An American abroad
Writer-director Whit Stillman tells Gill Roth about Barcelona. the follow-up to Metropolitan.
In I990, Whit Stillman‘s debttt. A’Ietropo/rtan —‘ a satirical arthouse hit about a btrnch of young posh people having sophisticated conversations in swanky Manhattan apartments » was acclaimed for being well written and ftrnny. btrt criticised for being too kind to its characters. Stillman‘s‘ second feature. Barcelona ruay be set in Spain. btrt it‘s still very much an .-\merican film. ‘1 think it has more of an atmosphere of the place than a typical US movie shot iii a foreign location.’ he says. 'l kept the postcard views very rntrch in the background. I didn't want the Sagt‘ada laimilliar in every shot.‘
Set during the last decade of the (‘old War. Ir’arr'elona follow s the romantic and political rnisadvcnttrr - ol‘two American cousins in post—Franco Spain. Discos are still in; .\';\'l’() and Americans are otrt. ’l‘ed lioynton is living in Barcelona. representing a Chicago company. \y hen his obnoxious Navy cousin lir‘ed arrives. disrupting Ted's living arrangements btrt drastically improving his social life. They become involved w ith a group of beautiful. bi—lingual trade-lair girls in the midst of a series of anti—Reagan terrorist incidents.
'l’m very conscious of thc way liuropcans talk about .‘yrrrericansf uotcs Stillman. 'but the pcople lro go to these kind of films in the States are also \er‘y self—critical llrcy wouldn't admit to having no sense of irony. but they‘re \ct'_\ disparaging of l 'S foreign policy and the national characteristics manifested in shopping malls arid fast food chains.’ Stillman‘s trademark is his r'a.«'or'—shar'p dialogue and \y it irt observing the lt‘l\ ial rlctails ol life. and Barri load is funniest \ylrcu taking the l‘iss out ol' the Yanks. led and lied are totally tin cool compared to their hip Spanish counterparts, l‘rctl littlc‘sjtl/l and swaggcrs around the city in his \ayy trrrilor'rrr. liiic 'lcrl reads the lliblc under a copy or llrr [fronornrst and talks about rrrar'kctiug at parties.
.-\lll1rrtl§_'lt Him «low is csscntially about led and l-tcd‘s reactions and c\j\‘r‘icuccs. it's r'clr'cshing to sec the v. omen character's bchay ing in a hedonistic mannct' usually the preserve of male moy tc pr'ot;r;.‘orrists. While the boy \ \‘.;t.\lt‘ timc g'cttiugt all neurotic about their relationships. the women indulge in ('lass ,'\ drugs and sleep
/, . :2.
Barcelona: ‘wit in observing the trivial details of life'
around. ‘tlnlike real life. the women in Barcelona don‘t rationalise and theorise as much as the men.‘ says Stillman. ‘lt‘s great when a woman is responsibly Machiavellian. Not to be bad. btrt to tnake strrc things go her way.‘
Stillman finds it an advantage to fall back on memories of his own immediate past for the material used in his semi-naturalistic comedies. His wife is from the city. and he‘s lived there as an outsider since I980; Ted and l-‘red‘s story has an authenticity and credibility that is personally rooted. Most of the laughs originate in anecdotes and information from friends. They‘re also informed by simplistic ideas and prejudices about foreign cultures. ‘The Spanish know that Americans like hamburgers. it‘s the national food. They think hamburgers arc crap. therefore Americans must be idiots. it‘s a natural assumption.‘
With an abundance of references to films and cltrbs barking back to the 70s, the soundtrack to Barcelona may seem like one slice of disco fever too many. But Stillman‘s films are not action- packcd. they're dialogue-based. and the
music in Barcelona acts as an uplifting break between conversations. ‘To some extent in Barcelona. disco never died. The two big discos we use in the film opened in I982 and are still going strong today. so they were perfect for re-creating that era. I wanted to make the time setting kind of vague. it could be early 80s. When Ted says. “We both loved the disco music of the late 70s." I intended to show it's already passe.’
