“Embodied Values: Hollywood Thinks About Sex”, by Julian O’Dea

Contents:

Chapter One: Blade Runner: Feminine robots and feminist critics
Chapter Two: “Crash”: The Bedroom and the Road
Chapter Three: Jane Austen in Manhattan: Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan
Chapter Four: “Ferocious Pairing Off”: Being young in Europe, at the disco and in college
I Homage to Barcelona
II Dancing the Night Away: Yuppies and Disco
III Damsels
Chapter Five: Catholic Sensibility from a WASP Woody Allen.
Chapter Six: An Appendix: Whatever Happened to Carolyn Farina?

Chapter One: Blade Runner: Feminine robots and feminist critics

In “Blade Runner” (1982) the director, Ridley Scott, seems to have produced a very anti-feminist film, albeit perhaps unwittingly. He has certainly claimed that elements of the film were intended to combat “male chauvinism”. Such as the brutal shooting of the replicant (robot) Zhora character by Deckard. Maybe. But it seems a strange way to do it. Create a famously spectacular death for her scantily-clad character crashing through glass windows and being shot by the handsome male protagonist. I am not sure that sends any particular message.

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(This is from “The Final Cut” version of the movie and has the stuntwoman’s head digitally replaced with that of the original actress, Joanna Cassidy.)

In an interview Ridley Scott claimed it was a cinematic necessity that the main female character, the replicant Rachael, should look so fresh and beautiful, because that is what “patriarchal technology” would do in creating a female robot or replicant. But all technology is “patriarchal”. What would a matriarchal technology look like? It is hard to imagine, beyond the proverbial grass huts.

Rachael as career woman, complete with what looks like an 80’s power suit? (I think the 80’s power suit for businesswomen actually came a bit later than this film. So maybe it was the prescience of genius. Or maybe it was just using a 40’s kind of outfit in line with the film noir aspect of the movie.)

Blade Runner (1982) Directed by Ridley Scott Shown: Sean Young (as Rachael)

A doll of “Rachael”: that is, a doll of a woman pretending to be a doll pretending to be a woman …

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From Figure Art of S. Pettersen.

Rachael “lets her hair down” figuratively and literally:

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The theatrical version of the Deckard-Rachael love scene:

For comparison, below is the extended, uncut version of this controversial love scene in Blade Runner. It shows a few things. Sean Young could really act, despite claims that the men in the film had to help her through her scenes. Even if that is true, she responded well and rose to the occasion. I don’t believe, from personal introspection, that rape fantasies typically appeal to men (rough treatment maybe, but within a consensual relationship). Further, my observations have been that women are far more interested in rape fantasies than are men. In fact, I am starting to suspect that a scene of this type appeals to women, and may have been placed in the film for that reason. Nonetheless, I still find the above version of the scene disturbing. Below is the extended version of the Deckard-Rachael lovemaking scene, which seems less coercive than that in the movie versions. It is also a lot more erotic. It is strange and ironic that Rachael becomes more of a woman once she realises she is a replicant (robot).

Sean Young complained that she had to take weeks off after the filming of this scene, and the story was that Harrison Ford really disliked her and the roughness was not just good acting. (And yet no feminists call for his head. I sometimes think that many men are liberals in language but not in behaviour with women, like Clinton. And so they get a pass because for feminists “words speak louder than actions”. Harrison Ford is a political liberal and a friend of Clinton’s, ironically.)

It would not be a completely strained reading to see the film as sending an anti-feminist message. Rachael is passed from one man to another. Her pose and poise as a businesswoman, in something that looks a bit like a 1980s power suit with the big shoulders, is lost when she realises that she is literally not a woman but a robot. She regains her lost womanhood by becoming the mistress of the cop, Deckard, who takes her under his care in a classic bartering of sex for protection. It could be read as an allegory of a woman leaving the workforce, where she comes to realise she is living an unnatural and robotic existence, for the safer traditional domestic realm.

I have read Philip K Dick’s novel, on which the movie is based, and I liked it as an accomplishment in itself. Some people have tried to sustain an argument that Dick was attacking Jewish influence in his book, but I couldn’t really see that.

The character of Rachael is very different in the book and the movie. Sean Young physically resembles the description of Rachael in the book. But the Rachael in the movie is a much more compliant character. In fact, that is part of my point. Rachael is a profoundly anti-feminist character. I realise that Ridley Scott has a reputation for feminist movie characterisations, such as in Alien and in Thelma and Louise, but this is not evident in Blade Runner. In fact, Rachael could, jokingly, be described as receiving what the Manosphere would call a “nuclear neg” in being told by Deckard that she is not even a real woman, but a mere replicant. She then spends the rest of the movie trying to prove that she can function as a woman, and effectively a wife.

It seems to be mostly the fanboys and betaboy critics who are always looking for anti-sexist statements in films. I suspect clever men like directors think in richer, more nuanced ways. Ridley Scott can claim that Blade Runner is a statement against chauvinism, to humour a critic, but consider the facts. He gives us a lingering look at the Zhora character’s body as she works as an “exotic dancer” and then has her shot dead in what has been described as the most spectacular and “beautiful” screen death ever. He has the Pris character (Darryl Hannah) in a fetishistic costume with great emphasis on her stockinged legs, and she dies in what literally resembles an electric orgasm. Rachael I have already mentioned, but the bounty hunter practically rapes her, and she is fine with that apparently.

In some ways it is a highly chauvinistic film, “Not that there is anything wrong with that”. (Apart from the rapey sex scene, which I didn’t like, especially in the rapid-fire screen version.) A subtly patriarchal aspect of the film is that the female replicants lack surnames. Even Rachael. Traditionally women do not in fact have their own surnames, but use their father’s and then their husband’s. All through the film, it is “Rachael” and “Deckard”. As I just mentioned, Rachael is not given a surname, whereas conversely Deckard has a first name, Rick, but it is not used much. Rachael is the only female replicant to survive, and she does so by placing herself under the care of Deckard and starting to act as “Mrs Deckard” in all but name.

Is Blade Runner a Misogynist Text?” (And so what if it is? Must art be PC?)

I rather like this ending, which is supposedly available with the “Final Cut” set as an “alternate ending”. I believe there are many people who think it is too bright and sunny after the gloom of the rest of the movie, but it could also be seen as akin to simply waking from a nightmare. And the dialogue tends to support my argument that Rachael sees Deckard and herself as a natural couple (she asks “are you and I lovers?” and about his ex-wife – in fact, husbands will recognise her tones as becoming rather wifelike!). So much of this movie is confused and contraverted, such as whether Deckard himself is a replicant. I tend to think that it makes more sense for him to be a replicant if he is going to have a relationship with Rachael. It makes it less bizarre. Otherwise, when you get right down to it, he is a man sleeping with a doll. In fact Rachael says to Deckard, in the last words in this driving scene, that she thinks they were “made for each other”. Perhaps she means that literally. That they were both “made”, both being replicants.

A review of The Final Cut (2007). I only have the Director’s Cut (1992) and I suppose I will eventually “have to” acquire the 2007 version.

I gather that this “happy ending” driving scene with Deckard and Rachael is included in the Final Cut version only as a “deleted scene”. Moreover, the more erotic, slower and less violent version of their earlier love-making scene is also only included as a deleted scene. So Ridley Scott did not take the opportunity to make the scene less “rapey”.

A comment I received, possibly from a spambot:

The official version instead, was modified by the production, cutting the unicorn’s dream to don’t let understand that Deckard is a Replicant, and it has been added the happy-ending to increase the audience’s satisfaction, and money incomes. So in this version Deckard isn’t a Replicant but a human being that, at the end, escapes from all with his new girlfriend toward a happy life.

This might have been a spam comment, but it makes quite a coherent point. That is certainly a reasonable reading, but it is also possible that Ridley Scott had it in mind all along that Deckard was really a replicant. He may have cut the film in its first release to hide this, but still put a hint in the dialogue in the final driving scene with Rachael and Deckard. That is, the final remark of Rachael’s that they are “made for each other” makes sense if he was made as a replicant, like her.

I still maintain that there is something very odd otherwise about a man essentially running away with a fembot. It has already been established that she lacks normal empathy. What kind of “wife” would she make for a human male?

And of course, if I am replying here to a spam comment, that is ironic since I am talking to a robot now myself.

This chapter has been cited at:

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Tim Neath’s blog

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This Spanish language page touching on Sean Young.

Further discussion of the film, based on forty-five minutes of deleted and alternate scenes and the light they throw on the film as released in the Director’s Cut for example, may be found here. And some comments on a 2007 documentary on the making of the film, particularly on the casting and character of Rachael, can be found here.

Chapter Two: “Crash”: The Bedroom and the Road

Beautiful Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), crippled in a car accident, wearing callipers (leg braces) on her legs, attempts to get into a prestige car at a dealership:

“Crash”, directed by David Cronenberg, and released in 1996, was based on the novel of the same name by the late JG Ballard. It is about a fictional subculture of people who find meaning and sexual excitement from car accidents.

This parody trailer presents the film as if it were a romantic drama. It is not. This is cleverly cut to imply that it is:

The injuries and sex in the book and film are obsessively described and depicted, in a coldly clinical style. It is all quite feasible (even the intercourse with the wound on Gabrielle’s leg). Seldom, however, can a film have contained such a volume of sexual activity with almost no erotic force. It is all rather affectless.

