Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Metropolitan (The Criterion Collection) (1990)

MetropolitanThis 1990 film by writer-director Whit Stillman is wonderfully refreshing and intelligent. It is sure to please audiences with a taste for the avant-garde or those just looking for something a little different.

The story follows a group of upper-crust New York preppies during the Christmas debutante season. These are kids for whom black-tie balls at the Plaza Hotel and charming little soirees in Park Avenue apartments are serious matters. They are the UHB-"urban haute bourgeoisie"-a social circle carrying out traditions so anachronistic as to seem alien; traditions, in fact, which were outdated before these characters were even born.

A middle class outsider and budding socialist named Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) happens into this elite group and briefly livens things up. He shocks them with his leftist rhetoric (he is a devotee of Fourier) and anti-deb outlook, but they nonetheless find themselves drawn to him. Tom finds a kindred spirit in the cynically fatalistic Nick (Christopher Eigeman). Nick is the most self-aware member of the inner circle and he provides comic relief with his devastating ongoing critique of their lives and behavior.

Stillman's characters seem to have everything going for them. They are bright and educated and come from very wealthy families. We learn, though, that privilege is both their blessing and their curse. These children of status are destined to always remain in the shadow of their very successful parents. As one of them puts it, "We're doomed to failure." We come to realize that even though they are well-off in many ways, they still must struggle with the same insecurities and fears as the rest of us.

The characters in "Metropolitan" are the kind of people that F. Scott Fitzgerald knew so well. Indeed, if Fitzgerald had been a director rather than a writer, this is the type of film he might have made. It is intelligent and literate with dialogue that almost crackles with its liveliness and wit. "Metropolitan" gives us a rare glimpse into a world that scarcely exists anymore, if it ever really did. It is a real treasure.

This movie glistens like a piece of old Belleek. Whether in the subtle gold of an off the shoulder evening gown, or in the vast expanse of a deep, plush, ivory colored carpet, nearly every frame shimmers with champagne like iridescence.

And gold is an apt visual metaphor, particularly when juxtaposed against the black satin of a tuxedo lapel or the wintry Manhattan night scape, for a world seemingly vanishing right before our eyes--a world too sleek, too soigné, too genteel to survive the steam roller of galloping blue-jeaned egalitarianism.

That the denizens of this vanishing breed, as depicted in the film, are themselves, insecure late adolescents, make its departure all the more poignant.

"This is probably the last Deb season..." one of them observes resignedly, "...because of the stock market, the economy, Everything..." Yes, everything...the huge smothering subject that hovers all around the plot itself and from which its characters are only temporarily insulated.

In particular, the focus here is on a group of privileged Eastern Seaboard collegians enjoying the Christmas holidays in a series of Park Avenue, "after dance parties," in which they loll about and ruefully anticipate the disappearance of their youth, their success, and their kind.

That they are one at the same time cerebral, immature, literate, prankish, frightened, polished, well educated but vulnerable and inexperienced, puts them well outside the troglodyte teens that inhabit the deconstructionist zoo in most post 1970 films, (with the exception of a unfortunate and mis-placed "strip poker" sequence which violates the picture's otherwise overall mood.)

Indeed, they seem to exist outside their own time, belonging rather to that group Cecil Beaton dubbed "the smart young things" from the 1920's, in his "The Glass of Fashion." Certainly, one imagines them far more comfortable with Ivor Novello than Mick Jagger. And like many "smart sets" they seem rather a closed corporation.

Until that is, into their number unexpectedly arrives a young man of reduced circumstances, Tom Townsend, (Edward Clements) who by virtue of his sincerity and intelligence, is invited to "sup at their table--on a borrowed pass" so to speak. His romantic misadventures with the beguiling Audrey Rouget(Carolyn Farina)forms the cynosure of the charmingly fragile plot.

Audrey and Tom stand out from the pack, in their earnestess and integrity, though it is assuredly Nick, (Christopher Eigeman) their figurehead and chief quip master who is the groups' un-elected leader. As interpreted by Mr. Eigeman, Nick is the embodiment of the cocktail fueled, cigarette wielding bon vivant--trenchant, self absorbed, far from virtuous, and with a ready verbal arrow that never misses its target. He is George Sander's heir presumptive.

