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Metropolitian (1990)

I've put this review off for a long time because it's going to be annoyingly self-referential, which is something I try to shy away from. So: fair warning.

Like many, I've taken to watching Metropolitian at the Holidays. Perhaps not viewing it as often as A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life, but annually for sure. It's a great film and, amongst conservatives, we consider Whit Stillman to be one of ours. (see this essay by our sadly departed friend, Peter Augustine Lawler) As much as anything, what resonates for us is that Mr. Stillman's films famously tend to deal with the end of an era or with ones we have long lost. Such passings are naturally tragic for conservatives, as our very name suggests they would be.

But last Christmas, the diirector tweeted something that really unlocked the film for me personally: "Coming to realize that the "Man at Bar" character - played by Roger Kirby, Esq - was perhaps Metropolitan's true protagonist." There's a link to the scene at that tweet, but here's the text:

Man at Bar : You go to a party, you meet a group of people, you like them and you think "These people are going to be my friends for the rest of my life." Then you never see them again. I wonder where they go. We simply fail without being doomed. I'm not destitute. I've got a good job that pays decently. It's just that it's all so mediocre, so unimpressive. The acid test is whether you take any pleasure in responding to the question "What do you do?". I can't bear it. You start out expecting something much more, and some of your contemporaries achieve it. You start reading about them in the papers or seeing them on TV. That's the danger of midtown Manhattan - running across far more successful contemporaries. I try to avoid them whenever I can. But when I can't, they're always friendly. But inevitably they ask what am I doing - or think it.
With a little googling around I also found an essay that Mr. Stillman had written in college that kind of forecast that bit of dialogue: "AFTER HARVARD...WHAT?" is many things. It's the most annoying, boring and important question you can ask a member of the Class of 73." [After Harvard...........WHAT? Reality (Whit Stillman, December 11, 1972, Harvard Crimson)] As he tweeted, this is indeed the crux of the matter for we late era blue bloods: Are you living up to the legacy of those who created the Upper Class you were born into?

Now, I recognize that most folks will be unfamiliar with the level of privilege we're talking about here. So, if you'll indulge me, let me use myself as an example of the phenomenon. Thomas Judd emigrated from England to America in 1632 and was an early settler of Connecticut. All of the Judds in America are his descendants. My great-great grandfather, Orrin Bishop Judd went to Colgate University when it was still Madison University and was ordained a Baptist preacher while still a student. After graduation he attended Hamilton Theological Seminary. He married a Colgate. His son, Orrin Reynolds Judd, was a prominent NYC banker and a Colgate trustee. My grandfather, Orrin Grimmell Judd, graduated high school at thirteen, started Colgate at 16, graduated first in his class at Harvard Law, clerked for Learned Hand, was Solicitor General of NY state under Thomas Dewey and ended as a Federal Judge. He was, of course, a Colgate trustee and, reputedly, turned down both the presidency of the college and a Supreme Court seat because he so loved living in Brooklyn. His son, Orrin Dolloff Judd, attended Colgate Rochester Divinity School (which had started life as the seminary Orrin B. attended.) You will be unsurprised that I only applied to one college, discussed the state of the hockey team at my interview and was admitted early decision in December. Not only was there an ecumenical chapel on campus named for my grandfather but I got my highest grade in the Orrin Reynolds Judd Memorial classroom. Application was little more than a formality.

Such was the stock I came from and such was the weight of my name. I am a delivery driver for a bakery.

I say this with no sense of shame, but you can imagine the awkwardness it can occasion. I enjoy what I do and The Wife is a doctor, so we live lives as affluent as any of my illustrious ancestors. But when you get together with college friends that "What do you do?" question is inevitable and when you tell people they can barely even imagine that you're serious. As Mr. Stillman intuited while still a student, the question can be annoying. There are simply certain jobs and lives that we “urban haute bourgeoisie” (U.H.B's), as the film titles us, are expected to fill. The power of the film lies in the characters' realization that they are tail end of this "bourgeoisie” stratum of society and that they are the only ones left to mourn its passing. As Charlie Black says: "The term 'bourgeois' has almost always been - been one of contempt. Yet it is precisely the - the bourgeoisie which is responsible for - well, for nearly everything good that has happened in our civilization over the past four centuries." This is comical, but as our current politics amply demonstrates, we are not a better society for losing a class of men who felt a strong sense of noblesse oblige. And I know we're all supposed to recoil from the idea of nepobabies and such, but no one can really argue that our institutions have benefited much from having members with weaker ties and declining regard for the traditions that propped them up.

Oddly, it may be that one of the funniest and most quoted exchanges in the film contains a core truth:
Charlie Black: Fourierism was tried in the late nineteenth century... and it failed. Wasn't Brook Farm Fourierist? It failed.

Tom Townsend: That's debatable.

Charlie Black: Whether Brook Farm failed?

Tom Townsend: That it ceased to exist, I'll grant you, but whether or not it failed cannot be definitively said.