Moreover the car crash fetish is so unlikely that it is a serious weakness in a major premise of the film. Most fetishes are perversions of normal sex – the wrong partner, the wrong orifice, part of a body only, enjoyment of some psychological state like humiliation, and so on. But who on earth gets off on car crashes? There are amputee fetishists. I have heard of men falling in love, or claiming to, with their cars. And even having sex with them in some way. And a man was reported to get sexually excited by being in car accidents when the other driver was a woman. But a whole subculture including “beautiful people” (the Ballards) all communally getting turned on by car accidents? Most unlikely, especially as fetishes are not known to be contagious and are rarely found in women.

What the film needed was some kind of explanation, even of the quasi-scientific kind that Cronenberg is capable of positing – a new drug, a new disease – to explain where this new perversion came from, and its social nature.

(Christmas Day, 2013: A book of Roger Ebert’s film reviews, “Your Movie Sucks”, which I just received as a Christmas present, contains this comment about Crash, “It was a good movie, but as I wrote at the time, it’s about ‘a sexual fetish that, in fact, no-one has’. I didn’t get a lot of letters disagreeing with me.” I am glad that he saw the same basic problem I did in this regard, and I am also glad that he thought it was a worthwhile film. I think it is a very interesting film, but I do not expect too many people to share that opinion.)

Personally I liked the scenes in the movie with the beautiful crippled girl. The scene with the car dealer never fails to fascinate and amuse me. I think my having spent time in a rehabilitation ward, with people wearing devices like that, brings it home to me personally. But is the scene sexy? No. Not even with Rosanna Arquette.

Here is the beginning of the scene, in Spanish. I cannot find an English version of this sequence in the prestige car dealer, but it loses little without the dialogue, being Cronenberg’s peculiar brand of humorous body horror:

[Rosanna Arquette seemed to have an affinity with metal at about this time in her career. Not long after appearing with metal callipers on her legs as Gabrielle in Crash, she appeared as Jody in Pulp Fiction with a face full of metal piercings.]

A remarkable feature of this film is that, as far as I can recall, although there are a number of couples portrayed, there are absolutely no children in the movie.

And then there is the scene at Seagrave’s house where they are all sitting around watching a crash test video as if it were porn. The actors just look uncomfortable. Holly Hunter’s acting is especially unconvincing. Arquette and Spader nearly succeed, perhaps because they naturally look more dumb and receptive. Are we seriously supposed to believe that a hard-headed, no-nonsense “immigration doctor” like Helen Remington would join a group of rather low-rent perverts including the Seagraves and the rather greasy-looking “hoodlum scientist” Vaughan (played by Elias Koteas)? It is socially as well as sexually unlikely.

Holly Hunter as Dr Helen Remington, in the centre on the couch; she is supposed to be getting aroused from watching a crash test video:

I am developing a sneaking suspicion that this film may have been intended to be “fan service” for certain people. Although I do maintain that the premise of the film, a subculture of people devoted to car crashes, is highly improbable, I do wonder if the scenes of Rosanna Arquette in calipers (leg-braces) might be of sexual interest to some paraphiliacs. Here is a page on “abasiophilia”, which lists “Crash” and the scenes with the blonde actress.

The film has an interesting score by Howard Shore, who has written the music for many of David Cronenberg’s films, as well as for the Lord of the Rings movies. But the film is firmly in cult movie territory, at best, with some very disturbing scenes, and a general air of teetering on the edge of absurdity. There are a few wry laughs, but it is mostly played very straight. I liked the casting of the main couple, both icy blonds; although they do not seem intelligent enough for their characters. And I found the character of Vaughan, the “hoodlum scientist”, to be too much hoodlum and not enough scientist.

I am not surprised the movie was not a great success. I am probably as likely to like such a film as anyone, being a fan of both Ballard and Cronenberg, but this film is simply de trop. It was a noble experiment, or at any rate an experiment, but it must be said to have largely failed. It even suffered the rare ignominy of having a later, better-known film made with the same name in 2004.

(LATER NOTE: In terms of box office, I am no expert, but the IMDb database suggests that the film cost 9 million dollars to make and only grossed about a third of that in America. So, presumably it was a flop, and a worse one than I had originally thought. Nor do I get the impression that it has become in any sense a cult favourite.)

Here is a review which makes some good points about the coldness of the film. It is hard to identify with any of the characters, which probably limits any movie’s appeal markedly.

One sign of a movie that can only aspire to cult status is laziness and illogicality. At the start of the film, “James Ballard” causes a fatal car accident through sheer inattention. And yet there is not even a hint of legal repercussions. It is hard to take such a movie seriously.

On the other hand, perhaps I am being unfair, and if one approaches the film in the right spirit it does have some strengths. Let us assume that the point is, as is suggested, the marriage of flesh and machine, and the attempt to create a new energy and sexuality out of such a marriage. Let us assume that the coldness of the film is part of a new emotional aesthetic appropriate to the late machine age. (Ballard the writer used to explore such ideas in many of his novels, and he was inclined to allow for the possibility of new emotions, and Cronenberg is always happy to allow for new mental and bodily diseases and disorders to spread and create new social realities.)

Here is flesh meeting gleaming machinery:

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Here is the handsome, haughty Sadeian couple, open to all sexual experience, coolly observing their cold city (Toronto in the film) and its inhuman cityscape as if observing a colony of ants:

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And here they are, experimenting with the kinetic energy of the car crash to transcend and enhance their old flesh and create a novel sexuality. I admire the way the married lovers have found a pastoral bower among the highways of Toronto, in a scene that may remind readers of Ballard of his novel Concrete Island:

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Here is a review of the film, which reads like it is translated from French perhaps, although I don’t think it actually is. It reads awkwardly, and contains one notable error:

“When he goes to the parking lot to recover his car, Ballard encounters Remington (Hunter). She’s a recurrent character in J.G.B’s fiction, the fantasy professional woman who in the novel is a doctor, but in the movie an Immigration Officer. She’s wearing a white coat which has the coiffure of a Calvin Klein creation, a lab coat rendered chic for the surgically hip. They drive to the airport, have sex in the front seat, the injured Ballard getting pumped back to life by the spastic assault of this widowed beauty… who, like all the characters in this movie, is now living in an accelerated state of erotic tension, as if stoned on the brutalist industrial architecture and the retinal strobe of the cars on the freeway.”

No, Dr Helen Remington is an immigration doctor in the movie as well as the book, not just an immigration officer. Ballard the novelist and science fiction short story writer does like to make his protagonists middle class technical professionals (chemists, pilots, psychologists, doctors; rather than, say, the journalists and teachers favoured by many novelists). He also has a habit of creating beautiful female “equals” for his heroes to enjoy – a very Sixties fantasy of the beautiful, intelligent and sexually adventurous woman. He was still writing such characters as late as his novel Super-Cannes.

An interesting suggestion this reviewer makes is that some of the sexual imagery in “Crash” is inspired by the photographer Helmut Newton. I wonder if Guy Bourdin is another source for the film’s mood:

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Chapter Three: Jane Austen in Manhattan: Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan

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Audrey (Carolyn Farina) primps in front of her bedroom mirror, not entirely happy with what she sees:

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Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget says good night to “Tom” in “Metropolitan” (1990). She gives him a peck on the cheek.

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Although it is one of my favourite films, “Metropolitan“, directed by Whit Stillman, gentleman auteur, has something ultimately unsatisfactory about it, in my opinion. 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(ish) 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”.

There is much play with the concept of the decline of the WASP 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:

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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.

In a sense, 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.

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

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?

Charlie has even less chance than Tom. A mixture of Tom and Rick would have been best to get Audrey’s young juices flowing. Charlie declaring himself to a distracted and uninterested Audrey:

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

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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.

Social conservatives are naturally anxious to find films that are not luridly liberal. However 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.

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.

So it is not as if Stillman lives in some kind of hermetically sealed, 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 why 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.

As I have said, I found the denouement far less satisfying than I think the filmmaker intended. And the later film “The Last Days of Disco” appears to confirm that Audrey outgrew the rather dull Tom and remained an unmarried career woman. Possibly Stillman gave little 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. In her scenes at the disco in the later film, she is perfectly presentable, but the bloom is gone.

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.

Stillman did recently have this to say:

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.

Reviewing the scenes in the film Metropolitan of young Audrey talking to Tom did lead me to some second thoughts about her character. I am not sure if Whit Stillman as the director 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 has apparently remained unmarried.

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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, and I would have thought legally risky (Trespass?, Assault?). She is making him conform to her expectations constantly. And even an intellectual will quickly tire 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.

“What Jane Austen novels have you read?”

I found the following remark from an Amazon review interesting on the question of who is really taking the initiative; Tom or Audrey?

Audrey wasn’t an easily manipulated woman. One can only suspect that she manipulated Tom through the movie with the assistance of friends from time to time. Isn’t it interesting that she’s reading The Rector of Justin in the tanning scene? Or how she’s dressed? Audrey deserves far more study in this film. Tom is far more related to Holly Martins of The Third Man. They are both struggling to learn what’s happening around them. This film isn’t for the one and done club. It needs more than one viewing to fully appreciate it. It was truly well done.

Is the commenter implying that Audrey in some sense set up the entire situation that led Tom to finally show his hand and take manly initiative? It is a fascinating possibility. But would she really be that clever and manipulative? Women can be very conniving, but if she engineered the situation, it was a risky strategy.

