When I still lived with my parents, I had a corkboard in my room, upon which I used to pin ephemera and articles of interest. I don’t recall who wrote it but there was an article from the Independent on Sunday discussing the (then) New Wave of American Indie Film Directors, specifically Hal Hartley, Richard Linklater and Whit Stillman. I loved all three of these directors and was gradually accumulating a sizeable colletion of their respective back catalogues.
Many years later, and that should be much easier with Stillman than it is for the others. After all, he’s only made three films. But their DVD availability is patchy, and although my VHS of Metropolitan was one of the last videos I held on to, I haven’t had a VCR for over ten years, so it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of his films.
However, fourteen years since ‘The Last Days of Disco’, he’s finally made another one, ‘Damsels in Distress’, and I took Mrs M to our local arthouse cinema last week to enjoy. I’d forgotten how unique his dialogue is, and it was the first thing that jumped out at me about the film. For the first five minutes, everybody is talking with such precise mannered vocabulary that it seems strange. But everybody does it, and once you accept that this is just the way people talk in a Stillman film, the dialogue becomes delightful. The man difference between this film and the earlier films is the comedy element. Sure, ‘Metropolitan’ had moments, but it came from the characters and their interplay. In this film, it’s as much about the situations. As the trailer says, the ‘Damsels’ think that they can deal with suicide using the medium of tap-dance.
Mrs M says it is very much my type of movie, and one of the things she observed afterwards is that I do like movies with a lot of talking. Bringing me back full circle, I am reminded that the article on my board mentioned that this was a distinguishing feature of low-budget indie films. Talk, apparently, is cheap.
I loved it, by the way. I thought the dialogue sparkled and the performances were uniformly excellent, and although the story may have been a bit slight, that’s not what the film is about. As an entertainment, it succeeds triumphantly.