Last Days of Jane Austen
According to a recent edition of Variety, Whit Stillman has his next project, cited here on this Stillman fan page (thanks, Mark). And it sounds like a doozy. Or a horrible idea.Variety sez:
“Five years after his last movie, ‘The Last Days of Disco,’ American writer-director Whit Stillman is developing a Jane Austen project with Brit producer Stephen Evans. Paris-based Stillman, who first found fame with his Austen-esque comedies of preppy manners ‘Metropolitan’ and ‘Barcelona,’ is adapting two unfinished Austen novels, ‘The Watsons’ and ‘Sanditon,’ into a single script, titled ‘Winchester Races.’
His script merges the character of Emma Watson, a girl returning to her family after a long absence being brought up by her aunt, and that of Charlotte Hayward from ‘Sanditon,’ an attractive country girl taken up by a family of comically optimistic real-estate speculators.”
I’m not sure this is a great idea, trying to combine two at-best rough drafts, but if it’s doable at all, Stillman is the man to do it. The three films he has made so far (METROPOLITAN in 1990; BARCELONA in 1994; and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO in 1998) are Austenian parables of character, in which people get the mates their virtue deserves, in which nobody is beyond redemption but not-messing-up-in-the-first-place is decidedly better. But even DISCO’s tart-tongued Charlotte and Des find each other. Indeed, Austen herself (“Mansfield Park” in particular) is even explicitly brought up in METROPOLITAN, partly to mock Tom for only reading criticism — in order to get both the writer and the critic, he says — but also to give Audrey a chance to recite the Greatest Conservative Line In a 90s Movie: “Wouldn’t we look just as ridiculous to Jane Austen.”
Stillman’s romantic sensibility also matches Austen’s, and both are zeitgeist-buckers. In both a Stillman movie and an Austen novel, and rarely among movie and TV protagonists today, being “a free spirit,” “following your heart” or “being true to your self” are often shown not to be such good ideas. Some things matter more than gratifying your desires, but neither Stillman nor Austen are ever explicitly moralistic, instead seeing the heart as dignified when the head reins it in. Not for them is the authenticity or daring of Lydia and Mr. Wickham, or of Alice and Tom (“Scrooge McDuck is really sexy”). Fanny Price in “Mansfield Park” does explicitly reject a marriage based on property alone, but does not run off with just anyone. As a result, she marries both reasonably well and reasonably happily. When Tom returns after learning of Alice having gotten VD from their one-night stand, the look on *her* face and *her* body language at his withering “is there no limit?” says everything about Alice’s shame, though Stillman doesn’t linger on it.
Stillman’s films are generally very strongly liked by the conservatives who know of them. I have watched LAST DAYS OF DISCO about six or seven times in the past few years, often with conservative friends who don’t watch very many movies, convinced Hollywoof is a den of pagan sin (which it often is, but there are exceptions, and part of why this site exists is to point them out). In those several viewings, the film has grown in my mind and I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that DISCO the most subtly conservative great film of recent years and the best film by Stillman, who was formerly on the masthead of The American Spectator. As James Bowman points out in the best review of the film I’ve read, DISCO (like Stillman’s other movies) is about the wreckage of the 60s sexual revolution without ever having that matter be the surface subject matter or ever descending into a reverse-PLEASANTVILLE polemic. And Stillman’s films are conservative in the sense that they’re about the next generation’s having to deal with the end of the rules of the game, the lack of expectations and romantic rites (presented as a godsend at the beginning by the amoral Charlotte). Like the great French director Eric Rohmer, Stillman’s films have secular and apolitical surfaces covering conservative and religious bones. None of the characters in DISCO “find God” exactly (that would be false to Stillman’s style and unconservative to boot), but there are subtle religious undertones and glancing references that point the right path to those who can see it.
I love Stillman’s films so much [in order: DISCO, METROPOLITAN, and BARCELONA — though all three are in my Top 10s for their respective years] that I have been disappointed by … ahem … his recent inactivity. But if this is the right project, the one that he’s waiting to get his hands on, I guess it’s all for the best. True love waits and all that.