There are some comments here on Audrey Rouget in “Metropolitan”:

http://www.fwweekly.com/2012/09/27/dvd-review-damsels-distress/

What bothers me about this review is this remark about the Audrey Rouget character:

“She’s an insecure teenager in many ways, but you just know that once she grows up, she’s going to kick all kinds of ass.”

Why must people write this sort of thing? I gather that Kristian Lin, the film critic, is a man. Why must men wish that pretty little feminine girls like Audrey Rouget grow up and “kick all kinds of ass”? Is she going to join the Green Berets or the Special Air Service? Why not hope that she grows up, marries a nice man, and has a happy family? Not transgressive enough?

What nonsense.

What did a young woman like Audrey do once? She married a man of her class, in her case the upper class. She became a good wife and mother. She passed on her culture to her children, by stocking their rooms and minds with good books. In the film, Audrey is a reader, not just of Austen, but of things like this, which reflect her culture and sensibilities:

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“Audrey Rouget” in “Metropolitan” covered in rectitude and her copy of The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss. The other girl is less securely covered.

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She might once, being of a monied and socially superior family, have gone to a good university, and maybe worked for a while in a genteel profession, such as publishing. She is actually shown to be in publishing in a later Stillman film, The Last Days of Disco, but apparently she is not married, except to her job. A woman of her class would also involve herself in charities and in cultural events. She might write herself or paint, if she had the talent and inclination. It was a good, purposeful life. My mother lived a bit like that in Toorak, Melbourne, in the 1950s and 1960s, although she was probably not quite of Audrey’s elevated social status.

ADDENDUM: WHEN IS METROPOLITAN THE MOVIE SET?

There is some debate about when the film is set. That is, what period? This Wikipedia entry notes that the real life events on which the film was partly based happened to Stillman in 1970. The film itself was written in the mid 1980s, appeared in 1990, and is set “not so long ago” according to the introductory section of the movie. Of course, there is no necessity for it to be set at a specific time. It is a work of art, not a documentary. But there are some hints. For example, Charlie refers to the prominent WASP politician, Averell Harriman, whose career probably peaked in 1969 with his being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. So 1970 seems a reasonable guess as to when the film is set.

Another hint comes from the brief cameo appearance of some of the “Sally Fowler Rat Pack” from Metropolitan in the later movie, The Last Days of Disco. Since disco dancing died in about 1980, we can assume that Audrey, Charlie, Fred and Sally are meant to have reached the personal and professional stage portrayed in the later film in 1980. Although Audrey is described as “the youngest editor ever” at her publishing house, this is a reasonably senior position, and she presumably took some years obtaining a college degree and has then worked for a few years in publishing. This, and her appearance, suggest Audrey is about 30 (in real life, Farina was 34). Fred and Charlie also each look to be a decade older than in Metropolitan. (Fred’s appearance has changed quite markedly. It is hard to see Sally clearly.) So, if they are all a decade older than in Metropolitan, that puts the events of Metropolitan at about 1970.

A commenter here makes a similar argument.

In conclusion, Metropolitan is probably set in about 1970.

[Later]: Whit Stillman tweeted this on 18 April 2014, “Shades of “Metropolitan”- film was based on that deb year” in relation to this photo “Grand Central Station, New Years Eve, 1969”:

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The Unofficial Whit Stillman site provides a snapshot of the 1969 debutante season.

A review of the film in Slate.

Chapter Four: “Ferocious Pairing Off”: Being young in Europe, at the disco and in college

I Homage to Barcelona

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Released in 1994, Barcelona is the second of the original trilogy of Whit Stillman’s films, appearing between Metropolitan (1990) and The Last Days of Disco (1998). In some ways, it is the most recognisable and satisfying simply as a movie, telling a clear story, while having enough of Stillman’s witty lines to keep a fan happy.

A film poster for Barcelona appears in the background in this scene from “Seinfeld”:

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I find the girls in the film of little interest. However I gather that, in real life, Stillman spent time in Spain and married a Spanish woman, and Taylor Nichols came back from the Barcelona shoot with a Spanish wife too. (I wonder if Stillman might have a penchant for Mediterranean looking women, what with his casting an Italian-American in his first film, to play Audrey Rouget. Even Kate Beckinsale from his later movie, The Last Days of Disco, is kind of a dark-haired exotic and has some Anglo-Indian parentage I believe, which might help explain her amazing skin.)

I was delighted by the consular official who intoned that “I have no sense of humour”, as if he were mentioning some minor neurological anomaly. And by the Taylor Nichols’ character’s homemade Protestant church service. Both Eigeman and Nichols have screen presence. I found the women a little generic, if attractive enough. I also found Taylor Nichol’s character’s success in the movie landing one as a wife a bit improbable given his character’s appearance and, well, character. He also seemed miscast as a salesman.

Eigeman’s character is shot in the head (earlier, an American serviceman is killed in a bombing near where they are staying in Barcelona). In an unlikely twist, Eigeman’s character, Fred or Ted, I can’t remember which cousin, recovers completely after being in a coma and only loses an eye, over which he wears a black eyepatch. The only effect of his injuries would appear to be a slight chastening. This seems like poor medical science and not much better as cinema. The movie seems to be following in the tradition of Regarding Henry (1991, with Harrison Ford) in treating a bullet in the head as life therapy.

I don’t find it a memorable film, and there are some generic themes, such as the interplay between the responsible and the irresponsible cousins, although this gives it a pleasant-enough buddy movie feeling. I found the women to be mainly functioning as background and not well-developed as characters. Fred (or is it Ted?), the serious salesman, marries one called Greta, who describes herself as being like her name, “not very Catholic”. (So that is alright!) Nevertheless, the film could be seen as Stillman’s rapprochement with Catholicism. Stillman is a director who cares about religion and religious belief, although I am not sure if the rococo subtleties detected by some of the more academic critics of his films are really there or just their own associations.

Stillman gives us something of the city of Barcelona in his cinematography, as he does of New York in Metropolitan; and he seems to present it as offering another idea on how life may be lived, back in the Old World. He is respectful of the Spanish, although the women are mostly leggy conference girl floosies in the uniforms shown above. If there is anything Catholic about them, it is mostly a cultural residue. And there seem to be an awful lot of blondes in Barcelona (one might as well be in Dorsetshire). In any case, Stillman played to the tastes of Americans in his most recent film (“Damsels in Distress”), which expunged the failure of The Last Days of Disco, by having a blonde leading lady, whose real name, ironically, is also Greta. Greta Gerwig (with perfect American teeth):

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II Dancing the Night Away: Yuppies and Disco

Stillman’s disco movie was clearly a labour of love, and a reasonable critical success, but was reportedly a commercial flop which damaged Stillman’s career and probably helped keep him from doing anything for thirteen years until the release of Damsels in Distress in 2011, which seems to have restored his reputation and fortunes.

What was wrong with The Last Days of Disco?

There are some wonderful lines. One of which made me laugh out loud. The young actors and actresses are attractive, although I found the young men a bit generic looking and got confused among the characters. That might have been partly because of the tiny screen I was watching the film on, though.

Here are Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in their office at the publishing company where they are junior editors (not a very flattering shot):

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This vignette from the blog whiskeysplace is worth quoting to provide some background to the sociology on display:

“Most of the readers, assistant editors, junior agents, and the like are young or youngish women. Uniformly White, from an Ivy or near-Ivy college or university, they work for generally peanuts, often receiving parental support, hoping to move up to one of the few higher slots that pays enough to live decently in an expensive city like New York. Publishing and being an agent for writers is “respectable” in a way that say, working in a pawnshop isn’t (unless the young woman gets on TV, then all bets are off). Young women will live three or four to an apartment, and put up with a certain level of crime, to pursue “respectable” careers that give prestige and status, and pursue that elusive higher level Alpha male (a Wall Street Master of the Universe, Publishing/Authorial God, big-time “journalist” etc.)”

Carolyn Farina (centre of the screen here) makes a cameo appearance as “Audrey Rouget” in the disco, but has no lines:

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The film was made in 1998. Carolyn Farina was 34 in real life. Cf. the actress as “Audrey Rouget” in Whit Stillman’s first film Metropolitan, made when she was 26:

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The once luscious Audrey Rouget (immediately above) has become a somewhat stringy career woman (dancing, further above); “the youngest person ever to make editor” at her publishing house. The Kate and Chloe characters are aspiring to become editors at their publishing company. They are apparently from wealthy families, are being underwritten financially by their fathers, and have been to “good schools”.

With good-looking women, good lines, and a soundtrack that suggests itself, the film should have been a success. But I did find there was something disappointing about it.

I can’t quite place my finger on the problem, and I might revisit the film and revisit this post, but here are some possibilities. The title is a downer. The ending is a downer. The girls are pretty but nothing is done with them. They are surprisingly unsexy. Not even in a healthy way. The Chloe character gets not only gonorrhea but herpes. The Kate character gets a kind of phantom pregnancy.

The film is partly a music movie; partly a love story; partly a story about ambition; partly a comedy; partly a crime story; but the parts don’t make for a whole movie.

I should like the film more. Disco was the music of my youth, and I even danced to it a bit. This was in the late 70s/early 80s. And one of the last scenes has a likeable character give a passionate defence of disco. But I was not sold on the movie even so. Maybe the problem is that whereas Metropolitan made us care about the coterie of young people and their problems, the problems of healthy young professionals in a big city who have the time and energy to go dancing after work just don’t seem that dramatically important, especially when set against the wider world depicted in the later film. The death of a dance craze simply isn’t good dramatic material.

