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An Interview with Whit Stillman

The full transcript of our conversation with the recently returned director

Yeah, exactly. I like very much the cover art for Barcelona, but I think it'd be cool to have a Pierre Le Tan version too. As a sidenote, I think the film might get a better reception with this new artwork, because I think this artwork is sort of self-selecting as far as the audience who will watch the movie, so people looking for a dirty disco movie who watch it and are terribly disappointed and make outrageous comments on the internet, there'll be fewer of those, I think it's sort of truth in packaging, the new cover. 

It's funny, I actually… When I was about twelve or thirteen years old I rented Metropolitan, a VHS ofMetropolitan from the Public Library… 

With the dirty cover? 

Yeah, as a bursting adolescent I was somewhat disappointed with the film. I subsequently revisited it and it's very good indeed. A very frustrating rent. 

Well-put. Definitely false advertising. 

I have come around since age thirteen. 

I think some people haven't. They're still bitter. It's funny because a friend who works running a home video operation for a big company, he called me when that came out, congratulating me on how brilliantly it opened the film up and made it commercial, he thought it was fantastic and I suppose maybe they got a few more sales and rentals but… with the sort of backlash of disappointed customers… 

Was that the actual poster art? 

Not at all. No. The original poster's actually what's on the Criterion edition, it's what we commissioned first to go… and it was used in the international campaign, New Line didn't want to use it in the States. The other first artwork I used was just a postcard I had at Sundance when we first screened, essentially the same scene which is black and white, kids sitting around a dinner table became the New Line poster, a photograph of the cast around a table. It's very true to the film, the picture that's used in the original theatrical release of Metropolitan

I wanted to talk a bit about Disco, and Chloe Sevigny, who's an actress I really adore— 

Yeah, me too. 

And as good as she's ever been, she is in that film… she's the "identification character," the ostensible protagonist let's say, and she's really your first female protagonist— 

Well I would say that Caroline Farina in Metropolitan, the Audrey part that Caroline Farina plays, although it's not the dominant role in the movie, I think—in terms of screentime, I think in a sense she's closest to… I think the heart and soul of Metropolitan is more Caroline Farina than it is Ed Clements playing Tom; Tom is the identification character but the heart of it is Audrey. 

I know she does have several scenes in the movie to herself, the first scene in the movie is actually hers, running and throwing herself down on the bed… in rewatching, paying especial attention to what Caroline Farina does, it's a great performance, you sort of wonder why she didn't crop up in more things. 

You know what, I was thinking that the other day—I have something to write on commission, and I was thinking of some way of trying to get Caroline into it… I think I need every motivation possible to be aggressive and make things happen and the idea of getting someone who I think is really great back into film or television is a spur to trying to make things happen… It's outrageous that she hasn't had a bigger career. 

Do you feel you needed any outside consultation when writing for women? 

No, it's odd, I find it kind of easier writing the women characters, and I find them more sympathetic—and I think this is touched on in the DVD commentary, there's something about the predicament of the woman in a romantic comedy that's more interesting than the situation of the guy. I think the combination of being active and passive—a guy can pretend to be just active—and the situation that women are in seems more interesting and compelling for me. 

Do you think there are deeper consequences for women?

They're in a more sensitive crossroads situation and… it's interesting, being the target of guy's fantasies and thoughts about them and guys approaching them, guys who are trying to lull a girl into their lives—and yet at the same time they have their own ambitions and their own aspirations, the people they like and how they put themselves in the way of—inviting a guy to a dinner party or, you know, something's happening when people get together, how that's conducted and how the female role is more subtle and more interesting than the guy just getting up the nerve to make a phone call. Fortunately now, guys can send e-mails and texts. The dread phone call has become unnecessary. Women complain if guys don't call them but guys don't call them for good reason…      

Something you do which is sort of singular—I don't want to say that you renewed the virtuous heroine but… it's very difficult putting a "nice" character on equal footing with snide and backbiting and difficult people, who also tend to make more magnetic characters.

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