Kids: Skating the Edge

Skating the Edge

Given that the element of surprise has been preempted by six months of advance word of mouth, critical controversy, cover stories in Artforum and New York, and a surfeit of profiles and interviews, it can’t hurt to begin by describing the opening sequence of Kids, a film by Larry Clark written by Harmony Korine, coming this summer, unrated, to your local art theater.

The first image we see is of a teenage girl and boy, framed in tight close-up, sucking face. The light is limpid, the focus shallow, so shallow that it’s as if there’s nothing else in the world but these two kids going at it, tongue to tongue, without passion, but with deep dedication. It’s an image that simultaneously hits one in the face and draws one in. And it goes on for a very long time, long enough to make one aware of a few crucial things: that although this is undeniably a film image (what else could it be with all that grain dancing around on the screen), the kids seem incredibly real (in other words, not like actors); that they seem very young — she looks barely 14, he might be two years older; that the activity they are performing is not simulated (these kids might never kiss each other in actual life but for the camera that’s just what they’re doing); and that the position in which the film has placed us vis-a-vis this activity is uncomfortably close.

This first shot that seems to last forever, but might be as brief as 15 seconds, gives us time to become self-conscious about our own response as we confront the activity that adult America, as it were, wants to shove out of sight, or at least turn into an abstraction. Pubescent sex, that’s what we’re looking at.

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The close-up is followed by a slightly more distanced shot. Now we can see that the girl and boy are on the bed in the girl’s room. It’s a pretty room filled with objects (stuffed animals and Beastie Boys records) signifying a privileged upbringing (it’s money that gives her skin that golden glow) and confirming that she’s as young as we feared she might be. The narrative kicks in. The boy whose name is Telly is pressing the girl to have sex. He’s insistent, she’s ambivalent. The pace of the editing accelerates. The fourth shot, or maybe its the fifth, is notably eccentric. The hand-held camera hovers just above the heart of the matter — the crotches of the girl and the boy. They’re still wearing their underpants. Nevertheless, it’s the kind of image that makes you wonder if you’ve seen more than you’ve seen.

The girl eventually acquiesces to the boy’s single-mindedness. He climbs on top of her. There’s a jump cut that breaks the real time continuity, rushing us forward as we realize that he’s penetrated her. We see them from the waist up: he’s pounding away and she’s protesting in pain. And then the music kicks in — jammer, jammer, jammer — and above it we hear the boy’s voiceover: “Virgins, I love ’em… ”

An adrenalizing movie moment, it’s thrill is as much the result of precise timing and layering of sound and image as it is about what’s happening in the action. Stylistically, it’s the opposite of the “Aerate” images that precede it. And although the action has turned nasty, it’s somehow easier to take than that first kiss. The “movieness” of it is pleasurably reassuring. It carries us along — out of our skins and out of our minds. Not like the first shot which, by giving us time to wonder about just what was going on, put the whole scary mess of teen sex in our laps. Made us uncomfortable by forcing us to be aware of ourselves watching something that’s forbidden.

Is this art or exploitation? And who’s been caught looking?

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Don’t say it’s just Larry Clark, the notorious Larry Clark whose photographs of adolescents fetishize the fragile glamour of young bodies yearning for obliteration.

Insistently voyeuristic, Clark’s point of view forces an uncomfortable confrontation with one’s own fascination, desire, and identification. What’s most disturbing about Clark’s work is that his subjects are, by virtue of their youth, extremely vulnerable (though I doubt that Clark, who attributes enormous power to a particular type of boy beauty, would see it that way).

What makes it great is that it claims attention for teen sexuality, or at least teen boy sexuality. It doesn’t make polite conversation about it; it puts it right in your face. “I always wanted to make the great American teenage movie,” says Clark. “The kind of film that’s real immediate, like Cassavetes’s Shadows but in 1994. I didn’t want to make a documentary. I wanted to make a film that could play in malls across America.”

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I’m sitting with Clark in a crowded Tribeca restaurant. He’s fled his loft where the air conditioner’s broken and the phone keeps ringing. The loft is too small for all the stuff it holds. The walls are covered with art: a Mike Kelley, a Cady Noland, a Richard Prince, a small Sue Williams drawing of a girl with three cocks stuffed in her mouth. Amid the clutter on another wall is a drawing by his nine-year-old daughter that says “I love you Daddy.” Clark also has a son who’s nearly 12. The children live with their mother from whom he’s divorced, but on weekends they stay with him. “I’m a good father,” he says, and I believe him although he sounds as if he suspects I might not.

Clark is a thoughtful, serious 52-year-old man with a touch of the military in his demeanor (he was drafted and sent to Vietnam in the mid ’60s). His voice is pitched low, edged with a drawl and a hint of adenoidal whine. His face is thin and craggy with deepset eyes and a long nose (the diametrical opposite of the faces he loves to photograph). His beard is scruffy, his hair clubbed back and under control. He seems a surprisingly sweet man and also a person who runs on anger. In lots of ways, Clark doesn’t compute but it’s worth noting that he seems comfortable being an adult. Even when he’s carrying a skateboard, there’s nothing kid-like about him.

We’re talking about how close Kids seems to Tulsa, Clark’s first book. Shot between 1963 and 1971 and published in ’71, it immediately established his reputation, in Vince Aletti’s phrase, “as the period’s most savage eye.” Tulsa is an insider’s look at the teenage Oklahoma drug culture (guys with needles in their arm and their dicks hanging out, guys and guns, with a couple of women thrown in for good measure). Intimate though it is, Tulsa is couched strictly in the third person. There’s no direct interaction of subject and camera, none of the I/you exchange that charges Teenage Lust — Clark’s second book, published 13 years later — and the decade of work that followed.

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“I wanted my first film to be like my first book — a straight narrative shot documentary style. When I first laid out Tulsa, I had put in pictures of people looking at the camera and then I realized that in movies, no one looks at the camera so I took all those pictures out. It was my little trick to make it look like a movie.”

In fact, Clark tried in 1970 to turn Tulsa into a movie; he found the 16mm sync rig too cumbersome to handle by himself and soon went back to his Leica. For the next 10 years, he says, he was too strung out on drugs to pick up a still camera let alone a movie camera. It was during this period that he did time for shooting a guy during a card game. Of the shooting, he says, “I was doing speed; it seemed like the right thing to do.”

In the early ’80s, he started to think seriously about making a film about the teenage experience, but none of the material he worked on panned out. By then he was married, his first child had been born. He’d somewhat cleaned up his act. Guy Trebay, who’d written a Voice cover story about Clark, remembers the photographer approaching him about writing a screenplay. Trebay says he’d go over to Clark’s loft, they’d toss around various ideas, Clark would show him tapes of Flipper.

