Dec. 12–13 at the Royal.
Introspective, erudite, and often vain New Yorkers—once the domain of Woody Allen—now seem to be irrevocably associated with Lena Dunham and her world of equally chatty urbanites. But long before Dunham’s depictions of post-grad hipsters in Girls, another well-bred director, Whit Stillman, crafted hilarious and unsettling films dealing with an earlier, but no less hated, upper-middle class phenomenon: the New York yuppie.
This week, The Seventh Art, a Toronto-based website devoted to cinema, teams up with the Royal to show Stillman’s 1990 debut feature, Metropolitan (Dec. 12, 7 p.m.), and his poison-pen love letter to early-’80s New York, The Last Days of Disco (Dec. 13, 7 p.m.). It’s the first instalment of the site’s “Live Directors Series.” Stillman will be in attendance both nights to offer his thoughts on independent filmmaking, preppies, and his other two films—Barcelona and last year’s Damsels in Distress.
Stillman has wryly called both of the films being shown at the Royal “comedies of mannerlessness.” Last Days of Disco (1998) depicts the formerly subterranean dance culture on the brink of fading away, after all its decadence had been drained. Metropolitan is set in the elite Manhattan debutante-ball scene of the late 1980s. The film seems both of its time and yet oddly ahistorical; its moneyed college-student protagonists are preoccupied with love and lust, but discuss those topics in a way that would make Edith Wharton smile. Perhaps the reason Stillman’s depictions of the recent past seem so unusual is because unlike Dunham, he sees these characters as part of a long lineage of elites. Their insecurities and incessant philosophizing certainly call to mind Hannah and Marnie of Girls, but their cruel social gamesmanship is much more Dangerous Liaisons. The worlds Stillman portrays in his films may be on the verge of vanishing, but they give way to new venues for the musings and machinations of the young and urban.