One of the most appealing and amazing aspects of Art, particularly books and movies, is the ability to virtually transport someone to somewhere they've never been, both real and imagined. From the comfort of a darkened movie theater, the sofa at home, or wherever the latest gadget allows, a viewer is escorted to different eras and locations through a filmmaker's work. This can inform yet also skew one's perception of a place.
New York City is a frequent setting for storytellers, especially those who are or have been residents. Even though I've never visited the Big Apple, the city and its population appear vast and varied through the perspectives of different filmmakers. The New York City of Martin Scorsese's 'Mean Streets' is as different from the New York City of Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing' as both are from the New York City of Woody Allen's 'Manhattan.' Producer/director/writer Whit Stillman's debut 'Metropolitan' reveals yet another version of the city, though Stillman's upper-class college kids from the Upper East Side aren't too different Allen's characters. They could conceivably cross paths in the city and certainly suffer similar self-induced conflicts.
'Metropolitan' opens with titles revealing the story is set in Manhattan during Christmas vacation, not so long ago. One evening while walking out of a debutante ball, Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) crosses paths with Nick (Chris Eigeman) and is talked into attending a party at Sally Flower's (Dylan Hundley) parents' apartment. They have mutual friends through Serena Slocum (Ellia Thompson), who Tom dated in school, and he agrees. The party, like many of this group's get-togethers throughout the film, is a somewhat boring affair as they sit around pontificating about philosophy and gossiping about their peers. They are aloof and barely connected to their emotions, as even a game of strip poker comes off icy and boring.
Tom, who is our conduit into this insular world, is the most interesting character. He's not as well off as the others, likely due to his parents' divorce. He only rented his tux for the night and lives on the West Side ("got a West-Sider in our midst," Nick teasingly announces to the group). He lets it be known he's a socialist in the mode of 19th Century French philosopher Charles Fourier, which intrigues Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols). Also intrigued by Tom is Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), who became attracted to Tom before they met, which has a stalker quality about it in this day and age, and requires others to let her feelings for him be known.
The most fascinating relationship and the one Stillman executes the best as a filmmaker is between Tom and his father, who is never on screen. Little moments reveal their relationship deteriorating as his father begins a new life. The most heartbreaking of which occurs after Nick and Tom come across a box filled with old toys and knickknacks sitting on the sidewalk. The scene cuts to Tom's bedroom and one of the items in on his nightstand. Nothing is said about it, but the meaning is quite clear.
'Metropolitan' comes across more like a stage play with all the dialogue and very little action as the characters work out their feeling and issues with each other. The boredom and frustrations they feel about their lives is replicated so well I grew bored and frustrated watching them. They come from such privilege and have such opportunity there's no reason any of them couldn't make a substantial change toward fulfillment and happiness. Yet day after day, they choose the easier path of staying in their ruts, so I have no empathy for them, and lost interest before the film ended. Some might enjoy a look into these characters' world and the prolific dialogue, but I don't expect many people will find it worth 99 minutes of their time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Metropolitan' (#326 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is an eight-page booklet containing the essay "After the Ball" by author Luc Sante.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.66:1. According to the liner notes, having been "supervised by director Whit Stillman and cinematographer John Thomas, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm blow-up interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction."
The work detailed above has resulted in a clean print and an artifact-free transfer. The colors are produced well with a medium brightness. However, skin tones can be a tad pinkish. Blacks are rich. While details can be soft at times, clothing textures show good definition.
The image is hampered by its Super 16mm source it originated on. There's a high level of grain that gets even busier the lower the amount of light in a scene, such as when Tom and Charlie are walking toward Sally's late at night. There's also a slim depth of field, contributing to lack of object sharpness in a frame. This is noticeable after a party when Tom reunites with Serena and takes her home. The gang heads back to Sally's and in a two shot of Audrey and Sally on the couch together they both aren't in focus because of their slightly different distances from the camera.
The audio is only available in English LPCM 1.0. Again from the liner notes, "The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic audio track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."
As with the video, the film's limited means resulted in a source that doesn't benefit much from high-definition audio. The soundtrack is mainly dialogue, which sounds clean, but is rarely loud, resulting in a limited dynamic range. There's a very minimal amount of bass and the effects are flat, as revealed when Nick gets punched accompanied by a soft, phony thud. Stillman's films don't wow with sound design, so set expectations low.
Fans of Whit Stillman's 'Metropolitan' should be happy to have a spruced-up version of the film on Blu-ray, so I would recommend it to them, though it would have nice for Criterion to have added some new features to make the disc more appealing to buy. Because of the quality of the 16mm source, this is one of the few times I am curious to compare the Blu-ray image to the new DVD.
Those who haven't seen 'Metropolitan', I'd suggest a rental to see if you engage with its characters and story before committing to it, as they lost me along the way. With that being said, I am impressed that Stillman and his team created a feature film, which does have its fans, for a reported $225,000.