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Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 11, 2012 by  



By no means is “Metropolitan” a film that is pedantic nor does it asks its viewer to be an erudite on literary and socio-economic topics.  But it does make for an engrossing film for those who know what the characters are talking about and for the most part, this is an independent film that it so well written.  Over 20-years later and I still love this film to death!  One of my favorite films of all time… Enjoyable, fun and intellectually stimulating… “Metropolitan” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1990 Westerly Films Video Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326

YEAR OF FILM: 1990

DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 Aspect Ratio), Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: MAJESTIC FILMS/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: July 24, 20112

Written and Directed by Whit Stillman

Produced by  Whit Stillman

Co-Produced by Peter Wentworth

Line Producer: Brian Greenbaum

Music by Tom Judson, Mark Suozzo

Cinematography by John Thomas

Edited by Christopher Tellefsen

Costume Design by Mary Jane Fort

Starring:

Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget

Edward Clements as Tom Townsend

Chris Eigeman as Nick Smith

Taylor Nicholas as Charlie Black

Allison Parisi as Jane Clark

Dylan Hundley as Sally Fowler

Isabel Gillies as Cynthia McLean

Bryan Leder as Fred Neff

Will Kempe as Rick Von Sloneker

Ellia Thompson as Serena Slocum

Stephen Uys as Victor Lemley

One of the great American independent films of the 1990s, the surprise hit Metropolitan, by writer-director Whit Stillman, is a sparkling comedic chronicle of a young man’s romantic misadventures while trying to fit in to New York City’s debutante society. Stillman’s deft, literate dialogue and hilariously highbrow observations earned this first film an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. Beneath the wit and sophistication, though, lies a tender tale of adolescent anxiety.


Back in 1984, Whit Stillman began work on his screenplay for “Metropolitan”, a screenplay that would be completed in 1988.  At the time, Stillman ran his own illustration agency but in order to get his screenplay created for the big screen, Stillman sold his apartment in New York for $50,000 and whatever money friends and family could contribute to his project.

“Metropolitan” is loosely based on Stillman’s experience while attending his first year at Harvard and while living with his divorced mother during the week of Christmas break.  The film focuses on a small group of preps who live in Upper East Side Manhattan and attending the debutante balls during their first year of college.  The term “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” was coined from this film and while many people would consider the film about WASP-students, ironically Stillman’s grandfather E. Digby Baltzell was responsible for coining the term WASP.

The film featured intellectual dialogue reminiscent of French New Wave director Eric Rohmer and the film would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination back in 1991 for “Best Original Screenplay”, a nomination for Grand Jury Prize (Drama) at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival and winning “Best New Director” at the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1990.

“Metropolitan” is a film that revolves around a group of Upper East Side Manhattanites who are preparing for a party at Sally Fowler’s.  Princeton student Tom Townsend (played by Edward Clements) is trying to catch a cab in which the group (known as the Sally Fowler Rat Pack) is also trying to catch.  Because Tom allows them to take the cab, Nick Smith (played by Chris Eigeman) invites Tom to join them for their party.

We are introduced to a group of individuals who love to discuss socio-economics, literary discussions, politics and the life of young adults.  Tom who is an intellectual himself meets the rat pack leader Nick (who becomes a good friend of Tom and allows him to be part of their circle); the blonde singer Sally Fowler (played by Dylan Hundley); the often-drunk and always sleeping Fred Neff (played by Bryan Leder); the very opinionated Jane Clark (played by Allison Rutledge); the sexy Cynthia McLean (played by Isabel Gillies); the bespectacled and often-opinionated Charlie Black (played by Taylor Nichols) and the sensitive, literary loving Audrey Rouget (played by Carolyn Farina).

After the party is over, it is revealed that unlike his new friends, Tom doesn’t live in the Upper East Side.  He and his mother try to live with whatever money they have and despite going to a nice college, he tries to conceal his lack of finances by renting tuxedo’s and thus he is seen as a man who is skeptical about upper-class values, but even though his new friend Nick figures him out, Nick doesn’t mind because of a “severe escort shortage” and that Tom is good in conversations with him and his friends.

Meanwhile, Audrey has fallen for Tom but Tom has always been in love with Serena Slocum (played by Elizabeth Thompson) who is dating a baron named Rick Von Sloneker (played by Will Kempe) who Nick despises.

The film spotlights on the friendship and relationships of Tom and his group of upper-class friends which Charlie has crafted the new name of “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie”.

VIDEO:

“Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio).  When I reviewed the original DVD, I said of the film, “It’s probably one of the few Criterion Collection films that looks its age but considering this was a low budget indie film, I’m not going to be too picky on picture quality.  There is a fine layer of grain and I’m guessing noise that can be seen on the print.”

With the Blu-ray release of “Metropolitan”, the film looks a lot better than the DVD release.  It’s not going to look like a big-budget film but the film looks cleaner and features much more clarity.  Colors look more natural, black levels are deep and this is probably the best we are going to see of this film, and for fellow “Metropolitan” fans, the improvement on video alone is what makes the Blu-ray much better to upgrade from the original DVD!