Nick's observations are worth the whole price of admission as they say, whether it be bemoaning the Protestant Reformation, the social climbing Surrealists, or the scarcity of detachable collars.

Since the film's short, bouffant,cocktail dresses and automobiles unmistakably place the film in very late modernity--the Reagan era in fact, and long after the Ray Anthony's Orchestra, top hatted milieu it depicts, we cannot fail to miss the film's core observation--the parallel evanescence of the groups' own social connections, as placed against the simultaneous collapse of civilized life as we once knew it.

As the Christmas season ends, so do the nightly gatherings, and each character is forced to come to terms with impermanence--their own and everything else's. In a melancholy bar scene, an older man warns the youngsters of disappointment ahead, "I'm not destitute but...it's all so mediocre."

That Producer/Director Whit Stillman manages to fuse the personal with the sociological in such and intriguing and entrancing way is a testament to the penetration of his vision.

And, lest we miss the point, he includes a cunning shot of a significant book left on bedside table--none other than Spengler's "Decline of the West."

Buy Metropolitan (The Criterion Collection) (1990) Now

One editorial review remarks "as the innocent, easily manipulated Audrey..". I seriously doubt it. You really must watch this picture several times before the parts fall into place. Take the opening scene when Tom 'accidentally' runs into Audrey's crowd. As the film later reveals Tom was given the ticket and has been sitting behind Audrey's table all night. He even went to the trouble to rent a tux for the occasion! He went to all this trouble in search of a woman by the name of Serena. The film also makes clear that he has never met anybody in the group. It's Audrey who's been looking him over. When Tom finally meets the woman, Serena, he learns that everybody writes to her and she never keeps any of them. She usually reads the very bad or the very good to her girl friends at the dorm but quickly assures him that his letters were always quite good. In fact her roommate liked them so much that she fell in love with him and kept them. Tom is horrified at this lack of privacy then stunned when he learns that Audrey was the roommate! 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.

Read Best Reviews of Metropolitan (The Criterion Collection) (1990) Here

Back in 1984, Whit Stillman began work on his screenplay for "Metropolitan", a screenplay that would be completed in 1988. At the time, Stillman ran his own illustration agency but in order to get his screenplay created for the big screen, Stillman sold his apartment in New York for $50,000 and whatever money friends and family could contribute to his project.

"Metropolitan" is loosely based on Stillman's experience while attending his first year at Harvard and while living with his divorced mother during the week of Christmas break. The film focuses on a small group of preps who live in Upper East Side Manhattan and attending the debutante balls during their first year of college. The term "Urban Haute Bourgeoisie" was coined from this film and while many people would consider the film about WASP-students, ironically Stillman's grandfather E. Digby Baltzell was responsible for coining the term WASP.

The film featured intellectual dialogue reminiscent of French New Wave director Eric Rohmer and the film would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination back in 1991 for "Best Original Screenplay", a nomination for Grand Jury Prize (Drama) at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival and winning "Best New Director" at the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1990.

"Metropolitan" is a film that revolves around a group of Upper East Side Manhattanites who are preparing for a party at Sally Fowler's. Princeton student Tom Townsend (played by Edward Clements) is trying to catch a cab in which the group (known as the Sally Fowler Rat Pack) is also trying to catch. Because Tom allows them to take the cab, Nick Smith (played by Chris Eigeman) invites Tom to join them for their party.

We are introduced to a group of individuals who love to discuss socio-economics, literary discussions, politics and the life of young adults. Tom who is an intellectual himself meets the rat pack leader Nick (who becomes a good friend of Tom and allows him to be part of their circle); the blonde singer Sally Fowler (played by Dylan Hundley); the often-drunk and always sleeping Fred Neff (played by Bryan Leder); the very opinionated Jane Clark (played by Allison Rutledge); the sexy Cynthia McLean (played by Isabel Gillies); the bespectacled and often-opinionated Charlie Black (played by Taylor Nichols) and the sensitive, literary loving Audrey Rouget (played by Carolyn Farina).

