Whit Stillman,

A weeklong electronic journal.
June 13 1998 3:30 AM

Whit Stillman,

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       I'm beginning to question the very premise of the diary idea. I'll have to talk with Cyrus about it, once the check has cleared (this is in fact a paying writing assignment, not just the usual "they'll do anything" film-publicity opportunity it might seem; if the full amount is paid it will cover more than half the cost of the new brand-name Internet-friendly laptop required to complete it--see Monday's entry).
       In the diary we are supposed to chronicle the mundane details of daily life. My concern is this: How interesting can it be that we are now sharing our accommodations at the Econo Grand Suites Hotel with a rather large frog?
       Of course, finding live crickets in the East 34th Street neighborhood might be a challenge worth narrating, but last night we found food for ourselves (the neighborhood has takeout barbecue for humans) only just in time to watch the Animal House 20th anniversary superbash on TBS, as you probably did too. We couldn't see it all, but what a good movie. What now might be overlooked is that Animal House--and the whole toga party phenomenon--was part of the disco era, too. I remember seeing and going nuts for both Animal House and Saturday Night Fever at the same cinema within the same year. Both represented a ferocious return to "group social life" after the more solitary culture of the post-Woodstock era.
       My failure in journalism in the period related to an inability or reluctance to generalize, a squeamishness about the declarative sentence. (And, of course, lots of other deficiencies.) In the case of each of the three films we've tried to be very specific and accurate--and also, when possible, funny--but it's my own experience and that of people I know, not of some Disco Everyman of media myth. This week has been a particular trial, paying the price for journalists who only traffic in generalization and cliché and are absolutely deaf to comedy--and very proud and arrogant about their deafness. Earlier in the year, the author of the original New York magazine piece on which Saturday Night Fever was based confessed in an eloquent article how he had essentially ... made it up. Now this fictional construct--a highly appealing fictional construct--along with less appealing constructs, is part of the Truth of the Era that the not very clever and entirely humorless would like to thrash us for not retreading.
       At a stopover at the Newport Film Festival last week, the makers of one of the competing films--they work with the same composer as we do, Mark Suozzo--told us about a wonderful piece by Armond White in the New York Press replying to the above: "It's comical--almost as funny as Stillman dialogue [thanks, Armond]--to see them knock The Last Days of Disco because it isn't about black and gay subcultures (like they care) or Studio 54 in its prime. Read the title, kids!" From this--admittedly--rather high point, Armond scales further heights, upward and upward, with mounting eloquence of detail. It would be great to throw Armond's article up on the Web site (www.lastdaysofdisco.com) and to try to get others' reactions--we'll try to do that next week when we've got the Slate diary monkey off our backs.
       "That Slate diary is the bane of my existence," UTA agent John Lesher says after calling a couple of times during the deadlines. I just blew the Thursday deadline, so it's probably the bane of Cyrus', too. This is now going to slide into the weekend--Friday--edition. I wonder if they'll dock my pay. The people who edit Slate actually live in Seattle. (That is not intended disrespectfully; Seattle is one of the cities I am thinking of moving to next year--we recently lost our Manhattan apartment, hence the summer rental in the Greater Patchogue area and the last few nights spent at the Econo Grand Suites Hotel.)
       I'll miss it. Not having the diary to write in will be like ... dying a little bit.
       Today the promotional whirl essentially came to a stop. There will be some more things, but only sporadically (maybe an appearance on the Food Channel). The week of June 23, both Chloe Sevigny (Alice in the film) and Chris Eigeman (Des) are supposed to appear on Letterman, which could be great. This morning Chris called with news of the pathetic piece that set off my rant above. We talk several times during the day. He was having lunch with Marshall Fine of Gannett. Except for some walking-around chores--looking for mail in various places--I worked mostly at my desk and spoke by phone with Martin Shafer of Castle Rock and Russell Schwartz of Gramercy. This will be a hugely important weekend for us: The film will be on something like 180 screens and finally opens in Canada, where, so far, the response has been wonderful (knock on wood--actually, one of the songs on the soundtrack). Also talk with Denise at Sony about trying to get more visibility for the soundtrack album--also some promotional copies for the publicists, who are in chronically short supply.