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Clark got the idea for Kids during the summer of ’92 when he was photographing skateboarders in Washington Square Park. “It was what I called the summer of condoms. When I would go to the park, they would be giving out these condoms and all the kids had them and they were always talking about safe sex and condoms and I was convinced, they had me going so well. I was skating so I could keep up when I took pictures of them, and my son was skating a bit.

So after about six months, I’m just one of the guys, they’re just totally open and honest with me, and I find out no one is using condoms. Hence the safe sex thing is ‘Let’s have sex with a virgin.’ And when I’d say, ‘What if she gets pregnant?’ they’d just say, ‘That’s not meant to be.’ But the girls do get pregnant and they have abortions and their mothers never know. And some of them get herpes the first time they have sex. You can make a list of the things that can happen to you the first time you have sex.

“Back in ’92, when they were having the rave scene, these 14- and 15-year-old girls were coming from uptown, they were from richer families, and they’d go to these raves and take acid and mushrooms and stay out all weekend. And they’d plan these cover stories so their parents would think they were at a slumber party.

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“And so I thought, well, I’ve always wanted to make the great American teenage movie. Why not make it about what’s going on today. And when people ask me what they should take away from the film, I say that they should try to look their kids in the eye and talk to them one-on-one. I mean, I’m a parent, but parents don’t have a clue. They forget what it was like when they were kids.

“I knew skaters would be the best actors. They have a style and a presence. Everyone hates skaters so they’re forced to be tough and confrontational. They’re kicked out of every place, the police hate them. They’re kind of outlaws.”

Ten years from now, when viewers look at Kids, what I think will be most striking are the performances: the rhythms of the kids’ behavior, their contagious energy. The kids in Kids are neither the kids of sitcom nor are they much like the teen movie idols from James Dean to River Phoenix. For one thing, they’re impulsive rather than introspective. They physicalize their feelings rather than brood about them. And they’re so fast — with their bodies, with words, with emotions. They’re 17- and 18-year-olds playing 14- and 16-year-olds, which is very different from 23-year-olds playing 16-year-olds.

From the moment the film went into production, there were rumors that some of the actors were underage. According to Kids producer Cary Woods, “The casting is age appropriate. The kids in the sexual-content scenes are 17 and above. The others actors range from 13 to 72.” Woods is an experienced and savvy Hollywood professional; I doubt that he’d risk a felony charge to be in business with Clark.

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But how did Clark get such vivid performances out of non-actors? “I just know them real well and they trusted me so they were willing to relax and go with the lines. They could change a word or two if it was more comfortable, but they had to stick to the script. In a way they were like method actors, they really felt what they were doing. And because I knew them, I knew how I wanted them to be. They didn’t know, but I did. All these little bits of business, they’re things I’d seen kids do. So there was that ‘Come on, jump up and down, laugh more, keep laughing,’ whatever it takes. The tough ones were the sex scenes because it was like giggle time.”

I mention that a woman I know had been creeped out by the film because she was sure that Clark had instructed the kids in how to stick their tongues in each other’s mouths. “I think they pretty much know how to stick their tongues in each others’ mouths,” he says, laughing and blushing. “They didn’t need much coaching in the kissing department.”

I can’t tell you how odd it is to see Larry Clark blush — a guy who’s hung with teen hustlers on the Deuce, who made his camera a third party to countless sexual encounters, who can sit in a crowded restaurant and talk unselfconsciously about fucking and gang rape and incest. And it wasn’t a shameful blush, it was about openness rather than hiding. At Sundance, I’d gotten into one of those conversations about would-you-let-your-kids-see-this-film. Yes, of course I would. That is, I would if I had kids of my own, which I don’t; but, I said, I would have had qualms about letting them, these hypothetical kids, act in it. Well, there was something about seeing Clark blush that took most of the qualms away.

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Of course, it’s easy to talk about hypothetical kids. Hypothetical and invisible is how America wants its kids to be. If you want evidence of that, just look at the backlash against Kids. The film caused a stir when it was sneak-previewed at Sundance last January. Several critics, including yours truly, claimed it was extraordinary; there were also some in the audience who loathed the film. A few months later director Paul Schrader did a smart, supportive interview with Clark for Artforum. And then the dismissals started pouring in.

I admit that no one will be able to see Kids as 350 people did at Sundance — the film just coming at them with no expectations to get in the way. When I saw Kids a second time, the shock was gone and I wasn’t sure it was quite as amazing as I’d first thought. The third viewing confirmed my original take — that this film is a measure of its genre. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect film or that it says everything that can be said about adolescence — it certainly doesn’t say much about girlhood. I hope it’s not the last film about teenage sex; it’s more like the first.

It is not, however, the only teen film to cause a ruckus. Every few years, there’s a film that makes people crazy by zeroing in on what the next generation is doing: Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, A Clockwork Orange, Over the Edge, Menace II Society. Most deal with violence. Only Splendor in the Grass, which seems quaint and even silly today, risks showing the disruptive aspects of sexuality and repression.

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Kids is a cautionary tale about teenage sex in the age of AIDS. Twenty years ago, one might have labeled the connection it makes between sex and death as romantic or puritanical. Today, the connection is a fact of life. And maybe that’s why it’s taken Clark till now to make a film.

What’s important is that it comes down on the side of kids as sexual beings (although not as predatory beings — Telly is no role model) in a culture that’s desperate to deny them their sexuality. Kids doesn’t shy away from that feeling of being possessed by your own body all the time.

So to complain, as Caryn James did in a recent New York Times piece, that Kids has been “hyped to death” (compared to what? Apollo 13?) is ridiculous. Her dismissal of Kids is surprisingly obtuse. After pointlessly comparing the film to Dead End (whose lyrically photographed urban bad boys are safely asexual), James claims that Kids offers an “exaggerated depiction of a genuine problem that it doesn’t try to analyze” and that in its “least realistic choice, the characters live in a world without visible parents.”

I don’t know what kind of analysis James expects. It seemed obvious to me that the kids’ problem is precisely that their parents have made themselves invisible, have disappeared on them.

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Kids and Safe, Todd Haynes’s film about a woman with environmental illness, are both AIDS films. Perhaps the most radical American independent films of the decade, they show that American culture is lethal: it kills through isolation and alienation. It’s astonishing then that both are faulted by presumably intelligent critics for being unclear, or insufficiently analytic. How could they be any clearer, given that they’re dealing with complicated issues? And how can you demand a voice of authority in a film that’s saying authority is what sucks?

