Metropolitan (1990)

PG-13 | 93 mins | Comedy-drama | 3 August 1990

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HISTORY

Metropolitan marked thirty-eight-year-old Whit Stillman’s feature film debut as a writer-director. According to a 26 Jan 1990 DV review, Stillman’s previous film experience was limited to his work on the set of a 1984 Spanish film, titled Skyline, in which he is credited as an actor. Stillman moved to Spain to work as a promoter of independent Spanish films, and in that capacity, attended the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. There, as noted in a 29 Jul 1990 NYT article, he “felt pretty marginal,” and wrote a monologue about upper class socialites who were doomed to failure which became one of “Charlie Black’s” speeches in Metropolitan. Stillman was quoted as saying, “Until we started shooting [Metropolitan], I felt I was on a long road to nowhere.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the script was finished in late Aug 1988. Stillman had difficulty finding a producer and proceeded on his own, hiring cinematographer John Thomas through an advertisement in a trade paper, and line producer Brian Greenbaum. Stillman confessed he was still reading “How-to-Direct-a-Movie manuals” when filming began.
       Metropolitan cost $230,000, according to an 8 Sep 1993 LAT article, and was independently funded. Stillman used his own money from the sale of his New York apartment, and contributions from family and friends, including Russell Pennoyer, his former college roommate at Harvard University, and Valerie Carney, a friend who worked as a lawyer for a broadcasting company. As stated in a 7 Aug 1990 HR article, sometime during pre-production, co-producer Peter Wentworth re-allocated seed money from an unnamed abortive project toward ... More Less

Metropolitan marked thirty-eight-year-old Whit Stillman’s feature film debut as a writer-director. According to a 26 Jan 1990 DV review, Stillman’s previous film experience was limited to his work on the set of a 1984 Spanish film, titled Skyline, in which he is credited as an actor. Stillman moved to Spain to work as a promoter of independent Spanish films, and in that capacity, attended the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. There, as noted in a 29 Jul 1990 NYT article, he “felt pretty marginal,” and wrote a monologue about upper class socialites who were doomed to failure which became one of “Charlie Black’s” speeches in Metropolitan. Stillman was quoted as saying, “Until we started shooting [Metropolitan], I felt I was on a long road to nowhere.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the script was finished in late Aug 1988. Stillman had difficulty finding a producer and proceeded on his own, hiring cinematographer John Thomas through an advertisement in a trade paper, and line producer Brian Greenbaum. Stillman confessed he was still reading “How-to-Direct-a-Movie manuals” when filming began.
       Metropolitan cost $230,000, according to an 8 Sep 1993 LAT article, and was independently funded. Stillman used his own money from the sale of his New York apartment, and contributions from family and friends, including Russell Pennoyer, his former college roommate at Harvard University, and Valerie Carney, a friend who worked as a lawyer for a broadcasting company. As stated in a 7 Aug 1990 HR article, sometime during pre-production, co-producer Peter Wentworth re-allocated seed money from an unnamed abortive project toward the budget.
       Over 1,000 actors were auditioned, some of whom came from school theater programs and college drama departments, and hundreds who responded to Stillman’s advertisement in Backstage, a live theater trade publication. A few of the performers came from upper class backgrounds like their characters. Christopher Eigeman, who was cast as “Nick Smith,” had attended Putney, an elite boarding school in Vermont. Isabel Gillies, who played “Cynthia McLean,” was recommended by a drama teacher at an Upper East Side Manhattan private school. When Gillies’s mother visited set, Stillman cast her as “Mrs. Rouget.” Dylan Hundley, who played “Sally Fowler,” was a former debutante. Hundley noted that in comparison to Stillman’s vision of the debutante scene, based on his experience in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the current New York debutante scene was more debaucherous and self-indulgent.
       Cast members were paid “a small daily sum and a greater amount in deferment” for each day on set. Many of them made their feature film debuts in Metropolitan, including Christopher Eigeman, Carolyn Farina as “Audrey Rouget,” and Edward Clements as “Tom Townsend,” a character largely based on Stillman. Like Tom, Stillman’s parents had divorced by the time he attended Harvard, he lived with his mother when not at school, and he lacked spending money, working part-time at a cafeteria to pay his Harvard Fly Club dues.
