Archive for the ‘inside the film society’ category

Muse of the “Metropolitan:” A (Short) Conversation with Whit Stillman

August 28, 2009

last days of disco

It wasn’t hard to track down Whit Stillman. Though it was hard to get a word in.

Before the screening of Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, I hoped to find the director, introduce myself and ask for a couple minutes after the screening for a “brief” interview.

But finding the chronicler of the so-called “urban haute-bougeoise” (his term), proved fairly easy: all I had to do was look for the man in the impeccable suit.

“Mr. Stillman,” I asked. “If I could grab a moment of your time, I’m Nicholas, I’m  a reporter for the filmlinc blog–”

“Ah, great.” He told me graciously. “So nice to meet you, Nicholas. This is Tara, she’s in the film.”

A blond woman curtsied. I shook her hand too.

“Ah yes, very nice to meet you, but Mr. Stillman–”

“And this is Mark, the composer.” Mr. Stillman put his hand on the shoulder of a shy gentleman who gave a wave.

I tried to interrupt again.

“And this is…”

And so it went.

This social etiquette is not just a function of Mr. Stillman’s personality, but also eminently of his films. In his Academy Award-nominated film Metropolitan and in the later Last Days of Disco (recently released on Criterion), Mr. Stillman produces portraits of sheltered WASP-y New Yorkers in their mid-twenties growing up on the Upper East Side (Indeed, in Metropolitan, the banishment of one of the characters to Manhattan’s Upper West Side is a source of great shame in the film). These characters, sometimes characterized as “debutantes”, sometimes as “yuppies,” all show impeccable good manners even when savaging each other verbally, as they often do throughout the films. Mr. Stillman’s style is extremely distinct, his films are truly unmistakable, and his characters qualities have more often been compared to the protagonists of Jane Austen novels than other filmic protagonists. His style incorporates both humor and compassion for the hapless/helpless Manhattan socialites he portrays.

And as I waited to speak to him, introduced to his filming companions, I realized that this was more of his style: that he introduces the characters and then let’s them speak for themselves.

When I got to him after a long line of adoring fans had approached for DVD signing, I managed to sneak in a few questions.

“You were popular in there,” I told him, as I snuck him out to the Walter Reade balcony.

“I wish I were that way in Hollywood,” he said modestly, drink in hand.

“I’ve heard you compared to Woody Allen, in terms of your style and intimacy with your well-to-do characters,” I informed him. “But then again, sir, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Jew in any of your movies.”

“Guilty as charged,” he replied. “I love Woody Allen and he’s certainly an influence. But he’s like a savant and I’m like a dyslexic; he keeps up the pace constantly creating, a movie a year, while I seem to come out with them on occasion. But Allen often seems to break reality in his films and I try to stay there”

He continued: “I’ve been accused of naturalism,” he said, as if naturalism were a crime. “But, I’d like to think that people who are “naturalistic” are often on the wrong side of things. When I was making one of my films, we had to have a scene through a car windshield and my director of photography asked me if I wanted to fake the glare that might be in the windshield to make it seem more ‘natural’. I told him no, I didn’t care about that, I wanted to see the actor’s faces. I feel that the stronger part of reality is the emotional truth of how we connect to people, to characters. The expressions on the actor’s faces, that’s reality to me, much more important than a glare on a car windshield.”

“But what about fiction, sir?” I asked. “You got your start there, much like some of the characters in The Last Days of Disco. What’s the difference between a story told in fiction and one in film?”

“Well I got to meet Tom Wolfe,” He said. “And he told me what he thought the difference was. That in fiction you cant talk about someone’s shoes. You can talk about someone’s mannerisms, while if you did that in a film, there’s no room for it, if you lingered on a pair of shoes, people would think you were weird.”

At this point, I was interrupted by more of Mr. Stillman’s guests who came to greet him and say good night, as I realized that he is very much a part of the social community still that he writes about, shoots about, and gently mocks.

“Before you’re swept away,” I asked. “Any advice for the writers and filmmakers of today?”

“Don’t watch too many movies.” He said. “After all, there’s life out there to live.”

At which he was taken away back into the crowd.

-Nicholas Feitel


Photos from Young Friends of Film Presents: It Might Get Loud

August 3, 2009
Director Davis Guggenheim with Film Comment Senior Editor Chris Chang

Elisabeth Shue with director Davis Guggenheim
Elisabeth Shue with director Davis Guggenheim

All photos by Godlis

Our most recent Young Friends of Film event–It Might Get Loud–was a smash success, with a packed house, director Q&A and afterparty. Don’t miss out next time! Join YFF now and you’ll be on the A-list for a year’s worth of events designed especially for younger film-lovers.