For the MPAA ratings board to slap Kids with NC-17 is to withhold agency from teenagers who are perfectly equipped to decide whether this film represents them or not. (The MPAA’s idea of a PG-13 film is Mad Love, in which teen idols Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell are runaway lovers who share a bedroom in which there are no condoms in sight. The logic here seems to be that being explicit about fucking would be more damaging to teenage viewers than implicitly promoting unsafe sex.)

To dismiss Kids on the grounds that it reflects only the voyeurism and perversity of Larry Clark (the line of some sophisticates) is to read the movie solely through Clark’s autobiographical Teenage Lust and the photographic work he’s exhibited since then. Yes, there’s a parallel between Telly’s fixation on scoring virgins and boasting about it to his friends and Clark’s obsession with taking and exhibiting photos of teenage dick. But Telly is at an age when he believes that sexuality is determined by where he puts his dick. Clark’s photographic work suggests that sexuality is a more layered, precarious affair.

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What I don’t admire in those photographs is that they intentionally provoke a question about where the photographer puts his dick, and then, by evading the answer, leaves us feeling uncool or overly moralistic for being troubled about the possible slippage of art into life. What I love about them is their expression of impossible desire — the desire not merely to possess an object but to crawl inside it and become it.

But Kids is not Teenage Lust. Kids is no more voyeuristic than your average Truffaut film. Clark just takes a closer look at more explicit behavior than Truffaut ever dared. If Clark’s photographs are more about Clark than the objects of his camera, then Kids is more about the kids on the screen — if for no other reason than these non-actors haven’t the skill to sustain in front of the camera anyone’s fantasy but their own. Which is why Clark chose them in the first place.

The other answer to the charge that Kids is about middle-aged men (Clark, executive producer Gus Van Sant, distributors Harvey and Bob Weinstein) projecting their fantasies on young boys is that Kids is as much Harmony Korine’s film as it is Larry Clark’s. Clark couldn’t have made Kids if he hadn’t found Harmony.

Harmony met Clark about three years ago when, says Harmony, “I was still a kid.” Harmony still seems like a kid — closer to a 16-year-old than to the 22-year-old that he actually is. He’s so much like a kid — some genius kid — that it seems ridiculous to refer to him by his last name. Hence, Harmony.

They met when Clark was photographing skateboarders in Washington Square. Harmony was a serious skater for five or six years, which, because he appears so fragile, is hard to imagine. Harmony started riffing to Clark about movies and photography. He told him about a 35-page script he’d written about a kid whose father took him to a prostitute on his 13th birthday. “The kid’s father was rubbing his ass and stuff,” says Harmony, eager to fill me in on all the gory details. Harmony sent Clark the script.

Months later, Clark asked him if he wanted to write a movie about skaters. He told Harmony that he wanted the movie to be about a kid whose way of having safe sex is to only fuck virgins and for there to be something about HIV. Harmony wrote it in three weeks to prove to himself that he could do it. He showed Clark pages along the way. Once it was finished, he says, Clark never asked him to change anything. The script that went into preproduction is exactly the script that’s on the screen minus a few lines here and there — an anomaly in the world of feature filmmaking.

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Even critics of the film admit that Harmony has an ear for kidspeak. But what’s radical about Kids is its bare-bones minimalist structure, which, being the modernist artist — as opposed to the Hollywood hack — he is, Harmony leaves out in the open for all to see. Kids follows a loose-knit group of New York teens through a single hot summer day. There are three main characters: Telly, who dubs himself “the virgin surgeon” ; Jennie, who lost her virginity to Telly and has just discovered that she’s gotten HIV from him; and Casper, Telly’s best friend, a skateboard ace who just wants to be as stoned as one can get without putting a needle in his arm. Telly’s desire for fresh flesh twined with Jennie’s need to find Telly before he strikes again make up the through-line of the film. But it’s Casper who commits the final unconscionable act and in so doing is bound to Telly and Jennie in a ghostly triangle.

After he finished Kids, Harmony wrote two more scripts: Ken Park, which Clark will direct, and Gummo, which he’s going to direct himself. Ken Park, says Clark, is about the interaction between kids and their parents. And Gummo, well, Harmony would rather not talk about Gummo until its done. Cary Woods plans to put Gummo into production this fall, budgeted at about $1 million, with Ken Park to follow. Harmony will shoot in the Midwest with an entirely different crew from the Kids crew. He needs to separate to insure that Gummo is his alone.

If truth be told, Kids is a little too linear for Harmony’s taste. He wrote it that way because it was for Larry; Ken Park‘s a little looser but it still has a story, he explains. But Gummo, he says, is going to be like nothing ever made before: “I think you should put everything you love in a film. Why do you have to connect one thing to another?”

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Among the things that Harmony loves: the Marx Brothers, the Shaggs, Linda Manz, Tristam Shandy, Godard’s Germany Nine Zero 90, a recording of Daniel Johnston where he sounds like he’s having a nervous breakdown, things that have mistakes in them. The best performance he ever saw was given by his high school acting teacher who had cerebral palsy and got up in class and played King Lear.

Radically different personalities, Korine and Clark have a few things in common. They were both runty kids. Neither are native New Yorkers, but the city is embedded in their work. Both grew up in households where the camera was a professional tool. Clark’s mother was a baby photographer; he used to assist her, going door to door, trying to get parents to pay $10.95 to make their child immortal. “It’s called kidnapping,” he says dryly. Korine’s father was a documentary filmmaker. In the ’70s, he was involved in a respected independent TV series called South Bound.

Harmony is very evasive about his family background. When I first met him, he told me he traveled with his father in a carnival, which is in a way true. His father was making a film about carnivals at the time. On a second meeting, when I tell him I found out who his parents are, he says simply that he didn’t want anyone to think he got where he is because his parents had film connections. Not to worry, Harmony, regional documentarians don’t have connections.

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Once the truth is out, he talks about his father with affection. He says he respects his parents for understanding that he needed to be on his own. When he was in his early teens, he came to New York to live with his grandmother. He wrote Kids in her apartment. Now he has an apartment on the edge of Soho (near Supreme, the shop for true skateboarders) that he shares with his girlfriend, Chloe Sevigny, who plays Jennie in Kids. They seem like best friends who can’t keep their hands off each other. “This is the first time,” he says, “I’ve been self-sufficient.”

A Ritalin kid, Harmony says he’s never slept more than an hour at a time. His parents used to rent enough videotapes for him to watch all night. I’d think this was a huge lie except that it’s the only way he could have seen as many films as he has. He prefers, however, to view films in theaters. He figured out how to write scripts from watching films. But he’s not interested in making films about films, or using them as a screen. He’s open about what moves him in the real world. Forget Quentin Tarantino. Welcome to post-postmodernism. Authenticity is back in the mix.