Chloe Sevigny is still going strong:

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III “Damsels”

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“Damsels in Distress” was the fourth film from director Whit Stillman. It did well financially, and revived Stillman’s career, but got mixed reviews. I enjoyed it, although it reminded me of a young person learning to drive: a slow unsteady start and an abrupt finish.

Like his first film, it has a curiously banal title.

Although it presents young men in all their amusing boorishness, this is not a film of gender conflict. The young women are presented as somewhat vapid and very feminine. It is so common today to see young women portrayed in American TV and movies as Amazons, that it is refreshing simply to see girls being girls. The scenes with the women running like girls were a pleasant change. For once a woman was shown in something other than a pantsuit, and not brandishing some phallic weapon.

I found Greta Gerwig effective in the role, and she carried the film well. Stillman is really witty in this screenplay, and there is a depth to his thinking that made this film especially mature.

On the whole, I found the quirks in the film endearing. And I rather like the moral, that a new dance craze adds more to human happiness than, say, a career in law. One thinks of Brillat-Savarin’s remark: “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.”

It is unfortunate that what we see of the new putative dance craze is unoriginal and really just more of the same. Perhaps there is a subtle nod to tradition there. It is obvious that Stillman is having holiday fun at the end of his film, with the sweet but ridiculous dancing redolent of old musicals, prior to the introduction of the “new craze” dance, the Sambola. And there, with much use of arch screen titles and the like, the movie abruptly ends.

Stillman clearly knows his way around depression, having admitted to suffering from it a bit himself, and the film is really a reflection on depression and how to lift one’s spirits in a healthy way. After the failure of his previous film, he must have been under a lot of pressure, and he kept us all waiting with this film. Despite that, the latest film is impressively light and bright. And I don’t just mean like a “smiling depressive”, but genuinely full of unforced pleasure. It is an impressive personal achievement for Stillman.

There are things I would pick apart. There is a likeable parody of “clit lit” in a course nicknamed “flit lit”, with flit being a slang term for homosexual. The course is meant to be on the literature of the dandy. The authors under consideration include Pope, Peacock, Firbank and Waugh. But of course to be a dandy, even a literary dandy, is not necessarily to be a homosexual. Off the top of my head, Pope was no homosexual (nor a dandy) and Waugh might have had some homosexual phases, but he was basically a heterosexual.

A moment I enjoyed a lot was a cameo appearance by Taylor Nichols (the philosophical young man in Metropolitan, Charlie Black) as Professor Black in Damsels in Distress. Apparently Charlie grew up and got a job teaching at a good college.

I was less gratified by another cameo, by actress Carolyn Farina, who was pretty ingenue Audrey Rouget in Metropolitan. She has a few seconds on screen in Stillman’s Last Days of Disco, but no lines. Audrey had apparently gone on to do well in publishing in that film. In contrast, in Damsels in Distress, Farina does not appear as Audrey but as a waitress (identified in the credits as “Carolina Antonucci”). Carolyn Farina has a few lines in this latest film. I was interested to see her performance. On the whole I found it competent enough, with her accent perhaps closer to her real-life sound, although I am no expert on American accents. She looks OK for 47 …

Carolyn Farina in Stillman’s first film, Metropolitan:

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Carolyn Farina in Stillman’s fourth film, Damsels in Distress:

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Chapter Five: Catholic Sensibility from a WASP Woody Allen.

“Right wing” film directors are not uncommon but true social conservatives are rare. Whit Stillman stands out as director who has an almost uniquely quirky and intelligently conservative approach to the moral problems of his characters. Moreover, he reaches some conclusions that are surprisingly sympathetic to Catholic thought. This is doubly surprising given his background as a scion of the American Establishment; his godfather having actually invented the term WASP for “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant”. He has sometimes been described as making films like a WASP Woody Allen: witty, talky films.

His signature film would have to be his first, “Metropolitan” (1990). Set among a young upper class group of friends in the old-money Upper East Side of Manhattan, it seems at first to be simply a comedy of manners, illuminated by Stillman’s wit. But it is not all light and frothy entertainment, as it ultimately delves into some disturbing topics. Stillman knows that below the froth of the mannered banter; the young men posturing intellectually, and the young women in their poufy frou-frou dresses; there are some deeper currents.

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Pretty ingenue, Audrey Rouget, played by Carolyn Farina, is one of the central figures in the drama. She has fallen in love with Tom Townsend (Ed Clements), largely through reading his letters to another girl. Throughout the film, she reads the kind of fiction that a bookish young woman might try to use as a guide to the realities of life, chiefly Jane Austen, and there is a suggestion that she is not quite the ingenue she seems but is engineering a lot of the action. Be that as it may, the story is about whether she will be “ruined” by the demonic Rick von Slonecker or whether her first lover and perhaps husband will be the decent, if slightly too earnest, Tom. There is reason to think that Rick von Slonecker is sociopathic enough to have driven another girl to suicide by the way he and his friends treated her sexually (a threesome). In the event, Audrey’s virtue is saved. The last scenes show Audrey nestling happily under the guiding wing of her Tom, although one has one’s doubts whether it will last, being too contrived altogether. And, indeed, in Stillman’s third film, “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), we learn from a brief cameo that “Audrey” has made a career in publishing and Tom is nowhere to be seen.

While wrestling with his themes, Stillman seems to be working from a Catholic script. His valourising of Audrey’s virginity recalls the traditional value placed on virginity by the Church. And he does not, like so many writers of comedy, and indeed many American Protestants, neglect the reality of Original Sin and its ongoing ill effects. Women do not get a pass. One of his spokesman characters asserts that, whatever they say, women find arrogant and sociopathic ladykillers of the ilk of the infamous Rick von Slonecker very attractive. And this seems to be true, at least in the movie.

Despite his Catholic instincts, Stillman is happy to have the same spokesman character remark that his generation is “the worst since the Protestant Reformation”, which presumably implies that before the Reformation people were generally benighted.

The second film in Stillman’s directorial output was “Barcelona” (1994). Stillman himself had spent time in Spain and acquired a Spanish wife, so he had had to come to grips with a Catholic culture very unlike his own presumably Protestant upbringing. I assume he is an Episcopalian. In “Metropolitan”, he has Audrey attend a traditional “Midnight Mass” in the upper class milieu of St Thomas’ Episcopalian Church, Manhattan. Stillman was lucky to be able to get footage of such a cultural and religious artefact. Today, after the recent rapid changes in the American Episcopalian Church, such a service might well be led by a Lesbian bishop. In any case, by the time he had moved personally and artistically to the locale of “Barcelona”, he had had to grapple seriously with the Old Religion. He was able to poke gentle fun at his own Protestant heritage, and make an uneasy adjustment to the (largely only cultural) Catholicism of the young women characters in “Barcelona”, whom he pairs off with his male protagonists.

The third film he made was the surprising flop “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), which had no religious themes to speak of, but rather dealt with the end of a dance craze, the travails of young urban professionals, and mixed in a crime story involving drugs at a dance club and some insights into the publishing business in New York. Stillman writes from his own experience and he had experience in publishing, and disco dancing.

The fourth film was the recent “Damsels in Distress” (2011), which restored his fortunes. Stillman touches on some classic themes here: fertility and religion. Catholicism, Catharism and the biblical command to go forth and multiply are all in the mix. As in “Metropolitan”, but more explicitly, the delicate question of how exactly the next generation is to be engendered is dwelt on. It can be no accident that his Lily character experiments with “Cathar” (anal) sex at the instigation of her boyfriend, as the apotheosis of sterile sex, after her friend Violet (Greta Gerwig) has earlier stressed the importance of procreation. The movie clearly points the moral that the path of sterility is to be avoided (and it is possible to see a fairly explicit condemnation of homosexuality in the story, especially as Lily has it shoved in her face that homosexuals do the same thing, although her boyfriend claims some illusory difference.) In the event, her French “Cathar” boyfriend swears off Catharism himself.

As in previous films, Stillman flirts with the old enemy of Catharism, Catholicism, which he evidently eyes with a wary respect. One of the girls remarks that “the Catholics were always wrong”, but in the event she comes to square her actions with Catholic dogma. As so often, people follow a Catholic ethos in the absence of adopting the Faith itself.

The four girls who make up the “damsels” are all named for flowers. As well as Lily and Violet, there are Heather and Rose. Is Stillman hinting at the importance of their pristine fertility?

Although not a Catholic, Stillman reaches Catholic conclusions: that virginity is to be valued; that pairing and procreation are good, desirable and important; that sterile sex is to be avoided; and that it is possible for a class of men to become too refined and ineffectual in the pursuit of “good form”. In Whit Stillman’s world, ideas and moral decisions have consequences. Perhaps he is reflecting on the sterility and increasing decline of his own WASP class, which has been described as the only human group to consciously facilitate its own extinction. In any case, in his world, ideas matter. This gives his films their surprising weight.

Sometimes filmmakers send a conservative message without intending to. And filmgoers have a habit of appropriating things they like the sound of and giving them a conservative spin. But in the case of Whit Stillman, we have a director who really means it. Or so he says. He has been quoted as saying that his movies are meant to be “helpful guides to young women”. By not shying away from the ugly side of human nature – male and female – he may have achieved that.

(After I wrote the above, I became aware of this interesting essay, which also explores Stillman as a politely conservative film director.)

This section of the present “ebook” has appeared in Oriens magazine.

Chapter Six: An Appendix: Whatever Happened to Carolyn Farina?

