22 February 2011

Have You Seen...? #3 (The Last Days of Disco)

If you haven't already, see Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco for the beautiful title alone. The rocking tonic of it puts you at ease straight away. And Stillman is never less than at ease (be sure you see Metropolitan too), somewhere in between the delirious romantic comedies of the 30's and self-contained worlds of Wes Anderson.

I'm a pretty even mix of prudish and voyeuristic impulses so The Last Days of Disco gives me an ideal heroine: Alice (Chloe Sevigny). With her new best friend she embarks on a life as a slush pile reader for a stodgy publishing company, unhappy shotgun apartment resident and devotee of a Studio 54 stand-in referred to only as The Club. In the course of the film Alice becomes increasingly disillusioned but never less than demure. You'll be beguiled by Ms. Sevigny's beauty and try hard to push from your mind the overwhelming image (from Brown Bunny) of Vincent Gallo's semen trickling out the sides of her mouth.

The great regret of the film is that Alice's catty friend Charlotte is played by Kate Beckinsale and not Parker Posey. I picture her in filtered images like the one above, where you can squint and imagine the star of The House of Yes. For advanced viewers, familiar enough with the cadence of her voice that hearing it is second nature, turn down the volume and imagine that Ms. Posey is delivering Charlotte's hard-edged words under those dark forelocks (e.g. "Anything I did that was wrong, I apologize for. But anything I did that was not wrong, I don't apologize for.").

All of Alice and Charlotte's potential mates are cads, but the most extreme is Des, (Chris Eigeman, not seen nearly enough), the consistent Oscar Wilde figure in Stillman's work. All his lines feel clever and offhand, such as, "I'm going to turn over a new leaf in Spain. I'm going to turn over several new leaves," but Des is always sucked back into his nebulous job at the Club. There he runs into various exes, who are upset when they learn that he's not gay after all (Des' game is to break up with women by claiming he's just realized his homosexuality).

I appreciate Stillman most for employing heightened, well-enunciated dialogue that is disarming, perhaps not strictly believable, but actual good writing. As opposed to the mumbling "authenticity" of a certain genre of indie cinema at present, the forces that have conspired to present us Greta Gerwig as a star.

I firmly believe that The Lady and the Tramp debate scene, a close cousin to the Smurfs sequence in Donnie Darko, should be canonized. Des' somewhat less caddish lawyer pal Josh (Matt Keeslar) holds forth on the hidden meanings of the animated canines. A taste:

There is something depressing about it, and it's not really about dogs. Except for some superficial bow-wow stuff at the start, the dogs all represent human types, which is where it gets into real trouble. Lady, the ostensible protagonist, is a fluffy blond Cocker Spaniel with absolutely nothing on her brain. She's great-looking, but--let's be honest--incredibly insipid. Tramp, the love interest, is a smarmy braggart of the most obnoxious kind--an oily jailbird out for a piece of tail, or... whatever he can get.

Precisely! I knew there was a reason I never liked that Disney offering.

I figured I hadn't seen a Whit Stillman film since The Last Days of Disco because of my general ignorance but it turns out I haven't seen a new Stillman film because he hasn't made one in 13 years. IMDb says he's filming a certain Damsels in Distress right now but, unconscionably, without Chris Eigeman.

Still, The Last Days of Disco lingers with the recursivity of the dance floor--Alice's everlasting shyness, looking away as her arms go up. The camera stays in a long shot, showing the community of dancers, not just the stars. And, as proven by countless wedding parties, the sweetly schizophrenic Josh is right: disco is forever.

1 comment:

tediousandbrief said...

I just found your blog through this post, but this and his prior film, Barcelona, are two of my favorite films.

You know there's a book based on The Last Days of Disco? It's written by Stillman but also by one of the minor characters in the film*. It's worth a read if you liked the film.

* It was the man who was in advertising at the beginning of the film. The character's name escapes me at the moment.