Cary Woods informs me that Harmony and Larry have each made a music video for the Kids soundtrack. “I didn’t want to tell you,” says Harmony, “because I hate music videos. They’re just commercials. But this is more of a documentary. It’s about a kid with epilepsy and his mother.” The song is by Daniel Johnston, a Texas singer-songwriter, who, Harmony says, is obsessed with Casper the Friendly Ghost. “He’s written 40 songs about Casper.” The character Casper in Kids is named in honor of Johnston.

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Harmony’s video has no fast editing, no clips from the movie, no shots of the band. He doesn’t think MTV will play it. It seems, like Harmony, ahead of its time, which means it’s exactly on the mark. It’s also extremely moving. The epileptic kid is a metaphor for teenage turmoil, for the feeling that you’re jumping out of your skin.

An inveterate maker of inventories, Harmony has compiled a list of over a thousand coming-of-age movies. Some of his favorites: O.C. & Stiggs, Chantal Akerman’s Portrait of a Young Girl…, Alan Clarke’s Christine, Pixote, Los Olvidados. None of them, however, are the great teenage movie. “I don’t think it’s been made yet.” “Not Kids?” I ask. “No,” he says matter-of-factly. “It might take a trilogy.”


The New Amazon TV Pilots Ranked, from the Winsomely Promising to the Woefully Stupid

If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from Amazon’s new TV gambit, which puts us regular Joe and Jane Schmoes in the sockless Gucci loafers of small-screen schedulers, it’s that betting on the popularity of a new show based on a pilot – comparable to a book’s prologue or a film’s first scenes – is largely a game of luck and chance. Plenty of TV shows overcame abominable pilots to become classics of their respective genre (30 Rock), while just as many stuck the landing on the first round and have disappointed since (The Walking Dead).

And yet, Amazon’s offer to let viewers have a real voice in which pilots get picked up for a series order remains irresistible, partly because the bookseller-turned-everything store has managed to attract some very talented stars (John Goodman, Chloe Sevigny) and partly because there’s always the possibility that the next Orange is the New Black>/i> is lurking around, waiting for an appreciative audience.

For the record, Amazon’s answer to the groundbreaking Netflix series appears to be Jill Soloway’s family dramedy Transparent, which stars Jeffrey Tambor as a late-in-life transwoman and Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, and Amy Landecker as her self-absorbed, barely functional adult children. The pilot debuted in February; the full season will be released in late September.

Amazon’s third “pilot season” offers nothing so stunningly accomplished as Transparent’s debut episode, but its five new shows for adults are a gratifyingly diverse lot in their themes, sensibilities, ambitions, and intended audiences. Like Netflix, Amazon is offering the kind of basic-cable fare you might find on AMC or FX, plus flashes of nipples and the occasional swear words. (The nudity is too spare – and with one exception, too matter-of-fact – to equate it with the male-gaze-facilitating titty shows on Showtime and HBO.)

And there’s certainly a wide range in quality, from director Whit Stillman’s The Cosmopolitans, as winsomely promising as it is unapologetically elitist, to the woefully stupid thriller Hysteria, about a debilitating disease spread by social media (ugh). Here are the five new Amazon pilots, from the most worthy of your time (and a series pickup) to the least:

The Cosmopolitans
As studio filmmaking becomes increasingly homogenized for the global box office, TV has offered itself as the new auteur’s medium. Metropolitan and Damsels in Distress director Whit Stillman brings his tweed-and-jodhpurs sense of romance to The Cosmopolitans, a talky, yearning, almost infuriatingly elegant half-hour that throws around references to Art Basel and Auguste Escoffier. Centering on a group of American expats searching for love in the City of Lights, the series occasionally risks stuffy preciousness (“I couldn’t just plunge into some decadent affair”), but is grounded by such melancholy and self-loathing that it never feels less than human. As with his features, Stillman lets his characters indulge in ultra-white-people problems while gently chuckling at them for it.

Adam Brody, Carrie MacLemore, and Jordan Rountree’s fine-boned characters find themselves pursuing different dreams of an extraordinary life, occasionally taking a break to wonder if all they’ve really done by moving to France is just make a terrible life decision. (Hey, it’s still better than grad school.) The tiny but poignant tragedy of their lives is their belief that expat existence is a game they can eventually learn to con – Chloe Sevigny’s snobby fashion journalist refuses to date French men, for example, to ensure greater romantic satisfaction. But of course no amount of arbitrary rules will ease their existential loneliness – or have them be accepted, even by each other, as real Parisians.

Hand of God
If The Cosmopolitans is the kid-gloved dandy who moves to France to recapture the thrill of his junior year abroad at the Sorbonne, Hand of God is the brass-knuckled creep with a barbed-wire tattoo around his neck just in case someone doubts his toughness for a second. For all its aggressive airs, Ben Watkins’ snarl of a drama is rather derivative, channeling the current antihero mode that’s been the default format for the genre for the past decade. The always-watchable Ron Perlman, his hair now woolly and white as a lamb, plays a megalomaniac judge newly convinced that he can chat with God. In the very first scene of the Marc Forster-directed pilot, Pernell Harris (Perlman) speaks in tongues during a self-baptism – or he’s a traumatized loon wading naked in a public fountain muttering a whole lotta gibberish.

The most likely catalyst of Pernell’s supposed powers is the calamitous fate of his grown son; Junior (Johnny Ferro) shot himself in the head after being forced to watch his wife Jocelyn’s (Alona Tal) rape and landed in a coma. Convinced that he can find Jocelyn’s rapist by communicating with his unconscious son, Pernell recruits a vicious criminal (Garret Dillahunt) to do the dirty work of beating up thugs for him. Hand of God’s macho posturing occasionally veers toward the self-parodic – Pernell’s wife (Dana Delaney) squeezes a young preacher’s testicles to emphasize her threats in one scene, and an even more egregious instance finds the show one-upping Game of Thrones’ “sexposition” with its shitsposition, in which Pernell’s business partner (Andre Royo) drops a deuce and some plot details at the same time. No one could accuse Hand of God of tastefulness, but its eagerness to surprise is rather auspicious.

