First Things is not, normally at least, a magazine you’d turn to for astute cultural coverage, or indeed astute coverage of anything else. The vast majority of the magazine is given over to theological mumbo-jumbo and right-wing flackery. But by some miracle last year they published a wonderful article by Mara Altman about Whit Stillman, the excellent although very unprolific film director. You can read the article here.
It has been so long since Stillman directed a movie that sometimes he wonders whether he should even call himself a director anymore. After trips abroad, when he goes through U.S. Immigration Service checkpoints, inspectors routinely ask him his occupation. If he says “film director,” it results in delays. Sometimes he’ll mention Metropolitan. Other times, he’ll drop the name of his 1994 film, Barcelona, or his third movie, The Last Days of Disco, released in 1998. Together, those movies—his so-called “Yuppie Trilogy,” three beautifully rendered satirical yarns about young, upper-crust college grads at emotional loose ends—once defined Stillman as one of the great young directors of his generation, but that time has long passed. Blank faces usually greet his explanations. Lately he’s been telling the Immigration people he’s a writer, just to get over to baggage claim a little more quickly.
But Stillman has never been ready for his directing life to disappear. Over the last decade he has divulged only vague hints about his new projects: movies about militias in Texas, a Whig hero, a 1960s Jamaican angel shortage, and an unidentified series of events taking place in Ireland. At various points he was attached to direct an adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s novel Little Green Men, a biography of American Revolutionary War officer Francis Marion called The Swamp Fox, and a film of Anchee Min’s Red Azalea, the script for which he unfortuitously turned in on September 12, 2001. None ever came to pass.
(A tip of the hat to the all-seeing cultural polymath James Wolcott).