After the party is over, it is revealed that unlike his new friends, Tom doesn't live in the Upper East Side. He and his mother try to live with whatever money they have and despite going to a nice college, he tries to conceal his lack of finances by renting tuxedo's and thus he is seen as a man who is skeptical about upper-class values, but even though his new friend Nick figures him out, Nick doesn't mind because of a "severe escort shortage" and that Tom is good in conversations with him and his friends.

Meanwhile, Audrey has fallen for Tom but Tom has always been in love with Serena Slocum (played by Elizabeth Thompson) who is dating a baron named Rick Von Sloneker (played by Will Kempe) who Nick despises.

The film spotlights on the friendship and relationships of Tom and his group of upper-class friends which Charlie has crafted the new name of "Urban Haute Bourgeoisie".


"Metropolitan THE CRITERION COLLECTION #382' is presented in 1:66:1 color. It's probably one of the few Criterion Collection films that looks its age but considering this was a low budget indie film, I'm not going to be too picky on picture quality. There is a fine layer of grain and I'm guessing noise that can be seen on the print.

According to THE CRITERION COLLECTION, the DVD release is presented in its original Super 16mm. Director Whit Stillman and director of photography John Thomas supervised the new HD transfer, which was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm blow-up interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.


According to THE CRITERION COLLECTION, the soundtrack for "Metropolitan" was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic stems and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle. The film is Dolby Digital 1.0 and thus is center channel-driven. I chose to set my receiver to stereo on all channels for a more immersive soundtrack.

Subtitles are in English.


"Metropolitan THE CRITERION COLLECTION #326" comes with the following special features:

* Audio Commentary Audio commentary by writer/director Whit Stillman, actors Christopher Eigeman and Taylor Nichols and editor Christopher Tellefsen. Informative commentary on how certain scenes were filmed, filmmaking with a budget to reasons why some of the cast was stereotyped and unable to find work after "Metropolitan". A pretty entertaining commentary!

* Outtakes (9:23) Outtakes from "Metropolitan".

* Memorial (1:00) Behind-the-scenes footage of line producer Brian Greenbaum who died in 1992.

* Alternate Casting Featuring two alternate castings that were not used in the film. One titled "Record Producer Allen" starring Lloyd Kaufman (2:27) and the other "Nick Smith" (1:52) featuring Will Kempe (who plays Van Sloneker in the film) playing the character of Nick. An optional commentary is included with Whit Stillman discussing why he changed the cast for those roles.

* Original Theatrical Trailer (2:06) The original theatrical trailer.


"Metropolitan THE CRITERION COLLECTION #326" comes with a quad-fold insert featuring an essay by Luc Sante titled "After the Ball".

"Metropolitan" is a fantastic, entertaining and highly enjoyable film that many people have probably not heard of.

And after they see the trailer or read a little about it, I wouldn't be surprised if people tend to pass on the film because of its unknown actors and that it is a film that focuses on upper-class WASP students. Correction... as the Charlie would say, "Urban Haute Bourgeoisie" (or "UHB") students which are neither a preppie or a WASP but a member of a group that because of its specific status, has nowhere to go but down.

It's a film that showcases intellectual conversation, engrossing dialogue and for those who are able to follow it and understand the humor within the film and its witty dialogue, you will easily find "Metropolitan" quite entertaining.

It's pretty interesting because I tend to bring up a film such as Eric Rohmer's "My Night at Maud's" or his earlier films in which the conversations were intellectual and engrossing but its what made Rohmer's films so intellectually stimulating. They weren't meant for humor, "Metropolitan" is well-crafted for one to follow it and just laugh of the exchanges between the characters.

I absolutely enjoyed how the screenplay is written and the conversations that Stillman includes in this film. For example, here is a conversation between the literary loving Audrey and the intellectual, Fourier admiring character, Tom.

AUDREY: I read that Lionel Trilling essay that you mentioned. You really like Trilling?

TOM: Yes.

AUDREY: I think he's very strange. He says that nobody can like the heroine of "Mansfield Park". I like her. And then he goes on, and on, about how we modern people of today with our modern attitudes bitterly resentments for the park because its heroine is virtuous. What's wrong with a novel having a virtuous heroine?

TOM: His point is that the novels premise there is something immoral in a group of young people putting on a play is pretty absurd.

AUDREY: You found Fanny Price unlikeable?