Thanks again to our friends at KEXP for taking part in the event. New Yorkers, you don’t have to stop rocking–tune into 91.5 FM for great music, local events and much more from KEXP Radio New York.

The Bard Goes Global at the Walter Reade Theater with a Summer of Shakespeare

July 13, 2009


Dig out that Complete Works of William Shakespeare anthology you have buried in your bookshelf and brush up on your “Romeo and Juliet,” because from July 15-26 the Walter Reade Theater will be playing eighteen film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays — ranging from the tragedies (“Macbeth,” “King Lear”) to the comedies (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Merchant of Venice”), histories (“King Richard III,” “Henry V”), and beyond — as part of the Bard Goes Global series.

While the excellent and expected such as Laurence Olivier and Franco Zeffirelli make appearances, the series offers a wide-ranging international palette through which to re-experience once familiar works, including films from India (Maqbool), New Zealand (The Maori Merchant of Venice), Russia (King Lear), Finland (Hamlet Goes Business), and Japan (The Throne of Blood). At the same time, a sampling of British and American directors make their presence in the series with a handful of English-language classic and revisionist works: Charlton Heston’s Antony and Cleopatra; Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard; Orson Welles’s Macbeth; Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet – and others. The varying cultural lenses allow new light to be shed onto Shakespeare’s plays, keeping the canonical works fresh and relevant.

Questions of how to transcend the stage-oriented material to suit the filmic world or when to show an image in place of one of Shakespeare’s perfectly-crafted lines are at the center of these films, exploring the boundaries set between great literature and great cinema in the attempt at arriving at a symbiotic whole. Moreover, specific issues relating to Shakespeare’s language and history present unique challenges which these international directors tackle in order to adapt the deeply-rooted Englishness of the Bard’s works without sacrificing their own national identity and history: consider Akira Kurosawa’s samurai interpretation of “Macbeth” in Throne of Blood or Don Selwyn’s Maori twist on “The Merchant of Venice” in The Maori Merchant of Venice. Without a doubt, the Bard is alive and well.

The summer Shakespeare slot starts this Wednesday, June 15th when the series kicks off with Laurence Olivier’s ageless Henry V.

-Kazu Watanabe

A month of duels: Soderbergh vs. Tarkovsky

July 8, 2009

In the spirit of some of the greatest duels in the history of drama (we’re thinking Shakespeare here, of course), we present to you a month of duels: we put forth two contenders, you decide the winner.

First, the original Russian trailer for Tarkovsky‘s Solaris:

Second, the 2002 George Clooney-starring Solaris remake by Steven Soderbergh.

Who’s the winner? Remember you can see the Tarkovsky original here on Thursday and Friday.

Stay tuned for more duels in the coming weeks!

BREAKING! The Film Society enters the third dimension!

June 4, 2009

IMG_3447This may be old news to all of you Coraline fans, but it was a big day for those of us who inhabit the Walter Reade Theater and its environs. Yesterday afternoon, the kind folks at Dolby stopped by with a demo of their current 3-D projection technology. A few of the staffers were treated to show in which little animated flies hopped aboard the Apollo 11 space mission and U2 romps through a pyrotechnic concert setting. Bono actually touched me…well, in the completely synthetic, slightly trippy 3-D sense.

According to Dolby reps Tom Kodros and Paul Capuano, “Hollywood is hot for 3-D.” Which may be all well and good, but what does the technology mean for the types of specialty films that the Film Society is famous for? Probably nothing for quite a while, but it was interesting to see 3-D applications that go beyond the gimmicks that the technology has normally been associated with. What’s most exciting about 3-D is certainly its potential as an exhibition tool–to make the film-going experience more dramatic and dimensional, even if we’re not talk about about flying saucers bursting from the screen. And 3-D exhibition may not be so far off in the Walter Reade. According to the guys from Dolby, our digital projectors are already set up to run 3-D: all that’s required is an additional add-on kit.