       Our incredibly dusty two-room office in the building atop the Angelika cinemas on Houston Street (nothing good's playing there now; go to the Sony 19th Street if you want to see a good movie) has now accumulated the detritus of all three films, plus the Spanish film sales and cartoonists' agencies of former careers.
       I have been saving the really big news for last: We finally got a mention in the New York Post's prestigious "Page Six" section! It was the A-list party at Pravda--described in Wednesday's entry--so redolent of the last days of the disco era: "Roots revel: It was a battle of the blondes at the opening after-party for the new Roots store on Lafayette Street the other night, as Canadians gathered at Pravda to hail the Toronto-based retailer." Then text listing celebs attending: Candace Bushnell, Kate Bohner--the only two I saw--Dan Aykroyd, Donna Dixon, Kelly Lynch, Kirsty Hume, Amber Valetta (sounds familiar), Ann Jones, Lucy Sykes, Tricia Helfer, Natasha (Species) Henstridge. And finally this rather exciting conclusion: "Also partying with Detroit-born owners Michael Budman and Don Green: Billy Baldwin, Carlos Leon, Jason Priestley, Robbie Robertson, and director Whit Stillman, who is enjoying the raves for The Last Days of Disco." A lot of people will see that column and then probably want to check out the film this weekend, to see what everyone (well, almost everyone) is raving about. But, just to clarify, I did not personally "party" with Carlos Leon or any of the other guys mentioned, instead falling in with the Canadian financial journalist crowd--well, one writes for the Village Voice--and accompanying them on the long march uptown, like in a scene out of Bright Lights, Big City except without the drugs and five hours earlier in the night.
       Even better, on Page 50 of the same issue of the Post, there was a "Starfile" on Chris Eigeman, wherein he reveals such things as the name of his favorite album ever: "Probably Art Tatum's Piano Starts Here"--stuff we never usually talk about.
       The day's other milestone was the airing of the interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross at about 4:40 p.m.
       As you might recall, as this interview ended I had the strong feeling of having had some sort of psychotic episode during it. I like Terry Gross a lot, like everyone else, but why did she ask me all that stuff about debutante parties--and, worse, why did I answer that way? You forget it's radio and that everything might be used--it's not just a "backgrounder" of some kind. Couldn't we have talked about film comedy or something, instead of all that social stuff, which is offensive nearly everyone? And then I went into a rant attacking another filmmaker. Surely they will cut some of the nonsense out, as they did so well on Charlie Rose. No. The interview airs and--I do sound just as weird as a I remember. Arthur Giron, a playwright and sort of saint of private life, calls up afterward to say it was good. Fortunately, it's pledge week, so probably no one's listening.
       Getting back to the Cheapo Chrome Efficiency (one bedroom sleeps four) Suites Hotel, the roles are reversed from the night before. Tonight the frog is up and I'm down. Live crickets were found at a pet store on Union Square, along with Green Tree Terrarium Moss. "Is Green Tree Moss the best choice for my terrarium?" the packaging asks. "YES--It is a natural moss which ... protects amphibians and many reptiles from the harmful effects of a dry environment." He really likes it, too. The frog--so far unnamed by us--is in clover. This frog is a school frog. The girls' summer vacation is starting; one often forgets that school amphibians have summer vacations, too--and this guy, very happy with the crickets scampering about, will be crashing with us for most of it. As a frog, he will never be able to enjoy seeing The Last Days of Disco on the big screen--just like David Edelstein.
       Did you see the new Entertainment Weekly/CNN TV show last night? The "Critics Consensus" section featuring three films of note. The Jim Carrey film got a good grade--of course, ho-hum. Godzilla, a not very good grade. Then, a film the audience had "probably not heard of"! A clip of the girls coming out of the club lounge area, talking about guys putting slobbering tongues in their mouths--The Last Days Of Disco featured on national television, getting an A- from a panel of the top critics in the country, like the Olympics except a letter grade! What a pick up! The frog and I were finally in sync. Anyway, if you do get to see the film this weekend, we'd be grateful. It's a very good date movie--or, as mentioned, suitable for a large group.
       I don't think I'll be asked to write a diary or anything else for Slate ever again, so I guess this is goodbye.

Whit Stillman is writer/producer/director of such films as Metropolitan, Barcelona and, most recently,The Last Days of Disco.

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