       Principal photography began 25 Jan 1989 in New York City, and continued for five, six-day weeks, ending 27 Feb 1989. One month earlier, Stillman and John Thomas shot cityscapes on Christmas Eve to capture the atmosphere of Christmas in New York City. The duo also staked out hotels in midtown Manhattan on the nights of specific debutante events, to sneak footage of young socialites entering and leaving the dances. To avoid looking like a “grubby filmmaker” in “sensitive locations” such as the Lehrman Institute, a mansion that doubled as Sally Fowler’s apartment, Stillman reportedly wore a suit and tie throughout the shoot. The first-time director also confessed to reading “How-to-Make-a-Movie manuals” even after filming began.
       A stationary camera style was established to save money, eschewing costly dolly and crane rentals, and a basic insurance policy that cost $4,000 allowed filmmakers to film on streets and in city property for the cost of security. Stillman used “nearly extinct” Checker taxicabs, flagged down by the crew, to give the film a sense of timelessness. For the scene in which Tom and Charlie Black take a taxicab to Southampton, Thomas filmed the actors from the front passenger seat while Stillman and sound recordist Antonio Arroyo lay on the floor of the backseat. The bulk of principal photography took place at the Lehrman Institute, where filming was allowed from six p.m. until dawn. Other locations included St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, Bachrach Photographers, the exterior of Scribner’s Bookstore, the Horn & Hardart Automat, and the Catherine Atzen Beauty Clinic. A few “pickup” days of filming took place in Mar 1989, during a snowfall.
       According to a 26 Sep 1990 LAT item, costume designer Mary Jane Fort used 1950s cocktail dresses from her own wardrobe, and designed the long, white debutante gowns shown in the film. Cocktail dresses from designers such as Adele Simpson, Basia, and Bob Mackie, were rented or purchased. A. T. Harris, a tuxedo store that appears in the film, provided men’s formal wear, while casual outfits came from stores known for preppy styles, including Talbot’s, J.G. Hook, Brooks Brothers, and L.L. Bean.
       Post-production was completed by Oct 1989. Marketing consultant Ira Deutchman was brought on as a producer’s representative following the film’s screening at the Independent Feature Film Market in New York City, as noted in an 18 Oct 1989 Var brief. Metropolitan made its festival premiere at the U.S. (Sundance) Film Festival on 23 Jan 1990, where Tony Saffert served as program director. In Feb 1990, Saffert was named vice president of acquisitions at New Line, and Metropolitan became his first acquisition after a bidding war with other studios. The film was shown at the Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors/New Films Series on 23 Mar 1990, and screened as part of the Director’s Fortnight series at the Cannes Film Festival, according to the 16 May 1990 Var.
       A 27 Mar 1990 HR brief announced Gavin Films, a London, England-based film sales company, had acquired all distribution rights outside North America. Canadian distribution rights went to Cinephile Ltd., as stated in a 21 Mar 1990 Var item, while U.S. distributor New Line planned a midsummer “platform” release in eight-to-ten cities. Sandra Ruch, New Line’s president of marketing, predicted Metropolitan would appeal to “yuppies” averse to stereotypical action-heavy summer films. The film’s tagline read, “Doomed. Bourgeois. In love.”
       Metropolitan was generally well received by critics. NYT’s Vincent Canby deemed it Sundance Film Festival’s “unequivocal hit,” as stated in the 20 May 1990 LAT, while the 26 Jan 1990 DV review praised its “sophisticated, gently mocking wit,” and the 23 Jan 1990 HR called it “up-close but not judgmental.” At the Deauville International Film Festival, Metropolitan shared the $5,000 top prize with another New Line summer release, Pump Up the Volume (1990, see entry), and at the Locarno Film Festival, the film received a Silver Leopard, as stated in a 13 Aug 1990 Toronto Star news brief. Stillman was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), and the film won Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. The National Board of Review named Metropolitan one of the top ten films of the year.
       Actors Carolyn Farina, Dylan Hundley, and Taylor Nichols reprised their roles, appearing briefly in Stillman’s 1998 film, The Last Days of Disco.
       Along with Harold and Maude (1971, see entry) and Poison (1991, see entry), Metropolitan was chosen as part of Sundance Film Festival’s “From the Collection” series, to be screened late Jan 2010, according to an 18 Dec 2009 DV article. The screenings marked the film’s twentieth anniversary at the festival.