According to The Criterion Collection, the Blu-ray release was supervised by director Whit Stillman and cinematographer John Thomas and the HD digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35  mm blow-up interpositive.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326” is primarily a dialogue-driven film with a pleasing musical soundtrack.  Presented in LPCM 2.0 monaural, according to Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 2-bit from a 35 mm magnetic audio track.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Dialogue is primarily front-channel but you do get a lossless soundtrack and dialogue and music are crystal clear!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by writer/director Whit Stillman, actors Christopher Eigeman and Taylor Nichols and editor Christopher Tellefsen.  Informative commentary on how certain scenes were filmed, filmmaking with a budget to reasons why some of the cast was stereotyped and unable to find work after “Metropolitan”.  A pretty entertaining commentary!
  • Outtakes – (9:23) Outtakes from “Metropolitan”.
  • Memorial – (1:00) Behind-the-scenes footage of line producer Brian Greenbaum who died in 1992.
  • Alternate Casting – Featuring two alternate castings that were not used in the film.  One titled “Record Producer Allen” starring Lloyd Kaufman (2:27) and the other “Nick Smith” (1:52) featuring Will Kempe (who plays Van Sloneker in the film) playing the character of Nick.  An optional commentary is included with Whit Stillman discussing why he changed the cast for those roles.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer – (2:06) The original theatrical trailer.

EXTRAS:

“Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326” comes with a quad-fold insert featuring an essay by Luc Sante titled “After the Ball”.

“Metropolitan” is a fantastic, entertaining and highly enjoyable film that many people have probably not heard of.

And after they see the trailer or read a little about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if people tend to pass on the film because of its unknown actors and that it is a film that focuses on upper-class WASP students.  Correction… as the Charlie would say, “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” (or “UHB”) students which are neither a preppie or a WASP but a member of a group that because of its specific status, has nowhere to go but down.

It’s a film that showcases intellectual conversation, engrossing dialogue and for those who are able to follow it and understand the humor within the film and its witty dialogue, you will easily find “Metropolitan” quite entertaining.

It’s pretty interesting because I tend to bring up a film such as Eric Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud’s” or his earlier films in which the conversations were intellectual and engrossing but its what made Rohmer’s films so intellectually stimulating.  They weren’t meant for humor, “Metropolitan” is well-crafted for one to follow it and just laugh of the exchanges between the characters.

I absolutely enjoyed how the screenplay is written and the conversations that Stillman includes in this film.  For example, here is a conversation between the literary loving Audrey and the intellectual, Fourier admiring character, Tom.

AUDREY: I read that Lionel Trilling essay that you mentioned.  You really like Trilling?

TOM: Yes.

AUDREY:  I think he’s very strange.  He says that nobody can like the heroine of “Mansfield Park”.  I like her.  And then he goes on, and on, about how we modern people of today with our modern attitudes bitterly resentments for the park because its heroine is virtuous.  What’s wrong with a novel having a virtuous heroine?

TOM: His point is that the novels premise there is something immoral in a group of young people putting on a play is pretty absurd.

AUDREY:  You found Fanny Price unlikeable?

TOM: She sounds pretty unbearable but I haven’t read the book?

AUDREY: What?

TOM:  You don’t have to read a book to have an opinion on it.  I haven’t read the bible either.

AUDREY:  What Jane Austen novels have you read?

TOM: None.  I don’t read novels.  I prefer good literary criticism.  That way you get both the novelist’s ideas as well as the critics thinking. With fiction, I can never forget that none of it ever really happened, that its all just made up by the author.

This is just but one of the few conversations featured in the film.  And these are quotes that myself and many people have taken to heart, so much that on Facebook, there is a “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” group where many Whit Stillman and specifically “Metropolitan” fans go to visit, share their love about the film but most importantly, share their favorite quotes from the film.

“Metropolitan” is probably one of those romantic comedies that definitely does its best in showcasing the life of young Manhattan debutantes.   And I have read that because Stillman’s father was an attorney for President Kennedy (and his parents was divorced), he had the opportunity to see life in both worlds of rich and not rich at all and definitely provided some insight to the (disappearing?) lifestyle of young upperclass students.

I loved the characters of this film.  Personally, with the way the film is ostentatiously written, especially how characters (especially Charlie) who has this opprobrium feel to his fellow upperclass friends, he senses doom.  In no different of how a conservative views a liberal.    I loved the character of Audrey who is the most reminiscent of early Rohmer films with her discussions of literary likes.  And as a person who took part in high school book clubs to have these literary discussions, I have found Tom the most interesting of them all.

Not just in regards to his comment of not reading novels and following criticism (because even those of us who review films are guilty of reading reviews and essays from Sarris, Kael, Rosenbaum, Agee, etc. of films we may have not seen yet) but it’s his take towards the upperclass and not being a fan of the debutante balls but yet hangs out with the UHB’s and thus, there is a hypocrisy that begins to be unraveled as he starts to sort out his emotions and the way people around him have started to have an affect on him.

By no means is “Metropolitan” a film that is pedantic nor does it asks its viewer to be an erudite on literary and socio-economic topics.  But it does make for an engrossing film for those who know what the characters are talking about and for the most part, this is an independent film that it so well written and for a low budget film that deals with the upperclass, Whit Stillman has done a fantastic job with this film and definitely helped set things up for the writer/director for his next two films “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco”.  If anything, it has been over a decade since we have seen anything else from Stillman which is a shame because he is fine director and I hope we continue to see more films from the director.

As for the Blu-ray release, it may not be a release that has the typical Criterion Collection style of being loaded with bells and whistles, nor may it be one of their better looking films in HD in the collection but for those who are fans of Stillman’s work or a person who is craving for humorous but smart, engrossing dialogue will find “Metropolitan” to be to their liking.

And as highly recommend this Blu-ray release to cinema fans, I also encourage fellow fans who own the DVD to upgrade.  The picture quality is a major improvement and what best to watch this classic Stillman film in your home than in HD.

Overall, “Metropolitan” is a film that I very absolutely love and possibly, is high up there among my favorite films of all time.   By saying that, I know this film is not for everyone.  It may be too smart or too WASPy for some cinema fans, but if you want American cinema that is fun, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, I recommend “Metropolitan – The Criterion Collection #326”!






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