Charlie Black: Well, for me, ceasing to exist is — is failure. I mean, that's pretty definitive.

Tom Townsend: Well, everyone ceases to exist. Doesn't mean everyone's a failure.
The "bourgeoisie” has ceased to exist, but it was not a failure. The sadness enveloping Metropolitan is our nostalgia for something rather good that we have failed to conserve. This is not Progress.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

(2 movies reviewed)

    -WIKIPEDIA: Whit Stillman
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Whit Stillman (IMDB)
-FILM PAGE: Metropolitan (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Metropolitian (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Metropolitan (1990 film)
    -ENTRY: Metropolitan (1990 film) (WikiQuote)
    -FILM PAGE: A Whit Stillman Trilogy: Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco (Criterion Collection)
    -FILM PAGE: Metropolitan (Criterion)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Metropolitan (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -VIDEO: Dialogues from Metropolitan (HMDerek4, YouTube)
    -ESSAY: Drawing Utopia: Utopian Impulse, Part Two (Angela Starita, 5/20/24, 3Quarks)
-ESSAY: After Harvard...........WHAT? (Whit Stillman, December 11, 1972, Harvard Crimson)
    -INTERVIEW: Andrew Bujalski and Whit Stillman on Harvard, Hollywood and “Harmful Flattery” (Whit Stillman, November 28, 2022, Interview)
    -ESSAY: Whit Stillman’s Top 10: Explains Whit Stillman, writer and director of The Last Days of Disco: “In trying to come up with a ten best list from the Criterion Collection I thought first of Trouble in Paradise and decided to go online to find the rest. But after only seven pages of Criterion’s online list I already had more than enough for ten ‘bests’—so apologies to Trouble and the films that come after it in the catalog. Those below are not in any order of preference.” (Whit Stillman, 9/04/09, Criterion)
    -PODCAST: Whit Stillman on 'Metropolitan,' a Christmas Movie: Writer/director Whit Stillman on his debut feature and the evolution of the indie biz. (SONNY BUNCH, DEC 16, 2023, Bulwark Goes to Hollywood)
    -REVIEW: of The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence Edited by John Kuehl and Jackson R. Bryer (Whit Stillman, Harvard Crimson)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVES: Whit Stillman (Harvard Crimson)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: Whit Stillman, Carolyn Farina, and Dylan Hundley on Metropolitan (BUILD Series, Aug 6, 2015)
    -INTERVIEW: Whit Stillman and Chris Eigeman: “The reviews, even the positive ones, said, ‘You won’t like these people, and nothing happens,’ and yet we benefit from those expectations.” (Gary M. Kramer, Aug 6, 2015, Bomb)
    -INTERVIEW: Whit Stillman (Betsy Sussler, Jan 1, 1991, Bomb)
    -INTERVIEW: Whit Stillman : The director discusses matters of taste and the heart, and his new film (WSJ, 4/13/12)
    -INTERVIEW: Checking in with Whit Stillman: The 'Metropolitan' writer-director talks about his long hiatus from filmmaking (Gregory Kirschling, February 17, 2006, Entertainment Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: Whit Stillman looks back on his 'identity comedies' (Mary Sollosi, August 07, 2015, Entertainment Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: Talking with Whit Stillman about His Places of the Past (Hillary Weston, APR 29, 2016, Criterion)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Whit Stillman About The Script Of 'Metropolitan' (Sharan Shetty, 8/22/12, The Awl)
    -INTERVIEW: Checking in with Whit Stillman -- The 'Metropolitan' writer-director talks about his long hiatus from filmmaking (Gregory Kirschling, February 17, 2006, Entertainment Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: The Soul of Whit (Emma Brown, April 4, 2012, Interview)
-PROFILE: The Whit Stillman Rat Pack (Monique P. Yazigi, May 31, 1998, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: A Wasp's Buzz (Celia McGee, 8/01/94, New York)
    -PROFILE: Whit Stillman is Running Late: Tracking down the revered director as he makes his first new movie in twelve years—if he hurries. (Mara Altman, December 2010, First Things)
    -PROFILE: Sage of Innocence: Whit Stillman embraces the idea of utopia in his films (Alexander E. Traub, April 17, 2012, Harvard Crimson)
    -PROFILE: Stillman, Whit: Director Profile (Emanuel Levy, 2/18/06)
    -PROFILE: Whit Stillman Pays a Visit to Jane Austen: The director Whit Stillman helmed the recently released “Love & Friendship,” an adaptation of Jane Austen’s little-known novel “Lady Susan.”: The director of a new Austen adaptation inspects the handwritten manuscript of the story that inspired his film. (Alexandra Schwartz, May 19, 2016, The New Yorker)
    -PODCAST: ACF Middlebrow 37 Barcelona (Titus Techera & Sam Goldman, ACFmovie podcast)
    -PODCAST: ACF Middlebrow #35 Metropolitan (Titus Techera & Sam Goldman, ACFmovie podcast)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan: A movie for the conservative in all of us. (AUSTIN KELLEY, FEB 16, 2006, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Disco and Democracy: Thoughts on Stillman's Film and Book (Peter Augustine Lawler, 02 Apr 2010, Perspectives on Political Science)
    -ESSAY: A Great Conservative Filmmaker (Julia Magnet, Winter 2004, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: 'Love & Friendship' revives forgotten Jane Austen work (Kevin P. Sullivan, April 15, 2016, Entertainment Weekly)
    -ESSAY: FILMS OF THE SPIRIT (Austin W. Bramwell, June 2002, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Some Thoughts on Whit Stillman (TITUS TECHERA, June 23, 2016, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Whit Stillman’s ‘Metropolitan’ 25 Years Later: How it Become a Surprise Indie Hit: Whit Stillman's 'Metropolitan' 25 Years Later: How it Become a Surprise Indie Hit (Paula Bernstein, Aug 6, 2015, IndieWire)
    -ESSAY: Barcelona Vs. Metropolitan: Whit Stillman’s Tow Indies (Emanuel Levy, 1994)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: “Metropolitan” and the Enduring Plight of the U.H.B. (Richard Brody, August 11, 2015, The New Yourker)
    -ESSAY: Radical Decency: The Films of Whit Stillman (Sharon C. McGovern), Cobra's Nose)
-FILM LIST: The Best Conservative Movies (National Review, February 5, 2009)
    -ARCHIVES: Whit Stillman (Criterion Collection)
    -ARCHIVES: Whit Stillman (The New Yorker)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: Whit Stillman (YouTube)
    -ARCHIVES: whit stillman (National Review)
    -ARCHIVES: whit Stillman (Harvard Crimson)
    -ARCHIVES: whit stillman (Entertainment Weekly)
    -ARCHIVES: stillman (First Things)
    -ARCHIVES: "whit stillman" (Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of The Last Days of Disco: With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards by Whit Stillman (Couper Samuelson, Harvard Independent)
-REVIEW: of Not So Long Ago by Whit Stillman (Seth Katz, Slant)
    -ORAL HISTORY: Whit Stillman's Metropolitan: An Oral History of the Preppiest, WASPiest, Wittiest Comedy of Heirs: On its 30th anniversary, the doomed bourgeoisie, debutantes in distress and founding members of the Sally Fowler Rat Pack recall the making of the most charming cult classic of all time. (TREY TAYLOR, AUG 30, 2020, Town & Country)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Yuletide with the WASPs: Metropolitan presents something we rarely see in movies: the funny and even admirable side of the graduates of America’s prep schools. (Titus Techera, 12/23/22, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: WHIT STILLMAN’S “METROPOLITAN” (1990) (THE DIRECTORS SERIES: An ongoing film journal by filmmaker Cameron Beyl, July 27, 2016)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Even WASP's Are Allowed to Have Feelings (Richard Brookhiser, Jan. 20, 1991, NY Times)
    REVIEW ESSAY: TWILIGHT OF THE URBAN HAUTE BOURGEOISE: Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan": A Modern Review (Alexander Raubo · 30 December 2023, IM1776)


