not make such a crass ad, but I am afraid I have learned that nice girls don’t seem to be around much anymore.

  30. So, yes. They captured Carolyn Farina at her best I suppose. And even in Metropolitan she was 26 in real life. And in some shots, she was starting to look a bit stringy, as she did in Disco. So, she is probably now either too thin or too fat to recognise.

    Fashions in body style change too. It is fascinating to see the pics of Sean Young from her nude scenes. Two things stand out. No, not her breasts, which are exceptionally bad, being both small and floppy. My wife, to boast, had breasts which were both ample and very well shaped. A bit wasted on me, as I am more of a leg man. Fortunately her legs were not bad either. So, Sean Young had lousy tits, and these days such an ambitious bint would get implants no doubt. The other thing was her dark uncut muff. I think brunettes really score in this area, especially if they have nice pale skin. But it is odd to see an actress who has not styled her pubic hair. Body fashions change.

    Men do age better than women, but women can still look OK for a long time if they eat sensibly and so on. Also, personal style can make a big difference. Personally, I have never minded the mature woman. But, one caveat, tall girls seem to age much better than short girls, who tend to end up looking like grannies before their time. Whereas my mother-in-law still looks pleasant, being a reasonably tall and slender woman.

    ’nuff.

    Reply

  31. I have just realised that the Audrey Rouget character might have been named in honour of Audrey Hepburn. I don’t think this had occurred to me before. But there is a resemblance. Both rather gamine young women, with short brunette hair, fair skin and lissome figures.

    Reply

  32. A discussion of the film, focussing on the 80’s style:

    http://mirror80.com/2012/04/whit-stillmans-metropolitan/

    Reply

  33. […] We had an in-depth discussion of “Metropolitan” and director Whit Stillman’s other films, including his latest, “Damsels in Distress”, here. […]

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  35. […] I wrote here, it looks to me as if Audrey Rouget was still dating and dancing in her thirties. If she had […]

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  36. Here is a recent interview with director Whit Stillman about the script of Metropolitan:

    http://www.theawl.com/2012/08/the-script-of-metropolitan

    I thought this exchange was interesting and relevant to the discussion here:

    Interviewer: That being said, not much is resolved in the ending. These eight kids realize that though they’ve spent winter break constantly together, they may never see each other again. We, likewise, see bits and pieces of their lives, but not enough to make an informed judgment of who they really are or will be.

    Stillman: One of the things I strongly felt is that if you’re writing a romantic story in this age range, you should not be saying these people are going to get married. You should not be saying that they’ve found a life solution, that Tom and Audrey are going to live happily ever after, or ever after in any way. You have to say that this guy and this girl are going to have a relationship. And it might be a nice relationship, but very possibly it’s not their definitive relationship. My feeling was that Charlie would always remain a friend of Audrey’s, and Tom might be the old boyfriend she rarely sees. Which worked, because when I was writing Last Days of Disco, Charlie and Audrey are still friends. They’re not dating each other, but they’re still going out together. I think loose ends are important. They make the script, the film, more real.

    Reply

  37. I was reviewing the scenes in Metropolitan of Audrey talking to Tom. I will probably make a post of this. I have had second thoughts about her character. I am not sure if Stillman consciously intended it, but there are warning signs in Audrey’s approach, which are borne out when the viewer of the later film, The Last Days of Disco, finds that Audrey is apparently unmarried.

    It occurred to me that Audrey is lecturing Tom. Her flirting is ineffectual. She looks the part, but her whole approach is to attempt to fit Tom into her Austen fantasy, rather than to be feminine and become what Tom wants. She makes it nearly impossible for him, and his “heroic” efforts in the end are really quite foolish, objectively. She is making him conform to her expectations constantly. I am not sure if this was intended, but even an intellectual will get tired quickly of being lectured by his girlfriend. She looks very pretty, but she never does the slightest thing to “turn him on” to her – as a woman. I used to blame Tom for the lack of energy in their courtship, but I am not so sure now.

    Perhaps I “break the butterfly on the wheel”, but it is surely a film that invites serious analysis.

    Reply

  38. […] Here is the discussion. […]

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  41. […] The Sexual Politics of “Metropolitan”. […]

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  42. My Carolyn Farina and Whit Stillman page for those on Facebook:

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carolyn-Farina-page/562840940418723

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  43. […] We had an in-depth discussion of “Metropolitan” and director Whit Stillman’s other films, including his latest, “Damsels in Distress”, here. […]

    Reply

  44. […] We had an in-depth discussion of “Metropolitan” and director Whit Stillman’s other films, including his latest, “Damsels in Distress”, here. […]

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  45. […] readers will know, I have an interest (OK an obsession) with a couple of films, one of them being Metropolitan, a movie directed by Whit Stillman and starring Carolyn […]

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  46. […] A comment I made before about Audrey’s style of flirting: […]

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  47. […] What I wrote previously about what happened to “Audrey”. The problem was not that she never became Mrs Tom Townsend. The problem was that she never became Mrs Anybody, it seems. Am I just hopelessly old-fashioned or romantic, or is that an unhappy ending for Audrey? […]

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  48. […] had a longish discussion of the sexual politics of “Metropolitan” here. Here is a comment I made at the […]

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