MarcDavidMiller

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Continuing my “practice Xmas” (Russian Orthodox Xmas is January 7) traditions by watching “Metropolitan,” a film by Whit Stillman released in 1990 which chronicles “doomed bourgeoisie in love.” Stillman and I both went to Millbrook School, a boarding school north of New York City; he was Class of 1969, and I was in the Class of 1981.

To a casual observer “Metropolitan” is at best archaic, at worst absurd and pretentious—18-20 year olds in both black tie and white tie, formal dresses, gowns, pearls, cuff links, detachable collars, jacket and tie for casual get togethers. Casual conversations contain deliberate annunciation and complete sentences with no obscenities except for debate about “class prerogatives” and only insular slang.

An outsider enters a small circle of friends: West Side vs. East Side, bus vs.taxi and the great social demarcation: raincoat vs. overcoat! Initially Tom is the outsider, the different one with ‘limited resources’ in comparison to his new acquaintances (although he, too, attended a prestigious boarding school and has enough resources to go to debutant balls and buy formal wear). The subtle brilliance of the movie is that, gradually, we see each of the young men as outsiders in their unique ways, that no one is completely at ease (especially when interacting with a titled aristocrat!

Despite constant bickering amongst themselves and seeing everything as an existential crises, they all understand the fleeting nature of their problems: “You know, it’s possible that to other people the situation may not seem so ominous as it does to you and me.” No tantrums, no table flipping (although Tom does appear to pull a gun out in the tensest moment).

I’ve found that when discussing this film for the last 30 years, people who went away to high school-whether in New York or Washington state or Argentina or Switzerland or Australia or India-see the common experience of becoming independent at age 14, yet still cocooned, as opposed to gradually building independence through high school and going away to university. Spending little time with their own parents and often feeling closer to other families, having friends over when parents are away, free run of the liquor cabinet, and the tragedy of seeing your mother dating because of divorce or widowhood all contribute to a self-created yet casual family whom you feel closer to than your own.

The film seems to be set in the late 1960s, which coincides with Stillman’s own history. However since it was filmed in the late 1980s, there are many icons and relics of a New York from a previous generation. It shows so many places that I associate with my youth and early adulthood: the formalwear comes from AT Harris (I rented a morning suit for my wedding from them!), drinks at JG Melon, coffee not at Starbucks but at the Automat, The Plaza, The St. Regis, the Waldorf-Astoria, lots of Park Avenue apartments, a tour of Manhattan car rental agencies, saddlery store MJ Knoud, looking for a fancy restaurant in the back page listings of New York magazine, and Checker Cabs.

Thirty years since its premier and since my first viewing, “Metropolitan” remains a snapshot of an earlier time for me personally, and now that I have relocated to Washington DC a mental stroll in my home of almost five decades.

Fun Millbrook trivia: For the 1990 Academy Awards, Whit Stillman was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for “Metropolitan”, while Nick Kazan (Millbrook Class of 1963 and son of Elia Kazan) was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Reversal of Fortune” (about Claus von Bulow). TWO Oscar nominations in the same year for Millbrook!!

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/l...8246/metropolitan-whit-stillman-oral-history/
 
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