Saturday, October 29, 2005

Why did you use the past perfect then?

If only people really spoke that way. In the process of working through old videos, I am watching "The Last Days of Disco", the last of the three films made by Whit Stillman, documenting a particular set of privileged and fairly wealthy young people, as they attend school ("Metropolitan"), begin careers ("Barcelona") , and experience the disco era as they struggle in early careers ("The Last Days of Disco"). A friend of mine who was a student at Princeton tells me the first film got the people exactly, and a trade representative who spent a lot of time in Barcelona claims that "Barcelona" got that environment perfectly, and anyone who has spent time in Europe will recognize how uncannily he captures the endemic anti-Americanism.
The films are all deeply about friendships and the stresses on it. He often reminds me of Jane Austen with his delicate humour. And even pays some tribute in a slanted way in "The Last Days of Disco" with this delightful exchange between two female characters: "I'm beginning to think that maybe that old system of people getting married based on mutual respect and shared aspirations and then slowly over time earning each other's love and admiration, worked the best." "Well, we'll never know." That last throwaway line encapsulates the fim beautifully.
Stillman finds just the right actors; his writing is so tight and erudite that one needs someone very special to deliver the lines and make them seem credible - Chris Eigeman seems so at home delivering lines of staggering pomposity, but apparently naturally, in all three films, and Taylor Nichols dominates "Barcelona" with his delightfully naive and thoroughly convincing belief in self-improvement. He featured Mira Sorvino, Chloe Sevigny, and Kate Beckinsale before they were Mira Sorvino, Chloe Sevigny, and Kate Beckinsale.
There are moments of loony brilliance in each of the films - a discussion of black ants versus red ants in "Barcelona", for example, and a dissection of the movie "Lady and the Tramp" in "Last Days of Disco". "Isn't the whole point that Tramp changes? OK maybe in the past he stole chickens, ran around without a licence, and wasn't always sincere with members of the opposite sex, but through his love for Lady. and the benificent influences of fatherhood and matrimony, he changes and becomes a valued member of that ...rather ... idyllic household." (And as amusing as this is, it is precisely relevant to the plot and characters at that point.)
But the language - it is such a pleasure to listen to. Where does my subject line come from? An exchange between the money-laundering crook owner of a disco and the manager of the disco, the latter admitting that "a sort of acquaintance of mine ... approached me ... just now ..." ..."Why did you use the past perfect then?" "I used the past perfect?" "Yeah - 'I was approached' - sounds like a while ago". (And even more mischievous, he had not said 'I was approached'.)
We don't speak like that. But in each film one can spend a couple of hours in that dreamworld where we all do speak that way.

The sad news is - I don't know how to tell you to easily go off and see these films! I note that a DVD of "Last Days of Disco" now costs over 90 Canadian dollars at from a supplier of used DVDs!

My goal with this post is to drive demand up sufficiently that some company might put out the whole trilogy on DVD and I won't have to mortgage my house to enjoy these films in the future!


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