A more recent version of this essay may be found here.

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The question is often asked, whatever happened to the actress Carolyn Farina? The recent success of “Damsels in Distress” (2011) has put the spotlight back on Whit Stillman, and his first film “Metropolitan” (1990) and its young leading lady have no doubt received renewed attention. The obvious question is, what happened to Carolyn Farina after her charming role as Audrey Rouget in “Metropolitan”?

Carolyn Farina at an event relating to Whit Stillman’s recent film, Damsels in Distress:

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The same woman, actress Carolyn Farina, at 26, in Whit Stillman’s movie Metropolitan, playing New York debutante Audrey Rouget:

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Another shot of her at the same recent Damsels in Distress event:

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There is a website that specialises in picking out “jarring cameo/bit parts in movies” and features Carolyn Farina in Damsels in Distress. Was it jarring? Yes, it was a little. I finally worked out that the actress looked like she had had a facelift and the pained immobility of her face in her brief scene as a waitress contrasted sadly with the mobile expressiveness of her untouched face in Metropolitan. I could be wrong, but I suspect a face lift.

“the texasyank: joe mcdade” asked some time ago, here and here, what happened to Carolyn Farina, referring to an earlier cameo appearance in The Last Days of Disco as the same character as in Metropolitan, more professionally and personally grown up; and suggesting that the evidence was that her character (“Audrey Rouget”) ended up with “Charlie” from the first movie. However, although she is a group with Charlie at the disco, it is not clear that she is his “date”. In fact, she dances with “Fred Neff” from the first film.

She has a low profile and those who do search for information on her seem often to be baffled. Here, for example, is a very sketchy page which leads to three photos purporting to be Carolyn Farina in later life, only one of which is actually her.

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

Pretty, even when she looks sad (Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget in “Metropolitan”, 1990):

People have claimed that the young Carolyn Farina resembled the young Molly Ringwald. Here is a shot of the latter, and there is clearly a resemblance:

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Here is video from August 2012 of Whit Stillman and Chris Eigeman talking about Metropolitan:

Carolyn Farina is one of my favourite actresses, along with the far-better-known Sean Young. I have often wondered, as have others, why Carolyn Farina did not appear in a lot more films. In the discussion in the above video, which moves on to Carolyn Farina at 8:10, Whit Stillman basically gives four reasons. 1) She was typecast as a debutante/preppie type but she wasn’t blonde and WASPy enough for most such roles (except, as Stillman delicately puts it, for Scorsese, who as an Italian-American director was prepared to cast her in The Age of Innocence). 2) She is shy (his word) and did not push hard for more parts. 3) She was unlucky and didn’t get the “breaks”. 4) She is based in New York.

Interesting. I find all these reasons somewhat plausible. And regrettable.

I am not convinced that Farina’s brunette status was the problem. She had a modest but respectable role in “The Age of Innocence” (1993) when she would have been about 29, a few years older than in “Metropolitan”. And a major female role in The Age of Innocence was given to Winona Ryder, a 22 year old brunette. Perhaps Farina looked too “ethnic”, but I would not have thought so. Arguably she looked no more ethnic than her screen “brother”, Daniel Day-Lewis, both cast as “WASPs” in The Age of Innocence.

Another brunette I mentioned, Sean Young, certainly wasn’t shy about pursuing roles, going to extreme and absurd lengths to do so. But you do also need a lot of “breaks” as Stillman said. People want to believe that ability is rewarded, but it is not quite that simple, in my experience. Even in ordinary life, you have to be lucky and you have to have continuing luck or “breaks”. It is possible to do everything right, and still not succeed.

I get the feeling that Stillman feels a bit troubled by what happened, or rather didn’t happen, to Carolyn Farina. He has obviously spent time thinking about it. Perhaps it was unfair to take a girl from working class Queens and give her a role like that, which simultaneously typecast her and set her up for subsequent disappointment. Some of the other women in the cast of Metropolitan had real-world legal careers and the like to fall back on. For an Australian, the continuing power of class and ethnicity in America can be surprising.

I suppose that this colloquium, in the video, flowed ultimately out of the new interest in Whit Stillman following the fair success that Damsels in Distress has garnered. No doubt this renewed interest focuses new attention on Metropolitan, his first and arguably his signature film. An obvious question under the circumstances will be: what happened to Carolyn Farina, in the long interval between “Audrey” (Metropolitan) and “Carolina” (Damsels)?

Stillman himself is, of course, no stranger to long creative intervals.

On the positive side, Carolyn Farina will at least be remembered affectionately for her charming portrayal of Audrey in Metropolitan.

“Metropolitan Hair”

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The “Metropolitan Hair” blogger girl said she thought Audrey’s hair looked better tousled, not all debutante-y. So, here are two pictures of Audrey’s hair slightly tousled. The first is from a beachside scene in which she delivers the classic line, “Do you really think I am flat-chested?”, a question Tom handles with aplomb. The second is Audrey at Midnight Mass (Episcopalian), looking deucedly pretty.

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The second of these came from The Enchanting Isabelle Gillies Fan Site. The connection is that the character of Audrey’s mother was played by Linda Gillies, the real-life mother of actress Isabelle Gillies, who also appeared in Metropolitan.

Another picture of Carolyn Farina (on the left in the “little black dress”, looking quite good, although she was probably not tall enough to have really good legs), apparently released recently by Getty Images:

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The legend reads: “NEW YORK CITY – JULY 31: (L-R) Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements and Allison Rutledge-Parisi attend the premiere of ‘Metropolitan’ on July 31, 1990 at the Paris Theater in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)”

Despite her glam look, she was back at her shopgirl job at Macy’s later in the year.

For completeness, two further similar images from the premiere in New York of Metropolitan in 1990:

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Carolyn Farina looks composed and pretty in the last one. Ed Clements looks a trifle awkward.

Below is another shot of her. This interesting shot seems to have been taken around the time of her appearance in Metropolitan in 1990. She was about 26. The photo is from the “Time and Life Images” collection, and is labelled “Salesclerk, actress Carolyn Farina lying on park bench.” It does not appear to have been published.

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From her flat shoes and sensible dress, I would guess that was taken on a break from her “daytime job” at Macy’s. But that is just a guess. Here is a shot of her from about the same time at work:

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In fact, I think it is the same dress in both shots. She was so young and early in her career that it looks like that in the first shot she has just gone outside from her sales job to a nearby park, plonked herself down on a bench, put her little legs in their flat salesgirl shoes in the air, and tried to look like an actress. Cute. In the second photo, in Macy’s, it looks like the photographer, Kimberly Butler, has got her to push her hair back and put on a pair of earrings along with the other pieces from the store’s stock. In fact, here is the evidence.

“Caption: Salesclerk, actress Carolyn Farina posing at costume jewelry counter she tends, bedecked w. bracelets, necklaces & earrings festooned w. price tags from the stock she sells at Macy’s department store. (Photo by Kimberly Butler//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)”

It is interesting that she is selling costume jewelry, not fine jewelry. Because she was young and had a working class accent in real life? Maybe.

The IMDb database on movies says this: “The female lead of Audrey was cast after the director’s wife ran into Carolyn Farina while shopping at the Macy’s store where Farina was working at the perfume section. She had no previous acting experience.” Possibly. But most reports are that Miss Farina went to an audition (see the To The Top story above, for example), and she had at least studied acting. I suppose it is possible that Stillman’s wife recommended her for the role, but the IMDb story sounds just a bit too good to be true. I mean, “pretty girl discovered working at the counter in Macy’s”. It sounds like the plot for an early silent film.

According to Google Trends as cited on the LucyWho site, interest in Carolyn Farina spiked in what I take to be mid-2011 and early 2012. I imagine this was related to publicity about, and the eventual release of, “Damsels in Distress”. She had a small role in this film, and interest in Whit Stillman probably led people to investigate “Metropolitan” and its female lead. Interest in Farina seems to have died down of late, although I get people coming to this blog who have searched on “what happened to Carolyn Farina?”, as well as from her Wikipedia article.

In the interests of completeness, here is a list of the films in which Miss Farina has appeared:

Metropolitan (1990) as Audrey Rouget
Little Noises (1992) as Cousin Linny
The Age of Innocence (1993) as Janey Archer
The Last Days of Disco (1998) as Audrey Rouget
Damsels in Distress (2011) as waitress Carolina Antonucci.

It is interesting that all these films were apparently shot in or not far from New York; which lends weight to the point Whit Stillman makes about Farina being New York based and therefore perhaps limited in her career.

Whit Stillman is very much a realist, and indeed I suspect he may personally be a bit of a depressive, which is almost the definition of a total realist. His realism extends to his portrayal of the evanescence of youthful activities. He actual labours the point when he has one character in “Metropolitan” say something to the effect that he had thought the clique and its parties would go on, and a worldly-wise girl tells him no. She knows that real life has not begun.

One of Stillman’s themes in “Metropolitan” is success and failure in life, and he has Audrey stress the drama of life as a whole in this regard. So, whereas early joys and successes, such as those the young actors achieved in the movie and in real life, are significant, they are not lasting.

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The older man of the WASP class in the bar (“Dick Edwards”, above, played by Roger W Kirby in his only movie role), has had that frustrating thing, moderate success only. He is like a figure from the future; a warning to Tom and Charlie that real, lasting success may elude them. Ironically this could be said to be true of the actors who played their roles. Neither went on to great success. Like Carolyn Farina (“Audrey”), they peaked early. This is an aspect of the cruelty of life that is one of Stillman’s themes.