Stillman is rare in having a respect for literacy and the written word. bill does that mean he'll always be an independent filmmaker with a relatively low budget? ‘Yeah. I think I'm always going to make independent films because the most important thing to me is the original story and getting that on the screen. Now that I've made two films. I can‘t see the point of hiring myself out to direct someone clse's script. It could be interesting but deﬁnitely less gratifying.‘
At 42 Stillman is a relatively old newcomer to filmmaking. btrt he's eager to make up for lost time. With two films in the bag. he is now writing his third. The Last Days (l/‘l)i.s'('(). ‘()n one level. I‘m completely happy with Metropolitan and Barcelona. but it‘s like I've had this nice turkey dinner and now I want roast beef.‘ The Last Days ()fDisr'o is set as the 70s become the 80s. and falls chronologically between his first two movies. ‘I want more unity oftime and place.‘ he stresses. ‘Barcelona relates to every aspect of the guys’ lives. childhood. past girlfriends. I'd like Last Days to take place over a weekend with a group of people and be very intense. I just had this idea of packaging it as Whit Stillman's bourgeois trilogy. It‘s kinda clever. then I've captured the art film crowd.‘
Barcelona opens at the Cameo ('r'nema. Edinburgh. on Friday 3 I’eln'uary.
Written inure stars
From Fiddler On The Roof to Rollerball, from The Oincinatti Kid to Agnes Of God, from The Thomas Crown Affair to Moonstruck — few filmmakers in modern-day Hollywood can boast the sheer diversity of Norman Jewison’s 33-year career. Born in Toronto in 1921, the majority of his work may have a populist sheen, but the films have attracted nine Academy Awards and 30 Oscar nominations in the process. A sprightly septuagenarian in conversation, he has now turned his hand to romantic comedy, namely Oiane Orake’s original screenplay Only You, acting as director and producer. ‘That goes back to Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and William Wyler telling me years and years ago, ‘Listen, kid, if I was you, I’d get yourself in there as a producer. Then they can’t change the colours of the painting.” I went through three or four years at Universal at the beginning of my
Searching for the man of her destiny: Marisa Tomei in Only You
career where producers would take away your name on the parking lot the day after you finished shooting. You lrad to fight for control and, after you do that for a few years, you realise that the best thing you can do is get a good agent and a good lawyer, and put that control in writing.’ Although he reckons that, after doing Fiddler On The Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar back in the early 703 that
‘my metier, if I had one at all, lies in the field of music’, he was happy to mould Only You into ‘a fairytale for the 905’. The film follows kooky Marisa Tomei as she searches beautiful Italian landscapes for the man of her destiny, whose name was spelt out to her on a ouija board. If love is written in the stars, then Robert Oowney Jr
wants to be the heavenly body at her side. The question then arises as to
whether Jewison credits his own successes to good planning or to some sense of fate.
‘In life and in films and in politics and in marriage, everything is timing,’ he asserts. ‘I’ll never forget something Bobby Kennedy said to me when I was just about to make a film called In The Heat Of The flight. I’d met him skiing, actually, and ended up working on his campaign up until the evening he was assassinated. I told him, “This script, I’m worried about it, I don’t know if the country’s going to be ready for this film.” I told him the story [about black city cop Sidney Poitier joining racist Southern sheriff Rod Steiger to solve a murder case] and he said, “It’s very important, Norman; the timing is right for this film.” Then he sent me some books and some research on young black kids in the South at that time - way back in 66. When the film was finished, and it happened to win the New York Critics Award, Senator Kennedy was presenting the award. When I went up, he said, “I told you the timing was right.” So I really , believe everything is timing, and if ' that is fate . . . well, we don’t have too ; much to do with that.’ (Alan Morrison) l Only You opens on Friday 27 January. See next page for review.
The List 27 Jan—9 Feb I995 19