       End credits include the following statements: “We are grateful to the following New Yorkers & New York institutions for their generous help & cooperation: Mr. & Mrs. Lewis E. Lehrman; William M. Hammett, Mimi Wilson & their colleagues at the Manhattan Institute; St. Thomas Church & Choir; The Rev. John Andrew, Rector; The Rev. Gary P. Fertig, Vicar; Dr. Gerre Hancock, Master of Choristers; Mr. Morgan Holman, Verger; A.T. Harris, Traditional Men’s Formalwear, Joel S. Schreiber, Proprietor, Peri-Gay Cauthron & Maureen Sibblies; Mr. & Mrs. George S. Johnston; Catherine Atzen Institut de Beauté-Coiffure, Skin care specialists – Catherine Atzen, Founder; Annette R. Fry; Roger W. Kirby & Family; Mr. & Mrs. H. Ned Shreve; Carla & Carolina; The Horn & Hardart Automat, Richard Kleitman, Manager; O’Lunney’s Steak House; Bachrach, Photographers”; “Special thanks to: Valerie Ewing Carney, Mr. & Mrs. Russell P. Pennoyer, Mr. & Mrs. George Sim Johnston III, Penelope S. Paine, Margaret R. Stillman, Mr. & Mrs. Stanley W. Stillman, Linda Stillman, Betsy Thomas, George Ford, Bruno Salinas, Scott Johnston, Cecilia Roque, Marjory Wentworth, Manuel Arce, Marc Biron, Betsy Marino, Kate Holmes, Susan Cobb, Jane Fort, Alyssa Allyn McGuiness, Mark Rubinstein, Nigel Paton (The Nightingale-Bamford School), Ann Pyne, & Jennifer Hayes (The Spence School)”; “Permission to use Channel 11’s Christmas Eve Yule Log broadcast, courtesy of WPIX-TV; Permission to quote from ‘Girls & Sex’ by Dr. Wardell B. Pomeroy, courtesy of Don Congdon Associates”; “ Metropolitan was filmed on location in Manhattan, Southampton & Cornwall, New York. Special thanks to The New York City Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting.”
       The actress who plays “Jane Clarke” is credited incorrectly as “Alison Parisi” in opening credits, and correctly, as “Allison Parisi,” in end credits. Assistant director Larry Eudene’s name is misspelled “Larry Eudine” in end credits. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
20 Mar 1989.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jan 1990.
---
Daily Variety
11 Sep 1990.
---
Daily Variety
18 Dec 2009.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1990
pp. 44-45.
Los Angeles Times
20 May 1990
Calendar, p. 29.
Los Angeles Times
10 Aug 1990
p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
26 Sep 1990
Section E, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
8 Sep 1993
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
23 Mar 1990
p. 18.
New York Times
29 Jul 1990
Section A, p. 9.
Toronto Star
13 Aug 1990
Section C, p. 4.
Variety
18 Oct 1989.
---
Variety
31 Jan 1990
p. 32.