As Audrey says to Tom in this scene, there is the “prospect of wasting your whole productive life, of personal failure … life is melodramatic if you look at the whole sweep of it … I guess few people’s lives match their own expectations”.

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TO SUM UP, Carolyn Farina was extraordinarily lucky to be plucked from obscurity, that one in ten thousand girls who gets to live the dream. She was lucky to look the part, and to appeal to Whit Stillman as a director. And she could act; looking and acting like something she was not, an upper class debutante and a prim bluestocking. Act so well, in fact, that she brilliantly typecast herself.

Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget, not joining in the game of strip poker. She and Charlie retain their dignity in the background.

Strip Poker

Audrey Rouget reading at the beach house in The Hamptons: “She retains both her sobriety and virginity …

Audrey at beach house

The crucial later roles did not come, at least not large enough and in big enough movies to propel her forward. Her last two appearances have been barely cameos, and gave her nothing to work with. In Little Noises and The Last Days of Disco she had no lines at all. There is a hint from her resume that she was unwilling or unable for some reason to leave New York to work. Perhaps there was some family reason for this, or perhaps her personal background left her unable to leave her roots behind. In the absence of any hard information, anything further I said here would be even more speculative. She really had only one noteworthy role, but on the positive side, she will be remembered for that role as long as people enjoy good films. Her brilliant performance in the role of Audrey Rouget, a character who seems to have become – in a modest way – a cultural icon or touchstone, suggests that she had a rare natural genius for acting, that mysterious capacity some people have to simply intuit and inhabit a character on the screen. I cannot help but suspect that, with better luck, she might have gone on to do much, much more.

There is another point I would like to make, a rather delicate one. The ability to act does not seem to be related to general intelligence. The French apparently have an expression, “as stupid as an artist”. One could also say, “as stupid as an actor”. Some of the very best actors are not very intelligent people. I can think of a few actresses who are supposedly not very bright, but who can somehow intuit a role, even playing highly intelligent characters. For example, Sean Young is a thoughtful woman, but her behaviour and some of her reported comments do not suggest great intelligence. And yet she made a brilliant Rachael in Blade Runner. I also get the impression that Carolyn Farina is not terribly intelligent, based on her reported education, her “day jobs” and some of her reported remarks. I could be wrong, but I don’t detect great brains. And yet she managed to play a role completely outside her experience so well that people assumed she was “playing herself”. Apparently she had acting genius.

In some fields, talent seems to crop up in the least likely places. Intelligence, good background and personal style are not guarantees of talent. This seems to be true not just in acting, but in other fields such as poetry. Some of the best poets are far from the stereotype, for example. There are many people who feel they have poetic levels of sensitivity, who network hard and associate with all the right people, who nevertheless lack the true spark. In fields like poetry and acting, it is often the most unlikely people who somehow have the knack. (This is a theme in Little Noises, the film in which Farina had a tiny part. Most of the aspiring writers and actors had no real talent. The only man with a genuine creative gift was the mute and sometimes homeless street poet.)

That said, and despite her apparent natural genius, it is possible that Farina’s modest background, absence of a father at home, and limited education, might have meant that she lacked the personal and family resources to build her career effectively. I read a remark recently that most directors have family resources. I wonder if the same is true of successful actors and actresses. Having family money and resources and the advantages of social class, as a cushion or a launching pad (to mix metaphors), might also help in that line of work. In short, unlike Whit Stillman, Carolyn Farina did not attend Harvard.

Austin Bramwell, who also appears in the bibliography below, having written a piece on Stillman’s films from a Christian perspective, had some interesting things to say about the importance of family background and money in facilitating the early stage of careers in America here.

My conclusion on “what happened to Carolyn Farina?” in the sense of why her career did not prosper would be something like the following. Most men will say that a woman looks her best under 25 years of age. Farina was a bit old at 26 to begin a career as a young actress based largely on her looks (by comparison, Michelle Pfeiffer was 25 in her first hit, the big mainstream movie Scarface, and that was not her first movie). Among other actresses I have mentioned here, Winona Ryder was only 22 in The Age of Innocence, and Sean Young 23 in Blade Runner (whereas the woman – Nina Axelrod – whom she beat for the role because the director Ridley Scott wanted someone young and unworldly looking was about 27).

[Hollywood is perfectly capable of casting an attractive 27 year old as a “spinster librarian”:

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Marion the librarian (actress Ashley Gardner) – Kramer’s girlfriend from the Seinfeld episode The Library.]

While her slender and girlish appearance helped make Farina look youthful in Metropolitan, there are nonetheless some scenes in which she looks a bit stringy and drawn. Her acting was very good, but to build a major lasting career like Michelle Pfeiffer would require both the exceptional looks only found in really young women and the opportunity to build a reputation as a good actress. In Little Noises, she was already a bit too old at 28 in terms of peak beauty and the film gave her no opportunity to act. In The Age of Innocence, she was nearly 30 and the film only did an indifferent job of showing off her acting range. She plays Janey, the shy and retiring sister of Newland Archer. Even to the kindest eye, the actress looks a bit too pale and thin in the face in this film. In a word, faded. In summary, I think she simply began too late. Also, her small-breasted, short-haired style probably did not have a wide enough appeal in any case. (She appeals to me, but most men want more hair and boobage.)

A possible alternative path would have been playing character parts. It is possible to imagine her making a career of playing quirky young women, wives and mothers, or indeed unmarried sisters as in The Age of Innocence. But her best chances for building this kind of career, in Little Noises and The Age of Innocence, only amounted to a non-speaking part and a dull part in a fairly dull film. I suspect there is unused footage of her role as Cousin Linny in Little Noises somewhere, possibly playing opposite Crispin Glover. If it ever emerges, it might prove to be a revelation.

Another puzzling question is why the actress never seems to have appeared on television. I understand that many New York based actors and actresses get work in the TV series filmed there. Why, for example, did she never appear on something like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit? She would have made a good victim.

Personal Life: This piece has focussed on Carolyn Farina the actress. Due to her relatively brief career, it has proved possible to be fairly comprehensive about her professional work as an actress. Something is also known of her work outside acting. However, unlike many actresses, her personal life is largely unknown. She seems to be a private person, so this may be how she likes it.

Nevertheless it is natural to be curious. Tyler Coates, an online journalist in New York, has reported that he spoke to her not long ago. However I have not found a recent interview in any medium. Nor is anything available on her personal life. It would be interesting to know if she married and had a family, for example. Or if she continued in the dramatic field in some capacity, perhaps teaching acting.

It is unlikely that much information will emerge, but if anyone does know anything, please leave a comment below.

The cast of Metropolitan:

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and again, the cast, at Cannes in 1990:

Cast of Metropolitan

Bibliography of the actress Carolyn Farina

[In the hope that this account will be as close to definitive as possible on her screen career, I shall gradually add bibliographic items here. Many will be Internet references either to Carolyn Farina herself, or to her character “Audrey Rouget”, or to the director who discovered her, Whit Stillman.]

“‘A Few Sordid Details’: An Homage to Whit Stillman’s ‘Metropolitan'”. http://doomedbourgeoisinlove.tumblr.com/ [This includes a recent, long interview with Whit Stillman from “cinephilearchive” as well as several pages of atmospheric images of the milieu of Metropolitan and songs from the soundtrack. A trove of charming material.]

“A Good Stopping Point” blog. Books in Film: Metropolitan (1990).

American Spectator. 1981 article by Whit Stillman, “Sleazy, Soapy and Rich“.

American Spectator. 2012 interview with Whit Stillman.

“An Alan Smithee Podcast” on “Metropolitan”. http://alansmitheepodcast.com/2009/12/12/episode-32-metropolitan-1990-whit-stillman-of-unknown-origin-1983-george-p-cosmatos/ [Interesting, but containing a lot of false notes and inaccuracies. There are too many to mention, but they say that Audrey’s little brother makes fun of her small bust at the beginning of the movie. No, he poked fun at her “enormous” bottom (which is silly because she had a slim, boyish figure). They do make the suggestion to google on “Whit Stillman Republican”, which is actually worth doing.]

“Apartment 303” blog. Metropolitan Hair.

“Are the hills going to march off? Film criticism” blog. Review of Metropolitan. [” … Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), a timid Jane Austen fangirl with the kind of vaguely tomboyish look that characterizes French New Wave starlets.”]

“Ask Andy About Clothes” blog; a thread which segues into some interesting commentary on “Audrey Rouget” and “Metropolitan”. http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/forum/showthread.php?53620-For-Cooly-(Metropolitan-s-Charlie)

“audreyrouget” Tumblr. [I include this because it is a Tumblr “blog” on films, but there is no real connection with Audrey Rouget from “Metropolitan”, as far as I can see.]

“Audrey’s Theme (The Hamptons)”: Metropolitan Soundtrack. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46rVEze1ENo

“Austenprose: A Jane Austen Blog”. On Metropolitan.

A.V. Club. “Laugh With and At Manhattan Rich Kids” by John Teti. [Longish intelligentish discussion of Metropolitan and other Stillman films.]

Baltimore Sun. September 1990. Story on Carolyn Farina, “A new Audrey Hepburn?”

Blu-ray.com. Metropolitan. The screenshots are probably of most interest here.

BOMB Magazine. 1991. Whit Stillman by Betsy Sussler. (Interview focussing on Metropolitan).

Boston Globe. August 2013. Hot For Films That Make Waves. Refers briefly to the concluding seashore scene in “Metropolitan”.

