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Whit Stillman, film director

Updated on April 25, 2012

Whit Stillman

Whit Stillman is an American writer and film director known primarily for his understated comedies of social manners. He has written and directed four films over the course of slightly over twenty years: Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998), and Damsels in Distress (2012). While none of his films has achieved widespread commercial success, each has received significant critical success, and Stillman is well regarded by critics both domestic and foreign. Two of his films, Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, have been given Criterion Collection releases. His original screenplay for Metropolitan earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Stillman was born on January 25, 1952 in Washington, DC and was raised in Cornwall, New York. He attended Harvard University, graduated in 1973, and afterwards moved to New York City to work as a journalist. Stillman became involved in film after pitching several ideas to Madrid-based film and television producers, with whom he worked on several projects before beginning work on his own projects.

In the April 2012 issue of Town & Country, author Hudson Morgan notes that Stillman’s parent’s were “richer in name than fortune,” and remarks upon the effect this had on Stillman’s persona. This theme is dominant in Stillman’s debut work, Metropolitan, which examines the lives of a group of self-described “urban haute bourgeoisie.”

Stillman’s godfather, E. Digy Baltzell, is credited for introducing the term “WASP” into the popular lexicon via an abbreviation of the term “white anglo-saxon Protestant” in his 1964 text, “Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America.” Fittingly, notions of aristocracy and caste permeate much of Stillman’s work, as do the social mores and values of distinct decades.

In addition to examining the social and emotional lives of characters, each of Stillman’s films convey a sense of impending finality. The characters of Metropolitan bemoan both the end of gala debutante season as well as the end of “old money” influence, Barcelona’s title card places the film as occurring during the final years of the Cold War, and the Last Days of Disco illustrates, clearly, the final days of the 1970’s.

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