Variety
21 Mar 1990.
---
Variety
16 May 1990.
---
Variety
6 Mar 2006.
---
Village Voice
7 Aug 1990
p. 70.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXT
Westerly Films in association with Allagash Films presents
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Unit mgr
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Line prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Addl elec
Addl elec
Addl elec
Addl elec
Key grip
Key grip
Addl cam equip
Lighting & grip equip
Rigging des
Rigging des
Stills
Stills
Stills
Stills
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dressing/Props
Set dressing/Props
Spec locs - Dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward asst
Clothes provided by
Clothes provided by
Clothes provided by
Clothes provided by
MUSIC
With orig mus by
And addl mus by
And addl mus by
And addl mus by
Mus rights
The Metropolitan Orchestra cond by
The Metropolitan Orchestra cond by
Piano, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Bass, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Violin, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Cello, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Reeds, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Reeds, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Trombone, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Trumpet, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Trumpet, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Drums, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Drums, The Metropolitan Orchestra
Mus copyist
WEDO's
Addl mixing
Addl mixing
SOUND
Sd ed
Boom op
Foley artist
Sd mixer
Sd facility
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title & graphic des
Cadre Graphics
Titles photog
Animus Films
DANCE
Cha-cha coord
MAKEUP
Make-up
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Casting consultant
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
SONGS
"Dry Your Eyes," performed by Brenda and the Tabulations, Bee Cool Music - BMI, courtesy of Dionn Records
"I Need Love," performed by Barbara Mason, Stilran-Dandelion Music - BMI, courtesy of Arctic Records
"Tell Me," performed by Jock Davis, courtesy of Jock Davis.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Last of the Mohicans
Release Date:
3 August 1990
Premiere Information:
U.S. (Sundance) Film Festival screening: 23 January 1990
New York opening: 3 August 1990
Los Angeles opening: week of 10 August 1990
Production Date:
25 January--27 February 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Westerly Film-Video, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 November 1990
Copyright Number:
PA559069
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
93
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, upper class socialites return home from college for Christmas break, which coincides with debutante ball season. After attending one of the balls, Princeton student Tom Townsend is ushered into a taxicab by Nick Smith, who mistakenly assumes Tom was trying to hail the same cab. Nick and his friends, known as the “Sally Fowler Rat Pack” or “SFRP,” introduce themselves and invite Tom to an after-party at Sally Fowler’s apartment. There, Tom admits he never uses taxicabs, and Nick guesses that he is a “public transportation snob.” However, Tom, whose parents divorced three years ago, is simply short on cash since his wealthy father remarried. Tom talks to Audrey Rouget and Jane Clarke, who went to the same boarding school as his ex-girl friend, Serena Slocum. Audrey and Jane reveal that Serena, who had many suitors, read her love letters aloud. Audrey recalls Tom’s letters, in which he expressed disdain for debutante society. Tom admits he is still opposed to it, and only attended tonight’s ball out of boredom. Charlie Black, who pontificates endlessly on the state of the “preppy” class, accuses Tom of being a hypocrite. Charlie asks about Tom’s political leanings, and he claims to favor a model of socialism developed by French philosopher Charles Fourier. Charlie argues that Fourierism failed. Sally invites Tom to another party the next night, but he declines. However, after going to bed after dawn, he wakes up in the early evening and finds the tuxedo rental shop closed when he tries to return his tuxedo. Jane Clarke telephones him, complains of an “escort shortage,” and persuades Tom to accompany Audrey Rouget to tonight’s party. Tom puts his ... +


In New York City, upper class socialites return home from college for Christmas break, which coincides with debutante ball season. After attending one of the balls, Princeton student Tom Townsend is ushered into a taxicab by Nick Smith, who mistakenly assumes Tom was trying to hail the same cab. Nick and his friends, known as the “Sally Fowler Rat Pack” or “SFRP,” introduce themselves and invite Tom to an after-party at Sally Fowler’s apartment. There, Tom admits he never uses taxicabs, and Nick guesses that he is a “public transportation snob.” However, Tom, whose parents divorced three years ago, is simply short on cash since his wealthy father remarried. Tom talks to Audrey Rouget and Jane Clarke, who went to the same boarding school as his ex-girl friend, Serena Slocum. Audrey and Jane reveal that Serena, who had many suitors, read her love letters aloud. Audrey recalls Tom’s letters, in which he expressed disdain for debutante society. Tom admits he is still opposed to it, and only attended tonight’s ball out of boredom. Charlie Black, who pontificates endlessly on the state of the “preppy” class, accuses Tom of being a hypocrite. Charlie asks about Tom’s political leanings, and he claims to favor a model of socialism developed by French philosopher Charles Fourier. Charlie argues that Fourierism failed. Sally invites Tom to another party the