Red Oaks
And now we’re in the weeds. Submarine’s Craig Roberts, only 23, stars in this pilot season’s hoariest series, a sitcom set in a 1980s New Jersey country club. After his father (Richard Kind) suffers a heart attack and confesses that his marriage is a sham, NYU student David (Roberts) decides that, rather than intern at his dad’s accounting firm for the summer before his senior year, he’s going to enjoy life by becoming a tennis instructor. David has a blonde aerobics-instructor girlfriend Karen (Gage Golightly) – the eighties details are obvious, down to the geyser-like ponytail shooting atop her head, and yet not fully convincing. But because Karen has long-term plans for their relationship, David lets his eye wander to a mysterious brunette (Alexandra Socha).

And that’s really all the stakes that Red Oaks has to offer: blonde or brunette, to have fun or not. (Adding to the show’s slight misogyny is David’s shrewish mother (Jennifer Grey), who scolds her husband for ruining her day with his heart attack.) David Gorden Green’s direction doesn’t really improve Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs’ script; the sole bright spot is David’s poshly accented playboy boss Nasser (a scene-stealing Ennis Esmer). There’s some potentially interesting power dynamics inherent to the country-club setting – a silver-haired Paul Reiser appears as the kind of tennis student with more money than manners – but the show’s reliance on Catskills-worthy groaners and insistence on having a good time makes a full season – let alone a second year – difficult to imagine.

Comedy writer-director Jay Chandrasekhar does a better job of sketching a season-long road map in his soapy sitcom Really, but not by much. Following four long-term couples who get together to drink too much wine and smoke a few blunts, Really would pair nicely with FX’s Married and You’re the Worst, two other disappointing takes on foul-mouthed hetero love that are nowhere near as edgy as they think they are. Most of the pilot takes place at a dinner party where the guests talk about a fake reality show called “America’s Smartest Model” – a scenario that’s dull enough when it involves real people, and downright excruciating when it comprises eight characters, including the protagonist Jed (Chandrasekhar), who aren’t developed enough to have distinct personalities. (Actually, except for Jed’s priggish wife Lori (Sarah Chalke), all the characters seem to be more or less the same person.)

There’s a small measure of progressivism in Jed and Lori’s interracial marriage – enough that watching the couple go through the banalities of sitcom life – jokes about snoring, kids interrupting sex, and birthday blowjobs – feels faintly refreshing. But the comedy doesn’t quite translate from the page to the screen; the funniest gag involves the drunk host (Luka Jones) crashing into his own glass door. Chandrasekhar’s default expression – a fart-suppressing grimace – serves him well when he discovers two of his friends (Selma Blair and Travis Schuldt) having an affair, but less so when it appears in every other scene in the pilot.

Rounding out the rear is the laughably silly thriller Hysteria, an admittedly well-crafted collection of mysteries within mysteries undone by the (SPOILER) witless premise of a crippling ailment that travels through viral videos. If you can get over that revelation (revealed at the end of the pilot but telegraphed earlier in the episode), Hysteria could make for a trashy but expertly paced guilty pleasure.

Mena Suvari stars as Logan Harlen, a prickly psychiatrist studying a pair of teenage girls with severe, debilitating spasms. Captured on a video first uploaded to the Internet with the best of intentions, the tremors make one of the girls, the completely incapacitated Cassie (Jenessa Grant), a target of cyber-bullying by her classmates and strangers on the web. The series’ scope expands to encompass Cassie’s family, including her 17-year-old sister Audra’s (Ella Rae Peck) dalliances with an older cop, as well as a harrowing event from Logan’s childhood that turns out to be the biggest lure for more episodes. It’s unfortunate, then, that the series primarily focuses on the escalating epidemic of the spasms, the narrative result of a pun gone stupidly wrong.


M. Blash’s The Wait Is Gorgeous and Haunting

Gorgeous and haunting, inscrutable but rewarding of scrutiny, writer-director M. Blash’s The Wait achieves the rare distinction of being warm and unsettling at the same time, framing grief drama, a grown love story, and the possibility of reality-bending magic in a prickly narrative given to reveries and freak-outs. It’s the kind of movie where mopey characters slump in the middle of exquisitely composed shots, staring hard at something grand or confounding just beyond the camera. Like Prince Avalanche, this is a nervy, lyric indie set in forest-fire country; in The Wait, the woods are still burning.

Sometimes Blash shows us what the characters are regarding: firefighters’ airplanes dumping retardant over an Oregon forest, a fetching young woman adjusting her bathing suit by a country club pool, the pink dust of that retardant rising like steam as it’s hosed off of a horse.

And sometimes Blash leaves it to us to construct our own meaning — even our own incidents, as in the moment when miserable Angela (Jena Malone) is puttering about in a golf cart driven by hunky Ben (Luke Grimes), the boy whose affections might help tip her back into a life less dead-eyed. “I wish you could have met her,” she says, referring to her mother, who died in the film’s disorienting first scenes. “What was she like?” he asks, five heartbeats later. She says nothing, and in one long, single shot he drives around a couple of bends, nods to another golf cart, and, 15 seconds of silence later, points to the magic-hour sun, which is now flaring against the camera lens. “Like that?” he asks. For better or worse, that’s what much of the movie feels like — the director showing you visions worth looking at and then asking “Like that?” “Like what?” you may ask, as Emma, played by Chloë Sevigny, takes a canoe ride past architecturally ambitious lakeshore homes and Owen Pallett’s score trills with a scalding, synth-sounding tribute to the sound of last century’s modems making a dial-up connection. Could that hint of the pervasive invasiveness of information technology deepen the earlier moment when Emma’s son (Devon Gearhart) shows a friend’s dad a viral video of a young woman getting hit by a train — and then shows it again and again? Such scenes dig at an everyday horror that we’ve mostly come to accept in our lives, and both of those (plus a handful of others, including one first-rate jump scare) prove more upsetting than most bona fide horror films.

The Wait does have a story. As her mother dies in quick, well-acted scenes, Emma takes a phone call from a strange woman who seems to know what’s happening — and who promises, vaguely, that “they will return.” Already harrowed by the loss of her mother, Emma takes this to be a sign that she and Angela should let the death go unreported for a few days. She prefers to leave the body in the bedroom, just in case. Angela, of course, considers this mad, and the sisters’ first blowouts on the subject boast prove bruising. They’re powerfully performed, as is a slow-building beauty of a scene where the women make up by dancing to The Cure. One sister is clinging to an impossible hope; the other is embarrassed for them both and coping with her own secrets.

Just what is going on is kept from Emma’s kids, an elementary-age girl (Lana Green) who gets treated (by a glazed-over Emma) to the videotape of her own birth, and a teen-ish boy who, like all the men here, spends a lot of time watching other people do things. We see him half-stalk an athletic girl and brusquely tell a male friend that he’s not really into whatever boy-meets-boy experimentation they’ve recently shared. Angela, meanwhile, strikes up a flirtation with the young hunk in the golf cart, which for a healthy chunk of the film inspires them to do the same thing all the other principles do: quizzically wander through woods and mountains and glorious ski-lodge–inspired homes.

