Wild about Billy
Billy Wilder, who died last week at buy canada goose parka uk the age of 95, was the last surviving member of that great generation of filmmakers who brought their acerbic wit, social sophistication and visual can you wash a canada goose parka flair to Hollywood after being driven out of Germany by the Nazis. Wilder had entered movies as co-writer of People on Sunday (1929), the forerunner of neo-realism and the last significant silent production made in Berlin, and all his collaborators in this collective enterprise – Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer, Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan – were to end up in the States.
Berlin wasn’t the city that shaped him. Born Samuel Wilder in Vienna, in 1906, the son of a Jewish restaurateur, he was very much the intellectual product of the declining imperial capital that best ideas about canada goose outlet online on pinterest produced the chilly sexual vision of Arthur Schnitzler and the sardonic journalism of Karl Kraus, whom Wilder greatly admired. When he quit law school to become a newspaper reporter, his most memorable experience was being refused an interview by Sigmund Freud.
Like G.W. Pabst, Fritz Lang and other Viennese artists he was drawn to Berlin, the centre of the new German culture and of the only movie industry that challenged Hollywood’s supremacy. So to the wry vision he brought from a confused Vienna was added the frenetic bad taste and cynicism of another society in terminal decline, the Weimar Republic. For a time in Berlin, while finding his feet click over here as a writer, Wilder worked as a gigolo, and the kept man and the pimp were to be recurrent figures in his American pictures – Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Irma La Douce, Kiss Me Stupid, for instance.
For Wilder, forced to leave Germany in 1933, crossing the Atlantic was not quite the traumatic experience it was for others. Although he spoke little English then and forever retained a thick accent, he was very conversant with the United States; his Americanophile mother had raised him on American culture, both high and popular, and he claimed she nicknamed him ‘Billy’ in honour of Colonel ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody whose Wild West show had toured Europe. He took to America at once, mastering a range of verbal idioms in a way that few foreign directors now bother to do, and becoming canada goose coat 1000 calorie diets familiar with a wide variety of social milieux.
Essential to the canada goose coat 1000 calorie a day meal plan process of settling into Hollywood was his association with writer-producer Charles Brackett, an East Coast Wasp and graduate of Harvard Law School, who became his cinematic partner for 12 years. Together they wrote two movies for Wilder’s idol, Ernst Lubitsch, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife and the masterly Ninotchka . Wilder was less happy with the way two of their screenplays were interpreted by Mitchell Leisen, which persuaded him that he had to direct his own work. From 1942 onwards he was his own master with a right to make the final cut, largely because his movies usually turned a profit. He never went before the camera without a polished script and was a meticulous craftsman while shooting, despite the apparent nonchalance he exuded on the floor. He worked in most genres except the western: with Raymond Chandler he co-scripted the classic noir thriller Double Indemnity, but he failed badly when directing Bing Crosby in The Emperor Waltz , a misguided period musical set in his native Austria.
His first picture as director, The Major and the Minor (1942), was a comedy with the daring premise of Ginger Rogers posing as a child to get a reduced railway ticket and becoming the toast of the schoolboys at a military academy and the Lolita-like object of desire for the academy’s senior officer, Ray Milland. Thus began 30 years of calculated effrontery, bad taste, subversive humour and challenges to propriety. The scene in Sabrina Fair where Bogart manoeuvres William Holden into sitting down on the champagne glasses hidden in his back pocket is my own unfavourite sequence in Wilder’s work.
But offensiveness was also to be encountered in his behaviour and in his often scabrous wit. At the Academy Awards ceremony in 1944 he put out his foot to trip up Leo McCarey as he went to receive the Oscar for Going My Way that Wilder thought should have gone to Double Indemnity. He told a Cahiers du Cinéma interviewer canada goose coat 1000 that if his wife suggested an ill-advised change to a movie he’d risk ruining his marriage rather than accept it, and added ‘et je refuserai aussi à ma mère, si elle était vivante, mais elle est morte à Auschwitz’.
Despite this outrageousness, Wilder was properly aware of the global audience to which his films had to appeal. He respected the people who paid to see his work, and can you pick the most expensive canada goose parka memorably remarked of Hollywood’s corner-cutting and the poor judgment of its accountants: ‘Nobody ever said to his wife, “Honey, let’s go and see this movie, the director brought it in under budget.”‘ But he was prepared to compromise. When the preview audiences laughed at the expressionist morgue sequence with which Sunset Boulevard first began he dropped it, and he was shocked when movie-goers rejected his savage assault on the yellow press in Ace in the Hole (1951), not realising how much its attack on crowd behaviour revealed of his misanthropy. Thereafter the ends of his pictures were usually softened up. The sentimentality, however, was often disguised as irony or a sad poignancy, as in can you wash a canada goose jacket in the washer the case of The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie, both withering comedies on the depths to which ordinary people can sink, dragging others down with them.
Wilder was an auteur in the sense that themes, situations, tropes and characters recur throughout his work. But he was an artist who enjoyed the collaborative nature of film and the conflict it often involved, even if only in retrospect, as with Marilyn Monroe, of whom he said: ‘I’ve never met anyone as mean, nor as utterly fabulous on screen – and that includes Garbo.’
During his career there were three great collaborations. The first was with the writer-producer Charles Brackett, who did little of significance after breaking with Wilder. The others were with the writer I.A.L. Diamond (who had done little that was memorable before meeting Wilder), and canada goose coat – kensington the star Jack Lemmon, two of whose greatest performances – in Some Like It Hot and The Apartment – were in films written by Wilder and Diamond. But in addition to Lemmon, several other actors did some of their most notable work under Wilder’s direction – Ray Milland, Erich von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Marilyn Monroe, Walter Matthau.
There was a sad falling off in Wilder’s later work. He disliked the 1960s ethos and its effects on filmmakers. The bitterness was expressed in the jibe that if he were offered the sequel to Rosemary’s Baby he wouldn’t touch it with a short pole. He also became nostalgic for the studio system he had once scorned. ‘It’s become very difficult to make a picture’, he said in 1978. ‘Where are those butchers and scrap-iron dealers and illiterate giants that ran the industry now that we need them? Would you believe that one would suddenly wake up in the morning with nostalgia for Louis B. Mayer? Give me a strong man. Give me somebody, but not a committee sitting there and deciding your fate.’
His critical reputation began to shrink in the Sixties, but it was later restored. Andrew Sarris, the writer most responsible for lowering his status among movie buffs through his influential book The American Cinema 1929-1968, wrote: ‘I have grossly under-rated Billy Wilder, perhaps more so than any other American director.’ And he made a personal and public apology. The rising director Cameron Crowe, intending to do for the nonagenarian what François Truffaut had done for Hitchcock in the 1960s, brought out the elegantly produced book Conversations With Wilder.
While he was still alive to appreciate the honour and the irony, Wilder became an icon, a memorial of a golden age in the American cinema. His black canada goose parka best films are recognised as classics, but we enjoy them as if they had been freshly minted. He is also a figure of twentieth-century history, one of the brave refugees in an age of exile, who put down roots in a new country but brought something vital from the tradition in which they were reared. Wilder is one of those artists whose genius first helped to blur, then to destroy the boundaries between the best in high and popular culture.