The Sexiness of Uncle Scrooge

April 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here’s another post that begins by discussing movies, and then veers off into comics.

On Friday (4/6), a new Whit Stillman film, Damsels in Distress (2012), opened in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Director Stillman isn’t prolific—Damsels is only the fourth film of his twenty-two year career, after Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998)—but I’m patient. I like the preppy, hyper-erudite, rambling, theatrical, and aesthetically and ideologically conservative stories Stillman tells, so whenever there’s a new Stillman film, I’ll drive to an art theater to see it.

I realize that everyone might not feel enthusiastic about Stillman’s films. I might be susceptible to his work because I’m a secret prep wannabe, because I went to a Catholic school with a formal dress code, because I favor Oxford shirts with button-down collars, because I own dog-eared copies of both The Official Preppy Handbook (1980) and its sequel True Prep (2010), and because no matter how much lip-service I give to avant-garde art and punk, there’ll always be a part of my brain swaddled in Izod. Chip Kidd co-wrote True Prep (with original Preppy Handbook author Lisa Birnbach), and mentioned in True Prep is Daniel Clowes, an alumnus of the exclusive University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, so maybe there are more preps in comics than anybody realizes…?

Beckinsale and Sevigny in THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.

Anyway, I also like Stillman’s films because he knows a little about comics, and makes jokes about them. The central characters of The Last Days of Disco are Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice (Chloë Sevigny), two recent Hampshire College graduates with low-level jobs at a New York publishing house during the early 1980s. Charlotte and Alice frequent a chic nightclub, and try to pick up handsome, well-heeled men there, but Charlotte is a more successful flirt than Alice. Early in the film, during a conversation in the disco’s bathroom, Alice says that she found Hampshire men to have “extremely dim intellectual interests,” and elaborates on their dimness with a mock apology: “I’m sorry, I don’t consider the guy who did Spider-Man comics a serious writer.”

A bit later, Charlotte gives Alice some advice on how to seduce men:

You’re a good conversationalist, but there’s something of the Kindergarten teacher about you. It’s really nice, but the guys you like tend to be on the ethereal side. They can get pretty far away from any kind of physicality. This is gonna sound dumb, but it really works: wherever you can, throw the word “sexy” into your conversation. It’s kind of a signal…like, “There’s something really sexy about strobe lights.” Or, “this fabric is so sexy.”

Alice then hits it off with a young lawyer named Tom (Robert Sean Leonard) at the club, and they retire to his apartment, where Alice turns up her sexual aggressiveness (“I’m no Kindergarten teacher!”) while discovering that Tom collects Uncle Scrooge comics and original art by Carl Barks. Barks is “considered a bit of a genius,” says Tom. Even though Alice is confronted with yet another boy who fetishizes comics, she’s aroused enough to overlook the dimness this time, and the scene plays out like this:

The above clip was purloined from Youtube; apologies for the anamorphic distortion. You really should rent or buy the Criterion Collection DVD of Disco, and watch the whole movie. And then listen to the commentary track on the Criterion disc, where Stillman glosses this scene thusly: “In my family we have a huge Uncle Scrooge cult. We adored Uncle Scrooge’s kids [Huey, Dewey and Louie?], and my sister does collect Uncle Scrooge comics, so we have her very precious Uncle Scrooge comics collection in that plexiglass box there.”

Will there be references to Spider-Man, Uncle Scrooge and nerdy Hampshire boys in Damsels in Distress? I’ll let you know. And will Fantagraphics ask Stillman (or his sister) to write an introduction to one of their Complete Carl Barks volumes?

Note: One of my favorite comics-related events is the monthly reading group held at the Charlotte, NC comics shop Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, and on April 28, the Heroes folk–led by the avuncular Andy Mansell–will tackle the Donald Duck “Lost in the Andes” Fantagraphics book. You should go. More information here.

§ One Response to The Sexiness of Uncle Scrooge

  • charleshatfield says:

    My loathing of The Official Preppy Handbook may have more to do with a fizzled relationship from many, many years ago than it does with any principled ideological stance. But I still loathe it.

    Despite my button-down collars.

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