There are lots of other things happening, too, almost all of them incidentally interesting, some mysteriously affecting. But too many of these moments of beauty and strangeness feel like musical notes that, while well played, never collect into anything like a chord. The pained, textured performances of Sevigny and Malone enrich their scenes, but when it ranges away from its leads, The Wait can seem like an anthology of moments rather than a narrative whole, although those moments do accumulate into a mood of chilly, gently surreal isolation. At times, the discursiveness seems to be Blash’s subject. Many of those moments feature characters wondering what to make of the things they’re looking at — little dramas replicating the experience of watching The Wait itself.

Credit: Sammy Films

Cutline: Jena Malone and Luke Grimes realize they’re being watched.


Chloe Sevigny Doles Out Barbecue Tips… Or Should We Say Barbe-Quoi?

No, not that Chloe Sevigny. We’re talking about the YouTube sensation and Perez Hilton fave Chloe Sevigny. It’s recently come her attention that she loves barbecue. Check out her excellent pointers for a fab shindig of your own. (Craptastic weather be damned.)

[Via Camper English of Alcademics]



The Charmed Life and Interesting Times of a Drug Pusher in Mr. Nice

As might be expected of a globe-hopping, decades-spanning drug-smuggler biopic, Mr. Nice commences by trying to induce a contact high: Black-and-white flushes to color as Welshman Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans) takes his first dorm-room toke. The tone remains light, in spite of the typically insistent Philip Glass score. Writer-director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved), adapting Marks’s autobiography, charts his subject’s rise to prominence by occasionally inserting Ifans, Zelig-like, into snippets of archival footage. Ever charmingly passive, Marks stumbles into an alliance with Provisional IRA hothead Jim McCann (David Thewlis), fields MI6 overtures from a college chum (Christian McKay), and gets a primer on California living from kingpin Ernie Combs (a heavily bearded Crispin Glover, whose scenes veer furthest into pusher-epic cliché). A good deal less colorful is Judy Marks (Chloë Sevigny), who stands by her man as he cycles through a number of aliases. Mr. Nice refreshingly declines to put its protagonist through the motions of repentance as it descends into legal morass: Marks maintains that he hasn’t done anything wrong, and at one point a judge even indirectly concurs before reverting to the letter of the law. Though told here with appealing drollness, Marks’s story makes an odd vessel for the filmmakers’ casually advanced legalization arguments, what with its mischief making on the grandest scale possible.



In the case of Vincent Gallo, the indie filmmaker who seems to flaunt sexist and racist comments and, uh, “shares” himself with the likes of Chloë Sevigny onscreen, it’s hard to look past the hoopla and care about his music. Fact is, his 2001 disc When was actually a pretty sentimental lo-fi excursion (despite a song dedicated to Paris Hilton), and his dreamy soundtracks have never distracted anyone from a blowjob scene onscreen. With Rriiccee, he’s in instrumental rock mode–his collaborators this time being Woody Jackson and Nico Turner–which, if you tune out the rest of him, might sound pretty good.

Tue., Nov. 9, 10 p.m., 2010


Downtown’s New Haunt: Kenmare Restaurant

I often shiver with apprehension when crossing the threshold of the latest overhyped eatery, and Kenmare was no exception. The place is partly owned by Chloë Sevigny’s night-clubby brother, Paul—not promising—though the choice of chefs is: Joey Campanaro, whose pedigree includes two hits (Harrison, Little Owl) and one miss (Market Table). Like the name says, the restaurant is located on Kenmare Street, a gritty Lower East Side thoroughfare that takes up where Delancey Street leaves off, then promptly dead-ends into Lafayette Street.

For nearly a century, ending in 2000, the space held Patrissy, an Italian joint that became notorious as a hangout for the staff of EC Comics, who inked Tales From the Crypt and other goth-horror titles in the 1950s, in addition to launching Mad magazine. Indeed, the interior retains a certain sepulchral quality via a vaulted ceiling, arched doorways, dirty-beige stucco, and scary metal sculptures that might remind you of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If you seek out the bathrooms down a darkened hallway in the rear, keep your eyes peeled for things that go bump in the night.

Though my date and I made reservations days in advance on our first visit, we were stuck with a 6 p.m. time slot, suggesting that Kenmare was already wildly popular. We weren’t the only ones early-birded: Soon after we sat down, the greeter ushered in Jay Cheshes of Time Out and, later, Sam Sifton of the Times. The service had been exceedingly slow, but it improved markedly once Sifton—dressed like an undertaker in a somber charcoal-gray suit with skinny lapels—was seated. For the next hour or so, critics and their cohorts were nearly the only diners in the room.

The first dish to hit the table was promising. My date loved the slider ($5), a juicy puck of pork, beef, and veal. (Campanaro is sometimes credited with reinventing this bar morsel at Little Owl.) Less satisfactory was an asparagus gratin ($9) served on a giant plate. As we furiously shoveled like grave diggers, we realized that most of the mass was chopped endive, from which we were able to disinter only five or six mushy asparagus tips. A cup of beer-laced broccoli soup was perfectly edible, but seemed too much like bar food for a fancy restaurant.

An estimable innovation on the part of the chef involves incorporating pastas and risottos into the appetizer list, allowing you to treat them as shareable starters. In one risotto special, a Vesuvius-like heap of truffled rice comes with a raw egg yolk in its crater. Hello, sauce. Similarly tasty is spaghetti with shrimp and lobster in a spicy red fra diavolo gravy ($14).

As I plowed through the entrées, though, it became clear that many were seriously flawed. “Lamb t-bones” ($31) included two gorgeous chops with a blade-like bone running down the middle, charred on the outside while still bloody in the middle. Though the chops were perfectly cooked, our pleasure was curbed by a sticky-sweet glaze, and the meat was crowded by a chaotic heap of boring baby lettuces, so that slicing the chops sent the infants spilling onto the table. Bad plating! With its superior salad of arugula and ricotta salata, a smallish breaded veal cutlet with salsa verde ($25) proved more satisfying, but, as with the lamb, the entrée arrived without any starch. Ordering the cheddar fries with giblet gravy ($8) wasn’t the answer; it turned out to be merely another version of poutine.