Bramwell, Austin W. “Films of the Spirit“. In First Things magazine, June/July 2002. [A serious consideration of Stillman’s films from a Christian perspective.]

Carolyn Farina on Tumblr. http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/carolyn-farina

City Journal: Julia Magnet. “A Great Conservative Filmmaker“.

“Dusk in Autumn” blog on “Audrey Rouget”. http://akinokure.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/i-gave-older-women-chance.html

“Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Too” blog on Metropolitan in the context of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. http://www.jimandellen.org/austenblog/941.html

Fort Worth Weekly: Kristian Lin. 2012. “DVD Review: Damsels in Distress“. [“Whatever happened to Carolyn Farina, anyway? Aside from Stillman’s films, the only other movie role she’s taken on has been as Daniel Day-Lewis’ sister in Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. What has she been up to in the meantime?”]

Guest of a Guest: Daily Style Phile: Whit Stillman
[Six “slides”]

Henrie, Mark C. (ed.) (2001). Doomed Bourgeois in Love : Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman. ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware: http://www.amazon.com/Doomed-Bourgeois-Love-Essays-Stillman/dp/1882926706/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

ioncinema. 2012. Review of the Criterion Collection Blu-ray version of Metropolitan. [An appreciative if somewhat awkward review.]

Kubic, Amanda Marie. 2013. Mansfield Park and Metropolitan: Austen’s Morality in Whit Stillman’s Modern World. Persuasions On-Line: A publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America. V.34, NO.1 (Winter 2013).

LucyWho. Carolyn Farina. [Brief notes, including Google Trends information on interest in the actress. One of the pictures supplied, the second from the left, is not her, but is Frances O’Connor, an Australian actress. This collection of videos, some of which are interviews of Whit Stillman, is also worth noting.]

“Man Without a Star” blog on “Metropolitan (1990)”. http://manwithoutastar.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/metropolitan-1990/

“Mirror80 Reflecting on 1980s Style” blog on “Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan”. http://mirror80.com/2012/04/whit-stillmans-metropolitan/

New York Times. 2012. Feature on Whit Stillman.

New York Times. About Carolyn Farina.

Nitehawk Cinema. August 2012. On Metropolitan. [Gothamist Q&A with Whit Stillman and Chris Eigeman on Metropolitan. The discussion moves on to Carolyn Farina and her career at 8:10.]

O’Dea, Julian. 2013. “Catholic Sensibility from a WASP Woody Allen“. Oriens. Journal of the Oriens Foundation. [This is an article of mine that discusses the moral universe of Stillman’s films, with references to the character of Audrey Rouget in Metropolitan as well as the young men and women in later films.]

ofakind tumblr. In Character: Audrey Rouget. [A brief appreciation of the film, with some fashion notes.]

Official Podcast. Episode 5 – Taylor Nichols. [Released 12 February 2014. An audio interview with the actor who played Charlie in Metropolitan. There is some discussion of the final scenes in the movie in which Audrey, Charlie and Tom interact. It is clear that Nichols has a sound career with regular television work as well as a variety of other projects.]

otsoNY. Metropolitan (1990). [otsoNY is an online guide to film locations in New York. This page shows a number of the locations used in Metropolitan. There are scenes from the movie itself, some of which include “Audrey Rouget”.]

“past//relevance.” blog. “metropolitan“. February 2012. [A pleasant reverie rather than a serious review of “Metropolitan”. Refers to “the insufferable jane austen”, which is an odd way to describe perhaps the greatest female novelist in English. This blog post is accompanied by a good selection of stills from the movie, which show both Carolyn Farina’s extraordinary expressive range and, sadly, that schoolmarmish side which does not bode well for “Audrey”.]

“People” article from October 1990 on the recently discovered Carolyn Farina. Here.

“Playtime Magazine”. 2008. “New York and New Friends, Auld Lang Syne …” by Matt Schneider. [This is a very appreciative review, but I think it contains some mistakes, which I addressed here.]

“Power Animals” blog. “Girl Crush: Carolyn Farina“.

R V Young. “From Mansfield to Manhattan: The Abandoned Generation of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan“.

“Reveries Under the Sign of Austen, Two” blog. “Mansfield Park at the Movies“. [This places Metropolitan in the tradition of film treatments of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. I would see Metropolitan as simply influenced by Mansfield Park. The authors of this blog post also suggest that the actors in Metropolitan had trouble finding further work because of “class antagonisms”, but I doubt that, and in fact Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nicholls, and even Carolyn Farina to a degree, got later movie work. Isabel Gillies went on to play the character of Elliot Stabler’s wife, Kathy, in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit from 1999 to 2011. Dylan Hundley continued to act and has done some producing. A trivial but annoying error in this blog post is the suggestion that Tom asked Audrey to dance the Cha-Cha with him. No, he didn’t.]

Sharon C McGovern at Cobra Movies. Commentary and references on Whit Stillman. http://www.thecobrasnose.com/xxmovie/stillman.html [An excellent essay, remarking on the sheer rarity of films that portray feminine charm and virtue in a positive light, although I wish the writer knew how to spell Jane Austen’s surname.]

Slate. 2006. “Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan”. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/dvdextras/2006/02/whit_stillmans_metropolitan.html

“soul food movies” blog. 2009. “Metropolitan”. http://soulfoodmovies.blogspot.com.au/2006/09/metropolitan.html [A good appreciation, and the dullness and pretentiousness of Tom is well-observed along with the mystery of his appeal to Audrey, but it repeats the doubtful story that Carolyn Farina was discovered at the Macy’s perfume counter. In fact, she seems to have answered a casting call in a trade paper.]

“soul food movies” blog. 2009. “The Last Days of Disco”. http://soulfoodmovies.blogspot.com.au/2006/09/last-days-of-disco.html [Touches on the characters from Metropolitan, and says that Audrey Rouget is to be observed in this Disco film “deep in conversation with Charlie, Fred and Sally {from the earlier movie Metropolitan}”. “Audrey” (Carolyn Farina) is seen here with that group at the disco in her cameo appearance in The Last Days of Disco:

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and dancing with the man on the right, who is apparently “Fred” from “Metropolitan” and credited as the same actor, which surprises me because, even allowing for ageing and maturing, he looks much less pudgy and easy-going than “Fred” in the earlier film:

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She is in a group with “Charlie” but it does not appear that he is her “date”, as some people have suggested. And, in fact, Whit Stillman has stated that she is not “with” Charlie. They are just friends.]

Splitsider. Lindsey Bahr. 2012. “Rich, Beautiful and Surprisingly Virtuous: A Whit Stillman Primer.[Some discussion of the morality in the first three Stillman films. A few errors (Audrey went to “midnight mass” at St Thomas’ Episcopalian Cathedral, not St Patrick’s), a few good points, but fairly superficial analysis and the writer is clearly out of sympathy with Stillman’s worldview.]

Steve Sailer. February 2014. Moneyballing Movies: “The Gender Gap in Screen Time”. [Interesting for its discussion of the differences in the career trajectories of actors and actresses, given what I have suggested about the problems that Carolyn Farina may have had in getting properly established. “Actors have longer to perfect their crafts as leads in big pictures than do actresses (e.g., Best Actor last year was 55-year-old Daniel Day-Lewis in Spielberg’s Lincoln versus 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.) While Judy Dench and Meryl Streep continue to get Best Actress nominations, the size of their movies drops as they age.” Sailer also states that “Martin Scorsese, for instance, thinks about guys, all the time”, which if true makes one wonder why he bothered making The Age of Innocence, which is a quintessential women’s film, and may explain why he did so little with Carolyn Farina in that film.]

Taste of Cinema. September 2013. “10 Underrated First Films You Still Haven’t Seen Yet.” Includes “Metropolitan”.

The Quietus. 2012. Interview with Whit Stillman.

Tom Cunha. n.d. Play That Funky Music Whit Boy!: “The Last Days of Disco’s” Stillman. “The Director’s Chair Interviews.” [A fairly brief interview which touches on “Metropolitan” and “Barcelona” as well as “The Last Days of Disco”.]

“Udolpho” blog. Whit Stillman and Metropolitan.

Unofficial Whit Stillman web page. http://www.whitstillman.org/

Washington Times. 2012. Interview with Whit Stillman.

Whit Stillman interview after Metropolitan screening at The Royal in Toronto, December 2012. Video. [Includes discussion of the casting of Metropolitan, including of Carolyn Farina.]

Whit Stillman is active on Twitter. Here.

Wikipedia article on Carolyn Farina. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolyn_Farina

Wikipedia article on Whit Stillman. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whit_Stillman

You and Your Whatever. “I Wanna Be Audrey Rouget”. Free digital track here. [I assume this refers to the character “Audrey Rouget” from “Metropolitan”. Her surname is mispronounced as “Roget”. Quite a cute song though.]

Some further notes on her various roles in films.