Everything you wanted to know about the Lincoln Center renovation (but were afraid to ask)

May 20, 2009

Picture 48

If your journeys have taken you anywhere near the campus during the past few months, you can’t miss it: Lincoln Center, it is a changin’. The 60’sish white marble facade is getting a facelift courtesy of starchitects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Alice Tully Hall is brand new. But that’s not all. There’s still a ton planned. And I’ll be totally honest, even though I come to work here every day, sometimes I’m not totally sure of what those big cranes and scaffolding are about. But as the wrapping comes off, and Lincoln Center’s 50 Anniversary in full swing, I thought I’d bring you the scoop on what’s happening around the campus.

Frequently asked questions about the transformation of Lincoln Center:

What are the basic facts I need to know?

Glad you asked. There are lots of trucks and construction going on around 65th, and our usual escalators were closed a few weeks ago. Now to reach the Walter Reade Theater, what you need to do is use a spiffy new stairway that you’ll find half-way down the block on the north side of the street. For more on how the construction may affect your visit to our theater, please visit our site.

How do I find out what’s going on with the whole 50th celebration?

From amazing free performances to where to find the mobile StoryCorps booth, check out Lincoln Center’s site for all the events around the city.

What can I look forward to?

Basically, a totally awesome giant lawn and plaza on 65th Street (see below). New theaters for the Film Society.


The great winged lawn of 65th Street

Wait a second. New theaters–is the Film Society becoming a multiplex?

Yes! We’ll be a multiplex in 2011. Before you spit out your Milk Duds, don’t worry; we’ll still keep our indie cred. You’ll just have multiple screens on which to enjoy our programming. That means even more of the good stuff.

Why is Lincoln Center called Lincoln Center?

Amazingly enough, no one is really sure. Also an interesting tidbit: Lincoln Center employs a corporate archivist.

What else?

Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times has a rather interesting and lengthy article about the renovation. Bottom line: bringing together several different artistic companies and endeavors is an ambitious and some may even say idealistic project. But all of us here at the Film Society are really excited about what the future holds.

Yesterday’s Loner, Today’s Honoree: Talking Steve McQueen with the Film Society’s Josh Strauss

May 18, 2009


“That’s Ironweed,” Josh Strauss told me.

I admitted I’d never seen it.

“Meryl Streep’s best performance. Jack Nicholson at the top of his game. But impossible to find. Impossible.”

He should know. Strauss, programming associate for Film Society of Lincoln Center, had had a long history trying to find prints, trying to keep them vibrant and in tip-top shape. It’s what he did before he came here for independent distributors in New York and L.A.

“That and acting,” he said. “For about five minutes.”

Mr. Strauss had made a career of loving movies, remembering them in 35 and trying to find the best way they could be shown in a theater.

“Lincoln Center is full of intellectuals,” Mr. Strauss told me. “People doing brilliant work on the aesthetics of film, doing retrospectives on that.” He gave me at least a little bit of a smile. “I can’t offer that. What I can offer are the movies I loved to see when I was a kid.”

Those movies take the form of the series Yesterday’s Loner: Steve McQueen, a retrospective of the actor’s work on films as diverse as Enemy of the People, where he plays a small town doctor fighting to keep pollutants from a river, to The Magnificent Seven, where he embodied a sort of American samurai.

And though McQueen certain has a range, he was known best as a sort of action hero, a cowboy-badass of the type that would later make Clint Eastwood a legend.


“I did a retrospective of Charlton Heston and, well, I’d put him in the same category,” Mr. Strauss said.

His office was lined with the posters of the retrospectives he’d done and the movies he loved, including the one I had been staring at, Ironweed.

“I’m old enough to remember seeing him, seeing Steve McQueen on film.” Strauss recalled. “He was an authority to me in Saturday Afternoon matinees; a power.”

The Steve McQueen series, screening May 20th-26th at the Walter Reade theater, is lined with guest appearances by prominent McQueen collaborators, people like Candice Bergen and Robert Vaughn. “You know, Norman Jewison said The Cincinatti Kid was the first movie that he ever felt like a filmmaker,” Strauss reported. “Now 44 years later, he’ll be back to say that again, introducing the film.”

“Finding prints for movies,” Josh told me, “you just try to show things while they’re there, while they’re good. These prints of Steve McQueen’s films are still good. And people haven’t forgotten him, they just haven’t seen the movies.”

And talking, looking at the man, his posters, his enthusiasm: I felt excited for the chance now.

-Nicholas Feitel

Yesterday’s Loner: Steve McQueen runs from May 20-26 at the Walter Reade Theater. Tickets are on sale now online.