Metropolitan - Prep Classic

Whit Stillman's Metropolitan - Stillman Better than Mamet

A friend recommended watching the film version of David Mamet's American Buffalo recently. 'You like dialogue-driven films, Tweedy', he said, 'You're going to love this one.' It didn't go down overly well at Tweed Towers, I have to say. The dialogue had a sort of writerly portentousness and opacity to it that failed to charm. Fairly put me off my plate of Viennese Whirls.

By contrast, we'd be happy to have the films of Whit Stillman constantly looping all day at the Towers. We never tire of them. They support repeated watches because of the wit of the dialogue, which lets the humanity of the characters and the sentiment conveyed in the story unfold gently. Whit's films are very tea and cake-friendly.

Metropolitan - Urban Retreat

Metropolitan is 'prep auteur' Whit Stillman's 1990 directorial debut. The story concerns a group of wealthy Park Avenue teens in the 80s who draw a poor outsider, the 'committed socialist' and 'public transportation snob' Tom Townsend, played by Edward Clements, into their Yuletide cycle of soirées and debutante parties. Townsend's a sort of Fanny Price character from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

We listen in on the conversations of this circle of 'urban haute bourgeois' friends as they fixate on the seemingly inevitable 'downward social mobility' that awaits them, delivering lines with equal measures of ironic detachment and deadpan earnestness.

My favourite character has to be the cynical and pompous Nick Smith, played wonderfully by Christopher Eigeman. He is acutely aware of the charade they're acting out and wonders whether the 'more fortunate are really that terrific'. Nonetheless, he is resolute in his determination to preserve the façade.

Knowing the voices of the characters and listening only to the audio of the film, as if it were a radio play, it still delights. A test of a good dialogue-driven narrative.

Metropolitan Attire - Brooks Brothers and A. T. Harris

Early on in the film Tom hires and later buys a second-hand tuxedo from A. T. Harris, the now defunct New York formalwear shop.

Nick, buttonholing Tom on appropriate attire, approves of Harris but also insists that they meet to shop at Brooks Brothers. Knowing the interior of the New York shop intimately, he suggests they meet on the 'main floor, south west corner where the pyjamas intersect with the expensive shirts right across from the undershorts counter'.

Nick is a stickler for correctness in matters of dress. As he says, 'So many things that were better in the past have been abandoned for so-called convenience.' On his removable shirt collar, he insists they look better and says, 'It's a small thing but symbolically important.'

In some ways you could say that about such a timeless classic of a film being made on a tiny budget.

If you haven't seen this film, I envy your first viewing.


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