The appreciation at the above “Udolpho” blog is very good. I first became aware of this actress from that site. I think the following portion of the review there is worth quoting:

“Farina is simply a treasure. Her gifted and real performance as Audrey lends the story nearly all its consequence. She shapes not only Audrey’s identity but that of the characters who respond to her. On repeated viewings her sweetness and un-self-consciousness grow even more appealing as one discovers in her performance further glimpses into the character — her face has that malleable quality which expresses the exact mixture of emotion that her character feels [Precisely.]. That she was discovered for the part at a perfume counter [sic – I doubt this, as I said above] and had no prior acting experience makes this brilliant portrayal all the more impressive — one is hard pressed to recall another actress of her generation or subsequent generations who belongs in the same class. As Stillman mentions in the film’s commentary, there is a depressing footnote to this performance: Farina was typecast by the film, assumed to have been playing herself, and was subsequently unable to find work beyond a few minor film parts immediately thereafter. “I expected to see her everywhere,” Stillman recalls, but it was not to be; casting directors saw her only as an upper class Connecticut girl (Farina is actually from Queens). If there is a silver lining to this, it can only be that her work in this movie survives unspoiled by efforts in lesser films. Farina can be seen playing Daniel Day-Lewis’ sister in the inept and monumentally tedious Scorcese movie The Age of Innocence although believe me it’s not worth it.”

I find much of this very telling and accurate, although I suspect that “Udolpho” is predisposed to like Metropolitan because of its politesse and moral stance. Nor is The Age of Innocence quite that bad. It is a perfectly competent and enjoyable film, although personally I dislike the progressive moralising, which makes the film feel like Jane Austen rewritten by a committee of feminists (yes, I know it is based on an Edith Wharton novel). As for Miss Farina’s malleable face, I agree it is a delight, but I have a suspicion that, being of Italian descent in real life, she was also more willing to show her feelings; whereas the more nearly WASPy actors and actresses in what was a WASP scenario in Metropolitan simply adopted the stone-faced mien one associates with such upper class types.

Turning back to The Age of Innocence, I find Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie deeply irritating. I cannot believe that any man would find her as intriguing as we are supposed to imagine. Compared with the Winona Ryder character (22 years old in real life at the time), she seems a real old boiler, as we say here (35 years old in real life, and I think she looked it). There is no point in trying to have us believe that some woman is deeply fascinating when there is nothing on camera that suggests it. I find Pfeiffer tiresome in the role. Winona Ryder may look like a young bit of fluff, but Michelle Pfeiffer looks like a stuffed chair.

Richard E Grant, who had a small role in The Age of Innocence, does not even mention Carolyn Farina in his published account of the “making of” that film. However, at least she does get to speak in this role (unlike in two of her other roles) using an accent not unlike her voice in Metropolitan. She appears in a few scenes, and it is a perfectly respectable part, into which she sinks unselfishly. It is not a role that demands much range, her character being effectively only social scenery, and I suppose it is not a good career sign for an actress to be playing a starchy female relative – although there is an even starchier female in her scenes who gets even less to do. Nevertheless there are some pleasing glimpses of her beautifully expressive face, and a more subtle and delicate director would have done more with her. I fear this was a serious missed opportunity, and her being underexploited in this film – which was of sufficient quality and standing and made at a time when Miss Farina retained much of her physical charm – is a lasting shame.

Whit Stillman credited Scorsese’s Italian background as being conducive to his casting the Italian-American Farina in The Age of Innocence. (I assume that Carolyn Farina is of Italian extraction, given her surname and appearance, and Stillman’s comments.) But another possibility suggests itself. Daniel Day-Lewis is a fairly dark haired, pale-skinned, angular faced fellow; and casting Carolyn Farina as his sister made visual sense.

Where I differ from “Udolpho” is in feeling that Miss Farina’s later roles do, in fact, rather tend to spoil her image. Her short appearance in The Last Days of Disco, while she has no lines, is respectful of her original character, although it is obvious that the actress is looking her age at the time, being well into her thirties. But I found her scene in Damsels in Distress rather “distressing”. It was sad to see her in such a thankless, hackneyed role, playing literally opposite the new hot young star, Greta Gerwig.

It is probably worth touching briefly too on her role in Little Noises. Farina appears as “Cousin Linny” in this film, made when she was about 28. She only appears in one scene, cleaning up in the background (to be blunt, she is scrubbing the ground outside her parents’ fish shop, near a man who appears to be passed out – a far cry from the drawing rooms of Metropolitan). She reacts to the events, but has no lines. Her character is not even named in the film itself, but only in the credits, and her first name is misspelt there as “Caroline”.

Little Noises shares a couple of the themes of Metropolitan, although the writers and directors are different of course. Namely, success in life and the importance of money, class and education. I suppose that, by appearing in Little Noises, Farina might have hoped to be spotted for further roles. She was still quite an attractive girl at 28, but it was her acting in Metropolitan that stood out as much as her appearance, and her acting was not on display in Little Noises. If she had an agent at this time in her career, he did a good job in getting her into The Age of Innocence but did her few favours in landing her in Little Noises as Linny, in which she is on screen for less than fifteen seconds.

Perhaps because it was an “indie” film, there are loose ends in Little Noises. I have already mentioned that Farina’s first name is misspelt in the credits. I am surprised she appears in the credits at all because her role amounts to a brief appearance in the background. I am not an expert, but perhaps an extra becomes an actor if he or she reacts to the events rather than just being present. I suppose it is a grey area. As I mentioned above, Farina’s character is not referred to as “Linny” in the movie itself. Perhaps she had a larger role, and it was mostly cut from the final version. There are scenes at the fish shop in the trailer for the film that are not in the movie as it is available on YouTube at least. So I wonder if Farina was in some such scenes that were cut from the final release. [Another oddity is that an attractive woman who plays the mute poet’s mother in a sort of dream sequence at the end, and who is on screen for quite some time, is credited as Rosanna Quaglieri, but she is nowhere to be found on the IMDb database or on the Internet in general. Curious.]

More images of Carolyn Farina as “Audrey Rouget”: Not the most beautiful actress ever, but wonderfully expressive:

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NOT CAROLYN FARINA

The photo below is often described as a picture of Carolyn Farina, acting in a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. But it seems actually to be Australian actress Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price.

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And this photo is sometimes described, here for example, as Carolyn Farina in The Age of Innocence (1993) but it is in fact Domenica Scorsese, the director’s daughter in the role of Katie Blenker. This actress was about 17 at the time to Carolyn Farina’s 29 years.

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I suppose there is a vague resemblance, but not every smooth-skinned brunette in a decent dress in recent movie history is Carolyn Farina! This page gets it right.

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24 responses to this post.

  1. […] In an interview Ridley Scott claimed it was a cinematic necessity that the main female character, th… […]

    Reply

  2. Damn, Julian; this is a magnum opus; it’s a fucking huge post! 🙂

    Reply

    • An e-book, indeed!

      In that case, since it’s free, I’m going to save this post. 🙂

      Reply

      • I’ve also bookmarked it. It’s long, so I’ll not be able to read it all in one sitting; will digest it slowly.

      • Will, basically it is a number of my blog posts stuck together, along a theme as far as possible. Chapter Five is new thinking and was written for the online Latin Mass magazine, Oriens.

        The last chapter, the appendix on what happened to Farina, was a chance to write a brief screen biography of her. I wanted to contact Tyler Coates, a New York online journalist who said he recently spoke to her, because I had dreams of doing an email interview with the actress herself. This is the next best thing.

      • Will, I just had someone come here searching on “nude protestants”.

      • Er, okay. 🙂

  3. Posted by alcestiseshtemoa on September 14, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Congratulations on the e-book!

    Reply

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on Stillman!

    Reply

  5. […] serious fans of Whit Stillman the director and Carolyn Farina will find a long piece I wrote here. It includes a short screen biography of the actress as an […]

    Reply

  6. […] I wrote at length about this film, in my older post, “Embodied Values: Hollywood Thinks About Sex”. […]

    Reply

  7. […] My main discussion of Blade Runner is included here: “Embodied Values: Hollywood Thinks About Sex.“ […]

    Reply

  8. […] in Blade Runner (1982). See my “Chapter One: Feminine Robots and Feminist Critics”, here. I also express my suspicions here that Scott cast Sean Young in the role precisely because she […]

    Reply

  9. […] A later version of this post, together with some material on other films, can be found here. […]

    Reply

  10. […] it is set in about 1970; a point I discuss in the third “chapter” of my post “Embodied Values: Hollywood Thinks About Sex”, and which Whit Stillman himself has confirmed […]

    Reply

  11. […] have written about yet another Cronenberg film, “Crash” here. This is an […]

    Reply

  12. It is always a pleasure to see that certain articles get read. Your piece is very well written and thought provoking. However, to be derided in the notes for a badly written DVD review filled with dumb errors, such as not being aware of the origination of a Jane Austen quote in Metropolitan seems unnecessary. I’m not above reproach, but would have preferred to discover your thoughts on my review so I could at least have had the chance to respond and/or correct my error.

    Reply

    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on March 21, 2015 at 1:38 am

      Nicholas

      I have had another look at your review, and I apologise for the asperity of my comments. I have changed them on this page, and on the more recent version of the piece on Carolyn Farina, here:

      https://davidcollard.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/what-happened-to-carolyn-farina/

      There are a few things I would disagree with it in your review; for example I think there were some important things happening to the characters. Audrey was between a potentially positive relationship with Tom and a very dangerous one with Rick. I have to agree with Audrey that life, in its entirety, is indeed melodramatic.

      Anyway, thanks for your comments and for being so measured in your objections to my rather rude remark. I can get a bit carried away at times.

      Julian

      Reply

  13. […] “Crash”: The Bedroom and the Road. (The second section of a long post on the way in which Hollywood approaches the body and sex.) […]

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  14. […] that Mark Kermode admired the film so much has inspired me to turn what was once just part of an old, long blog post on films about Hollywood and the body into a standalone post. So here it […]

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