I don’t think Ted is a fascist of the marrying kind. ~Fred, Barcelona

Stillman: “Somewhat” Reactionary

I applaud Ross Douthat’s defense of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (now added to the pretentious and prestigious Criterion Collection), made slightly famous in conservative circles by the book of essays, Doomed Bourgeois In Love, edited by Mark C. Henrie, whose adventure in Pantagruelism I mildly critiqued way back in August ’05 here. Austin Kelly at Slate makes some rather annoying comments about Metropolitan, which Mr. Douthat answered pretty well. I don’t have much to add, but I have been looking for an opportunity to write a Whit Stillman post, if only so I could use that line from Barcelona, the second of Stillman’s creations, quoted above. A line like that has to be quoted on a reactionary’s blog–the possibilities for what it could mean are virtually endless.

For those not familiar with Metropolitan, it is the story of the life of upper middle class New York debutantes. Put that way, it might not sound especially interesting, and as his first in the Doomed Bourgeois “trilogy” (they actually have no relation to each other, except for a few holdovers in casting selections) it is the shakiest and weakest in some ways. But for those of us who do not understand New Yorkers or their way of life, it is a sort of anthropological journey into a strange and new country–one feels a bit like Liudprand of Cremona coming to Constantinople for the first time. It is a smart and somewhat endearing film. If you watch enough Whit Stillman, you will also begin catching yourself inserting the word “somewhat” in many of your statements.

But Mr. Douthat is absolutely right that Mr. Kelly’s lazy, uninformed shots at the politics of Metropolitan and also the politics of its admirers are just confused and silly. His criticisms of Metropolitan’s dialogue are vapid. Stillman’s dialogue in this film, like the dialogue of Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, is grammatical, usually interesting and mostly intelligent, unlike the grunting and ten different lines of dialogue required to write an average episode of 24 (e.g., “Where is the bomb?”; “We have to find the bomb”; “Mr. President, we cannot allow this bomb to go off.”). Mr. Stillman must belong to that old school that regards dialogue as something other than a way to fill in the parts of the film for which there was no remaining FX budget. Literate “UHBs” do use phrases such as “yet it is precisely…” If that seems false or forced to other people, I suspect it is because they never learned to speak in complex sentences or develop complex ideas.