Recognize these lines?
You know that Shakespearean admonition, ‘To thine own self be true’?
It’s premised on the idea that ‘thine own self’ is something pretty good, being true to which is commendable.
But what if ‘thine own self’ is not so good?
What if it’s pretty bad?
Would it be better in that case not to be true to thine own self?
Those are lines spoken by Des, the disillusioned entrepreneur and ladies man played by Chris Eigeman in The Last Days of Disco, my favorite film written and directed by Whit Stillman. As he collapses into a taxi cab to assess the damage done by his own misbeavior, Des rambles on as he usually does, in love with the sound of his own voice. Little does he know that he’s speaking truth relevant to the entire film… and, actually, to all of Whit Stillman’s catalog.
It’s that kind of sharp, literate, insightful humor that has drawn me back again and again to the work of this wonderful filmmaker. So you’ll understand that I’m excited to find, among the new Amazon original series, The Cosmopolitans, a new series from Stillman.
Here’s an often hilarious interview with Stillman about a show that promises “More heartbreak to come.”
And here’s further coverage of this promising development from Richard Brody in The New Yorker:
There’s obviously something conservative about Stillman’s work, but, as nostalgia goes, his is an immensely productive and forward-looking one. His vision of a world in which traditional modes of behavior are preserved is also one in which those modes are still active — what he imports from the past is equally latent, though unexpressed, in the present. He isn’t so much reviving traditional ideas as revealing what he seems to consider enduring truths.
Want to dig deeper?
Here’s a three-part essay by my friend Ron Reed on the spiritual themes of Stillman’s work:
Whit Stillman: Poet of the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie
Go back to 2010, where this lively profile of Stillman appeared—surprise, surprise—in First Things.