Written, produced, and directed by Whit Stillman.
Well, I've had a run of great movies lately, and I've finally gotten a chance to write about them! Something I seem to touch on regularly is how many wonderful films there are out there on the shelves, in the stacks, the depths of the internet, or wherever it is you look for films. It is always such an incredible joy to be reminded that there is basically an endless supply of films out there that one has never heard of, and further, among those, there are bound to be numerous treasures waiting to be (re)discovered! Being a sucker for some slick packaging and presentation, the Criterion Collection is a place I return to, and it is also a fantastic place for anyone interested in film to start looking around. Their website is a treasure trove of information that can lead to discoveries of all sorts of genres, filmmakers, and foreign film industries in which lie many of the great films of the world. Case in point, I came across one of America's (largely uncelebrated) great filmmakers, Whit Stillman. The writer-directer is also responsible for METROPOLITAN (which I have seen) and BARCELONA (which I haven't). The former earned him a nomination for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
While METROPOLITAN focused on a young man attempting to move up a social level into a more "intellectual" class of white, rich, snobby (and yet slightly endearing) Manhattan college kids, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO follows primarily a young woman Alice (90s It-girl Chloe Sevigny), and her white, upper-middle-class, slightly snobby friends (also kind of endearing), as they live their professional lives in Manhattan, renting apartments they can't afford (at least not without parental support), spending their days working for ad agencies or publishing houses, and their nights frequenting Studio 54-style nightclubs. And of course, this all takes place -- you guessed it -- during the last days of disco, the very early 1980s. In many ways a continuation of the characters found in METROPOLITAN (though chronologically this takes place years before that storyline), it discusses many of the themes found in that earlier film. These young WASPy kids are coming to terms with themselves, and while, maybe not having existential crises, they are grappling with where they fit in the world, what to do with themselves, and what kind of relationships they want to have. I should add as a disclaimer that, while rich white people may not necessarily be the kind of people who deserve the most sympathy, they are still a demographic which exists, and whose situation deserves an examination once in a while. And Whit Stillman's writing walks this line smartly. He never asks us to cry for them, but rather allows each one to exist and develop as they grow and learn about themselves. Oh, and Stillman isn't afraid to make fools of his characters for our gratification.
|Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice (Chloe Sevigny), two 1980s yuppie socialites looking for love.|
Stillman is a filmmaker who is especially known for his writing, and the dialogue in this film is smart and interesting. Like many characters spawned in the 1990s (both in the time when the film was made, but also, I suppose, in the time period it is set, the 1980s) they relate to each other through cultural references. While his characters in METROPOLITAN largely related to each other through passages of literature and classical novels, the people in THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO are more media saturated, and a heated conversation and analysis of the meaning of film like LADY AND THE TRAMP can reveal something about each person. While not hugely recognized by the masses, Stillman's influence can be felt in filmmakers ranging from Wes Anderson, to Quentin Tarantino, to Noah Baumbach. His films emerged in the incredibly fertile 1990s indie scene, a time when audiences where fascinated by the concept of characters sitting down and having a conversation about movies, music, or social norms. Today, this kind of writing feels indulgent. But back in the 1990s it was very fresh.
Take a look at Whit Stillman's THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO. I really enjoyed it, and it has some great music, some charming characters (and some wonderfully despicable ones -- see Kate Beckinsale's Charlotte), and a great story. As well, I think the final scene/shot and end credits are one of my new favorites. I still have "Love Train" in my head.
End scene/credits (slight spoiler -- but if it gets you interested then maybe it's worth it!):