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Stillman surmounted his dread well enough to write a novel, The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at the Petrossian Afterwards. It's currently out of print, but he's hoping for a reissue.

"With a novel, you only have to deal with a publisher. And I can just put it up as an e-book. Someone said that we could be approaching a golden age of beautiful book design. Now, if people just want to read words, they can go to their Nook or Rook or whatever it is. But then the publisher can put out 500 copies in beautiful letterpress with full illustration."

This appeals to him very much, as does a Criterion release of Barcelona, which he hopes is in the works. What he doesn't want is more retrospectives.

"I was spending endless energy on these retrospectives of my old films, and not making a new one. I thought, 'I've got to stop doing this.' "

But Stillman's decision to hold a 2009 screening of The Last Days of Disco had a fortuitous consequence: Greta Gerwig showed up.

"It's so helpful to us that she's so enthusiastic about working on the project. She's definitely a trend-setter among actors. She's absolutely wonderful . . . and Chloe (Sevigny) isn't going to play a college student. I love them. They are my favorites.

>> REVIEW: Damsels in Distress <<

"Of all the characters I've written, I feel closest to Violet. And of all the performers I've worked with, I'm probably closest in karma — where we're coming from — to Greta. I would say she just comes out of some place which is like home — better than home. More like a cooler cousin."

Frankly, it's hard to imagine anyone cooler than Whit Stillman. Before I could try, he left to limber up for the screening. I went back into the snow. Soon my sockless, loafer-clad feet were frozen, but I didn't mind one bit.

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