TOM: She sounds pretty unbearable but I haven't read the book?


TOM: You don't have to read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven't read the bible either.

AUDREY: What Jane Austen novels have you read?

TOM: None. I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelist's ideas as well as the critics thinking. With fiction, I can never forget that none of it ever really happened, that its all just made up by the author.

This is just but one of the few conversations featured in the film.

"Metropolitan" is probably one of those romantic comedies that definitely does its best in showcasing the life of young Manhattan debutantes. And I have read that because Stillman's father was an attorney for President Kennedy (and his parents was divorced), he had the opportunity to see life in both worlds of rich and not rich at all and definitely provided some insight to the (disappearing?) lifestyle of young upperclass students.

I loved the characters of this film. Personally, with the way the film is ostentatiously written, especially how characters (especially Charlie) who has this opprobrium feel to his fellow upperclass friends, he senses doom. In no different of how a conservative views a liberal. I loved the character of Audrey who is the most reminiscent of early Rohmer films with her discussions of literary likes. And as a person who took part in high school book clubs to have these literary discussions, I have found Tom the most interesting of them all. Not just in regards to his comment of not reading novels and following criticism (because even those of us who review films are guilty of reading reviews and essays from Sarris, Kael, Rosenbaum, Agee, etc. of films we may have not seen yet) but it's his take towards the upperclass and not being a fan of the debutante balls but yet hangs out with the UHB's and thus, there is a hypocrisy that begins to be unraveled as he starts to sort out his emotions and the way people around him have started to have an affect on him.

By no means is "Metropolitan" a film that is pedantic nor does it asks its viewer to be an erudite on literary and socio-economic topics. But it does make for an engrossing film for those who know what the characters are talking about and for the most part, this is an independent film that it so well written and for a low budget film that deals with the upperclass, Whit Stillman has done a fantastic job with this film and definitely helped set things up for the writer/director for his next two films "Barcelona" and "The Last Days of Disco". If anything, it has been over a decade since we have seen anything else from Stillman which is a shame because he is fine director and I hope we continue to see more films from the director.

As for the DVD, it may not be a release that has the typical CRITERION COLLECTION style of being loaded with bells and whistles, nor may it be one of their better looking films in the collection but for those who are fans of Stillman's work or a person who is craving for humorous but smart, engrossing dialogue will find "Metropolitan" to be to their liking.

Overall, "Metropolitan" is a film that I very much love but by saying that, I know this film is not for everyone. But still "Metropolitan" is definitely a DVD release still worth recommending!

Want Metropolitan (The Criterion Collection) (1990) Discount?

Whit Stillman's "METROPOLITAN" is the brilliant and clever study of late 80s-early 90s youths in Manhattan, living would-be intelligent and affluent lifestyles as they wax philosphical on every topic which lies at their fingertips (ultimately, they just want sex)...

Chris Eigeman is way more charming and funny than he has any right to be as the smarmy and downright obnoxious fraud who one night, by chance ?, befriends a Conan O'Brien look-alike in a baje-colored overcoat.

It's through this meeting that our hero (the carrot top) meets Audrey, a charming and sadly insecure young lady who finds him intriguing, if he would only reciprocate those feelings. Yes, the heartstrings and nerves of these bright young things are very tangled, indeed.

Stillman, who made his fearsome, forceful writing-directorial debut here, has crafted a bittersweet and wonderfully eloquent take on the yuppie lifestyle and the love lives of a particular circle of friends within that strata of society.

The great news: The Criterion Collection, known for their brilliant and astonishing treatments of great films, have wisely decided to release this film for the first time ever on DVD! On 2/14/06, "Metropolitan" will be available to own with, I'm sure, some great extra features! If we could just get another Stillman commentary (like on the "Barcelona" DVD available from Warner Home Video), then we'd be in business. Anything else is just gravy.

This is a masterpiece of ultra-independent cinema, with a young first time writer-director strutting his stuff and leaving an indelible impression of his viewers. This is where Stillman gets a loyal audience. And it won't just be available in the Netherlands anymore!!!

See also: "Barcelona" (1993) and "The Last Days of Disco" (1998), at least while waiting for Stillman to get off his bum and do another film!!!


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