Following the zeitgeist—and satisfying those who spend time thinking about how to ramp up their omega-3 intake—ocean-going fish predominate on the entrée menu. Steering clear of the creatures whose sustainability is questionable, my friends and I chowed down on arctic char ($23), a good-size piece of fish with its silvery skin cross-hatched from the grill. But the accompaniments provoked a laugh: a thin schmear of puréed turnips and a few shreds of pickled purple cabbage. Featuring four large specimens with no discernible sauce, the scallop entrée also suffered from inferior sides, including a spinach and strawberry salad and a rosti (Swiss lattice potatoes) barely bigger than a silver dollar.

Yes, Kenmare proved disappointing. While the ingredients were unimpeachable, the facile preparation of entrées was a deadly sin, making you wish the kitchen had managed to squirt an additional sauce or two. And the meager accompaniments seem devised for the kind of diner who just eats the flesh and leaves everything else behind. In other words, Kenmare is a place that could make zombies very happy.


Spring Guide: Shopping With Gang Gang Dance’s Lizzi Bougatsos

Lizzi Bougatsos, the stylish artist and singer of the avant-garde rock band Gang Gang Dance, is getting ready to go shopping downtown—and it’s no surprise that she’s just as experimental with her wardrobe as she is with her music. Wearing skinny black Trash & Vaudeville jeans, a faded Ghostface Killah T-shirt, and black flea-market high heels (which she calls her “stripper shoes”), she pulls on a gray wool poncho designed by Chloë Sevigny for Opening Ceremony and wraps its built-in scarf around her neck. Still, she feels something is missing.

“I wonder if I should bring my Ethiopian pants,” she says, picking up a pair of baggy white drawstring trousers. We assume she wants to change out of her jeans. Instead, she scurries over to the bathroom mirror in her friend’s apartment, where she’s house-sitting, and ties them around her head, wrapping and unwrapping them over her long brown hair, trying to get the look right. “Oh, I don’t know—maybe it’s a little too over the top,” she says, tossing them aside with a laugh. She grabs her puffy bomber jacket: “I’ll just keep it street.”

It’s her bold, anything-goes style—a mix of modern designers, old thrift-store rags, big African jewelry, flea-market finds, and, yes, sometimes pants on her head—that has made fashion insiders take notice. She has posed for hip fashion and arts magazines, such as Paper and Purple, and edgy designer Tess Giberson’s look book; sung on the runway at Bryant Park for Erin Wasson x RVCA with Gang Gang Dance last year; and almost had her own streetwear clothing line in Japan called Dummah (pronounced “Doo-mah”), which featured her signature artfully cut-up T-shirt dresses (she lost her backers at the last minute, but happily kept all the samples). “I see myself as a comedian,” she says about her style. “I take risks. I don’t care if I make a fool of myself.”

We wanted to know where she would go shopping for spring clothes in the city, and so our first stop is Opening Ceremony (35 Howard Street, 212-219-2688), the three-level Chinatown boutique packed with modern up-and-coming designers. Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” pumps through the store as Bougatsos peruses the racks. “Too frilly,” she says of a dress with ruffles; “too trendy,” she says of the Native American–print shirts that were popular with last month’s Fashion Week crowd. Instead, she sticks to pieces that are both simple (so she can load up on jewelry and scarves) and let her move on the stage (local labels Pleasure Principle, God’s Prey, and Rockers NYC are all favorites).

While she admires the gold cuffs in the jewelry case, we ask where she found her Egyptian scarab ring. “I don’t know if I can tell you,” she says. “It’s my secret spot.” But then she relents: The Brooklyn Museum of Art (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, 718-638-5000). We are in disbelief. “No, really, they have great jewelry at museums and in gift shops in hotels.”

Though shorts are huge for spring, Bougatsos passes on all of them: “They’re like Crocs, you know? You just don’t go there.” Instead, she says, she’ll be looking for tropical prints like those by Rachel Comey, high-waisted jeans by Acne (“They make your legs look longer”), and anything that reminds her of the “nomadic Saharan desert style” of Malian rockers Tinariwen.

She pulls out a pair of sheer leaf-print leggings by Swash. “I would wear these with a thong and a really crazy-pattern shirt,” she says. “I actually have a pair of pants like this that Chloë gave me.” By Chloë, she means her longtime friend Sevigny, who shares her designer clothes with Bougatsos like a sister.

She spies a black slinky one-shoulder dress by Alexander Wang and holds it against her body. “This I would totally rock!” she says. “But I could never afford it.” It’s $590. As an artist, she says, “you have to be really creative in New York, because you don’t really have money to go shopping.”

And so, although she also favors equally expensive boutiques Seven (110 Mercer Street, 646-654-0155) and Kirna Zabete (96 Greene Street, 212-941-9656), we head a couple of blocks to where the price tags are sane: Canal Street. Bougatsos has an excellent eye for odd, cheap finds, an instinct she developed growing up next to a flea market in Sayville, Long Island. (Incidentally, she says the best thrift store in the area is Selden Thrift [614 Middle Country Road, Selden, Long Island, 631-736-3979], a multilevel shop that reminds her of Domsey’s, the former used-clothing mecca in Williamsburg). “There’s so much energy,” she says, pushing her way through the crowd of bargain hunters on Canal. “And look at that shit!” She points to a massive silver medallion of The Last Supper. “The Last Supper on a chain! You can only get this stuff in New York.”

Bougatsos is known for taking the stage in oversize hip-hop T-shirts, and her most treasured spot to find them is Batchilly Fashions (140 Orchard Street). This is where she bought the Missy Elliott/Beyoncé concert shirt that she wore at Coachella last summer. “The graphics are insane, right?” she says of an Obama shirt with glittering gold stars. “Like, that’s graphics! You know what I mean? That is so beautiful!”

Next, we hit her favorite place for vintage, the East Village consignment shop Tokio 7 (83 East 7th Street, 212-353-8443), which carries high-end designers, such as Prada and Gucci, at more affordable prices. She considers a pale-blue Marc Jacobs dress for $55, but puts it back. “See, I would buy all this stuff at Century 21 (22 Cortlandt Street, 212-227-9092) and then sell it here,” she says in a conspiratorial whisper.

Finally, our tour ends at Waga (22 St. Marks Place, 212-505-5573), a tiny West African store she admires for its beautiful selection of art, clothing, jewelry, bags, pillows, and rugs. She picks up a pair of wooden musical shakers and makes some noise. “I have these,” she says.

Since she shops all over the world while on tour with Gang Gang Dance, whose new album is due out in the fall, we ask if there’s any boutique she’d like to import. Happily, the woman who has just about seen it all is hard-pressed to think of any: “There’s Colette, in Paris. But we have everything here.”