next night, but he declines. However, after going to bed after dawn, he wakes up in the early evening and finds the tuxedo rental shop closed when he tries to return his tuxedo. Jane Clarke telephones him, complains of an “escort shortage,” and persuades Tom to accompany Audrey Rouget to tonight’s party. Tom puts his rented tuxedo back on and joins the group. At the party, Serena Slocum arrives with her new beau, a titled aristocrat named Rick Von Sloneker. Nick Smith detests Von Sloneker and denounces the titled aristocracy as the “scum of the earth.” Audrey talks to Tom about her favorite books. When she mentions Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, he is taken aback by her preference for such a “notoriously bad” novel. Later, Charlie Black tells the group they are all doomed to “downward social mobility,” along with the rest of the preppy class. Nick promises to put Tom’s name on the “floor committee” for the Christmas ball, but Tom reiterates that he does not plan to attend any more dances. Nick guesses Tom is declining because he is short on money, and convinces him all he needs is the proper formalwear. Nick agrees to go shopping with Tom, who buys the tuxedo he has been renting for a reduced price. Tom remains preoccupied with Serena, despite Audrey’s obvious interest in him. One night, he talks to Audrey about his father, whom he sees very little because his stepmother does not like houseguests. Audrey brings up Mansfield Park again, and Tom admits he never reads novels, but defends his right to form opinions based on literary criticism. At another ball, Charlie laments the word “bourgeoisie’s” negative connotations, given the bourgeoisie’s contributions to society. While waiting for Audrey outside the restrooms, Tom encounters Serena, who tells him she and Rick have broken up. Tom agrees to escort Serena home, and asks his drunken friend, Fred Neff, to tell Audrey he will return. Tom kisses Serena at her apartment. Later, he finds the SFRP back at Sally’s apartment. Audrey, who never received Tom’s message via Fred, is upset that Tom disappeared. Charlie, who harbors a secret crush on Audrey, reprimands Tom for abandoning her and calls him an egoist. The next day, Audrey makes excuses for Tom’s behavior, but Jane warns her to be careful. Audrey argues that Tom is the only boy she has ever liked, and she refuses to give up on him despite “apparent inconsistencies.” The next night, Charlie discusses the term he has invented to describe the preppy class: Urban Haute Bourgeoisie, or “UHB.” Cynthia McLean, who used to date Rick Von Sloneker, asks Nick to explain why he hates Rick so much. Nick recounts the tragic story of Polly Perkins, who committed suicide after Von Sloneker convinced her to take part in a degrading sex act with multiple boys. Walking home with Tom, Nick admits he invented “Polly Perkins,” but claims she was a composite of real people. On Christmas Eve, Jane warns Audrey that Tom still has feelings for Serena, and Audrey wanders around the city depressed. She runs into Serena at a church service and cries while singing hymns. The day after Christmas, the SFRP reunites to play bridge at Jane’s apartment. Tom tells Audrey he went to see his father on Christmas, only to discover he had moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tom predicts he will be disinherited, and also mentions he has been reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion and surprisingly likes it. Later, Nick and Cynthia take mescaline and Nick becomes paranoid. During a parlor game called “Truth,” Jane asks Tom to reveal his romantic interests in descending order. Tom only names Serena, and predicts he will give up on romance for a while if things do not work out with her. Audrey leaves the room. Charlie tries to console her by proclaiming his affection, but she runs away. Nick is the only one of the group to attend The International, a televised debutante ball that the others watch at Jane’s apartment. Jane invites Rick Von Sloneker over, and when Nick returns from the ball, Von Sloneker confronts him about the Polly Perkins story. Nick admits Polly was a fake name he used to protect the identity of Cathy Livingston. At the mention of her name, Von Sloneker loses his temper and claims he had nothing to do with Cathy’s suicide. He punches Nick, breaking his nose. In the early morning, Nick gives Tom his top hat, asks him to watch over the SFRP, and boards a train to visit his estranged father. Tom takes Serena to dinner at an expensive restaurant. She offends him when she admits to throwing away her old love letters. However, she recalls that Audrey, who was a fan of Tom’s letters, asked to keep them for herself. Realizing he has feelings for Audrey, he sets out to find her, only to discover that she and Cynthia have snuck away to Rick Von Sloneker’s house in Southampton. Tom joins Charlie and Fred at a bar, where they meet an older preppy who rejects Charlie’s theory that the UHB are doomed to failure. Tom and Charlie stop by Sally’s apartment, but Sally, an aspiring singer, is busy entertaining a record producer named Allen Green. She calls Tom and Charlie “tiresome” and sends them away. Tom convinces Charlie that Von Sloneker might take advantage of Audrey, and Charlie pays for a taxi to Southampton. They sneak into Von Sloneker’s house and find Cynthia and Audrey sunbathing under heat lamps indoors. Von Sloneker insults Audrey and challenges Tom, who pulls a toy gun on him. Outside, Tom and Audrey walk on the beach. Audrey is pleased when Tom suggests he might visit France, where Audrey will be attending college after the break. Soon after, Charlie, Tom, and Audrey hitchhike back to Manhattan. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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