-FILM REVIEW ARCHIVES: Metropolitan (Metacritic)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Hillary Mantel, The Spectator)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Alessandra Stanley, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Stephen Holden, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Owen Glieberman, EW)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Lawrence O'Toole, EW)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Kelly A.E. Mason, Harvard Crimson)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Face to Face)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Lucy Sante, Criterion)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Christopher Orr, The Atlantic)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Jonathan Romney, Film Comment)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Philip French, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Andrew Pulver, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Emanuel Levy)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Vincent Canby, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Desson Howe, Washington Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Rita Kempley, Washington Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Amy Dawes, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Jaime N. Christley, Slant)
    -FILM REVIEW: Metropolitan (Emina Melonic, Splice Today)
    -FILM REVIEW: Barcelona (G. William Winborn, Harvard Crimson)
    -FILM REVIEW: Last Days of Disco (Interview)
    -FILM REVIEW: Last Days of Disco (Emanuel Levy)
    -FILM REVIEW: Last Days of Disco (Chris Nashawaty, EW)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (Thomas S. Hibbs, National Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (A.O. Scott, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (Ross Douhat, National Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (Emanuel Levy)
    -FILM REVIEW: Damsels in Distress (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Jane Austen's Memorable Con Woman (Brian Murray, 5/11/2016, Law & Liberty)
    -FILM REVIEW: Love and Friendship (Entertainment Weekly)
    -FILM REVIEW: Love and Friendship (Deborah Yaffe, First Things)
    -FILM REVIEW: Love and Friendship (JR Jones, Chicago Reader)
    -FILM REVIEW: Love and Friendship (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: Love and Friendship (A.O. Scott, NY Times)
    -TV REVIEW: The Cosmopolitans (Armond White, National Review)
    -TV REVIEW: The Cosmopolitans (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)