Lizzi Bougatsos’s solo art show’Slut Freak’ runs from April 1 toMay 2 at James Fuentes Gallery


Whit Stillman Speaks Eleven Years After His Last Film

Whit Stillman released his first movie in 1990. An undergraduate love story compressed into one holiday debutante season, Metropolitan presented the milieu of its writer-director—Preppie, Yuppie, Urban Haute Bourgeoisie—and treated it, not as something to be pilloried or taken for granted, but as a suitable subject for his characters’ study, even defense.

Metropolitan introduced actor Chris Eigeman, whose voluble reactionary would be a throughline in Stillman’s films to come. It applied the emotional delicacy of the 19th-century courtship novel to the sexual revolution’s aftermath—for Stillman, something more ambiguous and disorienting than the accepted version of escape from barren, pre-orgasmic Puritanism. It also should serve as a lesson for the young New Yorkers for whom feigned penury was a favorite sport.

Stillman was 38 in 1990, with a fully developed sensibility and professional life behind him. He’d aspired to be a writer first: “One of the great moments I had was when Tom Wolfe championed some stories I’d written to Harper’s,” Stillman says now, age 57. “The kill fee on that commission was the most money that I’d made. I got rejected.” His “first conscious affinity” was Fitzgerald, and he duly expatriated; Barcelona (1994) recalls his time as a sales agent for Spanish films in the early ’80s, as newly democratic Spain’s NATO membership prompted anti-USA protest. Stillman’s square American innocents abroad champion Ben Franklin and salesmanship culture against Euro pretense—perhaps a response to the Spanish comedy directors whose films Stillman hawked and admired, who then cast him as “the American Fool”?

Around the release of his third film, The Last Days of Disco, in 1998, Stillman immigrated again, spending 11 years abroad—nine in Paris, the last two in Madrid. It has also been 11 years since his last movie; the writer has been quiet, save for the odd Wall Street Journal contribution. He recently returned to New York City, after a string of financing disappointments, and took my call. (See the full transcript of the conversation, “An Interview with Whit Stillman here.”)

“I was very optimistic,” he says of his European filmmaking aspirations. “And it was a chimera. It took me a long time to realize that things don’t happen there the way they should. Very few people make the decisions so . . . if you can’t convince the two people, you can’t make your film. I think it’s better here, where there’s more freedom to raise money privately, and that’s what I’ll do. I wasted too much time not doing that.”

Little Green Men, an announced adaptation of a Christopher Buckley beltway satire, is now kaput. Of Dancing Mood—a long-treasured project set in the Kingston of the early 1960s, inspired by Stillman’s love of the era’s rocksteady and ska music—he is hopeful, but ultimately unsure. For the question, “What’s next?,” the most I got was, “A dark-horse candidate, something that’s never been mentioned, that I’ve kept under wraps. . . . I’ve made that mistake, talking about things before they actually happen.” He has worked out an adage: “If you can’t spur demand, at least you can increase scarcity.”

Shipping this week is a Criterion DVD of Last Days of Disco, previously out of print, now back with delicately cross-hatched cover illustrations by Pierre Le-Tan (in conjunction, Stillman will present a screening at Lincoln Center on August 27). Shot on his highest budget to date, Disco, concerning a circle of well-heeled, freshly adult WASPs astray in very-early-’80s club life, “underperformed.” “Unfortunately, there was this story that there was a disco revival going on. . . . And it’s bad to be a trend.” (The film was rushed through production, to beat the little-remembered Mike Myers vehicle 54.)

Dialogue, fragments from a lifetime of conversations, are the mobilizing force in all of Stillman’s movies. His meticulous writing technique (“It’s the reverse of what Robert McKee used to say in his course”) depends, he says, on developing voices “to the point where they seem to be operating autonomously,” then creating volleys of dicta and contradicta: “Have the characters tell the truth from their point of view and then . . . you realize, ‘You know, that’s not quite true, there are these exceptions. There’s this other aspect,’ and then send another character to say that.” Disco‘s characters, fluent and affluent, argue questions of fate, regarding both class (“What if, in a few years, we don’t marry some corporate lawyer? What if we marry some meatball, like you?”) and character (“What if ‘thine own self’ is not so good? What if it’s pretty bad?”).

With due respect to Carolyn Farina, terrific in Metropolitan, Disco has Stillman’s fullest female protagonist in Chloë Sevigny, here a recent Hampshire grad negotiating the shoals of sex and Manhattan nightlife, joining an Ivy League clique whose social bubble submerges, without ever popping, amid a multiracial, omnisexual dance floor. In a piece of “counterintuitive” casting, Stillman ignored Sevigny’s “very Downtown, Harmony Korine, edgy Kids reputation” to recognize the patrician Connecticut she’d grown up around. In a New Yorker profile positing Sevigny as 1994’s “It” girl, one interviewee commented: “People want to project their desire, [but] she’s smart enough to hold back, and that allows us all to project whatever we want to.” Stillman saw this—and saw beyond, into the expressive dolor in her dusky eyes, the slight slump that makes her meekly tall. Her hookup with Robert Sean Leonard, oppressed by outside expectation, is painfully human acting.

On his hesitance to screen Sevigny in Kids, Stillman ‘fessed: “I really like watching [Production] Code movies. . . . I’m Mr. Breen’s biggest fan.” This love of “Hollywood’s Censor” may imply a certain conservatism, but the articulacy, remorseless humor, class awareness, and Episcopalian conscience of Stillman’s works convey a refined iconoclasm. He’s a detail-driven craftsman of verbal filigree, in an industry of indie distributors concerned with marketable edge. Of recent “externally vérité” realism: “I don’t think it’s true. . . . I think we bring these emotions and aesthetic exultation to life as we observe it, instead of just having this critically negative camera covering things.” The tragedy is, there’ll be nothing even like Stillman’s three films until he makes another. The chronicler of decline and fall seems guardedly optimistic: “I think it could be true that you are more imbued with nostalgia and regret when you’re younger than when you’re older. It’s one of those perverse things.”

For the full interview, visit



At the end of writer-director Whit Stillman’s 1998 film The Last Days of Disco, about the demise of disco in early-’80s Manhattan, yuppie Josh gives an earnest speech to his friends: “Disco was too great and too much fun to be gone forever! It’s got to come back someday. I just hope it will be in our own lifetimes.” He’ll get his wish tonight when the Film Comment Selects series presents an evening of disco dancing with DJs Jeremy Campbell (Tropical Computer System) and Dan Selzer (Acute Records) and refreshments by Stella Artois after a screening of the film (which stars Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale as a couple of hard-partying aspiring book editors). Stillman will also be in attendance to discuss the film, the final movie of his semi-autobiographical trilogy that included Metropolitan (1990) and Barcelona (1994).

Thu., Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m., 2009