Creating within constraints

Whit Stillman on Stanley Kubrick, Barcelona, The Last Days Of Disco, Eyes Wide Shut and Barry Lyndon

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Whit Stillman on getting confirmation of John Kelly's comment that Stanley Kubrick really loved both Barcelona and The Last Days Of Disco: "I went to the première of Eyes Wide Shut in Paris. And Nicole Kidman said the same thing."
Whit Stillman on getting confirmation of John Kelly's comment that Stanley Kubrick really loved both Barcelona and The Last Days Of Disco: "I went to the première of Eyes Wide Shut in Paris. And Nicole Kidman said the same thing." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Whit Stillman is currently working on episodes for The Cosmopolitan Amazon television series. The pilot TV movie starred Chloë Sevigny (Love & Friendship, The Last Days Of Disco) and Adam Brody (Damsels In Distress).

When I brought up to Whit Tony Zierra's Filmworker, the documentary on Leon Vitali and his all-encompassing role in the life and work of Stanley Kubrick, Stillman elaborated on his own Kubrick connection - from his love of Barry Lyndon to Barcelona and The Last Days Of Disco cinematographer John Thomas and how Thomas Gibson ended up in Eyes Wide Shut.

Whit Stillman on Filmworker, Tony Zierra's documentary on Leon Vitali: "I'd love to see that. You know, we have a slight Kubrick connection. Do you know about that?"
Whit Stillman on Filmworker, Tony Zierra's documentary on Leon Vitali: "I'd love to see that. You know, we have a slight Kubrick connection. Do you know about that?" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you see Filmworker? The documentary on Leon Vitali, the assistant to Kubrick?

Whit Stillman: No, I'd love to see that. You know, we have a slight Kubrick connection. Do you know about that?

AKT: So I've heard. That's why I brought it up. What is your Kubrick connection?

WS: It was a wonderful thing. You know, when these films are coming out, you are not sure how they are being received. And a lot of people don't like them and complain about them. So that was true of both Barcelona and The Last Days Of Disco.

And then it was really encouraging that the studio head, John Kelly, said "Oh, you'd be surprised who's talking about you recently." And I said "Well, who?" And he said "Stanley Kubrick. He really loved both Barcelona and Disco and wanted to know about the cinematographer John Thomas."

Then someone from Warner Bros. at a film luncheon said the same thing to me. And Nicole Kidman. I went to the première of Eyes Wide Shut in Paris. And Nicole Kidman said the same thing. And he hired actually Thomas Gibson, who had a small part in Barcelona, for Eyes Wide Shut.

Whit Stillman: "Barcelona is very much an American expatriate film. People don't talk about it that much, but Kubrick was one of the legendary expatriates."
Whit Stillman: "Barcelona is very much an American expatriate film. People don't talk about it that much, but Kubrick was one of the legendary expatriates."

And I was trying to think of that, because, you know, Kubrick cinema, our cinema, not much connection. I think it's the expat point of view. Barcelona is very much an American expatriate film. People don't talk about it that much, but Kubrick was one of the legendary expatriates.

AKT: The idea that you can only get to some things from afar?

WS: I tend to like the Kubrick films that no one else liked. And not respond that much to things everyone else liked.

AKT: Which ones?

WS: I found Barry Lyndon - which was not popular when it came out … I love Barry Lyndon. I also think what's really interesting is Eyes Wide Shut. There's really interesting things in that film while people didn't give it the credit it deserved.

AKT: I agree. I completely agree. It's a very interesting take on the Dream Novella.

WS: The whole thing about the obsessive jealousy is very interesting.

AKT: And the fantasy. Being jealous of somebody else's fantasy.

Whit Stillman on Stanley Kubrick: "And he hired actually Thomas Gibson, who had a small part in Barcelona, for Eyes Wide Shut."
Whit Stillman on Stanley Kubrick: "And he hired actually Thomas Gibson, who had a small part in Barcelona, for Eyes Wide Shut."

WS: That's too far for me. I can't go that far.

AKT: It's even more dangerous than the reality. That point Kubrick makes beautifully clear. On another note, the structure of a film is quite different from television?

WS: What I'm struggling with, trying to work for television, is, we can end things in a film and it doesn't kill us for the future. While in writing for TV, you can close something off - if you have someone killed or something.

It's like five chapters down the pike, you don't have something you need. And it's very disorienting. The fact that television is potentially open-ended.

AKT: I understand.

WS: You don't want to make things necessarily too definitive.

AKT: That's interesting in connection to what we talked about in regards to the time period. That can be completely open-ended, but you need a different kind of time restraint for your work. Is that it?

WS: Yeah.

Ryan O'Neal and David Morley in Barry Lyndon: "I tend to like the Kubrick films that no one else liked. And not respond that much to things everyone else liked."
Ryan O'Neal and David Morley in Barry Lyndon: "I tend to like the Kubrick films that no one else liked. And not respond that much to things everyone else liked."

AKT: Is that what you are doing now? You're doing television?

WS: I'm doing episodes for the Cosmopolitan series. And I find it very very different from film. So a lot of people say, "Oh, TV is just a long film." But it seems the nature of it is very different. You know, film is more analogous to a lake or a pond.

And a TV story is like a stream that could go dry or could take a wrong turn. So you are worrying a lot about mistakes you might be making upstream that will hurt you downstream.

AKT: That makes sense. I've never heard anybody make that comparison.

Read what Whit Stillman had to say on props, locations, costumes, Steiff animals, and Lady and the Tramp in The Last Days Of Disco.

The Last Days Of Disco will screen on July 20 at the Curzon Soho in London. Love & Friendship will be shown on July 21 as a Kate Beckinsale - Chloë Sevigny double feature.

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