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Who: By the time Fernando Trueba dedicated his Oscar to him in 1994, Billy Wilder was already considered one of the best directors of all time. His contribution to the best classic romantic comedies is especially significant, with authentic totems such as ‘The Apartment’, ‘With Skirts and Crazy’ or ‘Sabrina’, but it was not the only genre in which he worked. Of Austrian origin and Jewish descent, Wilder had to flee from Berlin (where in 1933 he had already started working in the industry) and after settling in Hollywood and working as a screenwriter, he made his first film in 1942: ‘The Major and the Minor’ . He stopped making movies in the 1980s, when New Hollywood was thriving and Wilder didn’t feel part of the modern narrative. He died in 2002, at the age of 95, without losing his sense of humor even on his tombstone: “I am a writer, but nobody is perfect.”
signs of identity: Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Wilder is his ability to build seemingly simple plots, which actually hide poignant reflections on life, relationships and society. His films regularly dealt with controversial issues, with which Hollywood was not entirely comfortable. But they couldn’t do anything: his films were legitimized by their wide public success and prestige. From the infidelities in ‘The Apartment’ or ‘The Temptation Lives Upstairs’, to the murders in ‘Perdition’, the Cold War in ‘Un, dos, tres’ or the prostitution in ‘Irma, la dulce’, we see that will to don’t ignore thorny issues. Given these, the journalist Stephen Farber defined him in the New York Times as a cynic, in the best sense. “He never gave in to sentimentality or sanctimoniousness,” Farber wrote, showing how complex Wilder’s vision was, despite everything.
Philosophy: The best way to understand Billy Wilder’s philosophy is to refer to the advice that the director himself gives to be a good filmmaker, such as the need to capture the audience, to engage them, because their attention is fickle. He also insists on knowing where the story is going, always leaving a margin of understanding for the public. As we see, his maxims are closely related to the viewers and never underestimate his intelligence. “The more subtly and elegantly you hide the key plot points, the better you will be as a writer,” he declared, showing that, for him, the most important thing is the script.
famous phrase: I have ten commandments. The first nine are, thou shalt not bore (“I have ten commandments. The first nines are that you will not be bored”).
A phrase you can say in front of moviegoers: “Classic filmmakers like Billy Wilder taught us the subtleties of the most cynical and poignant social discourse, without the need for great formal antics.”
A phrase you can NOT say in front of moviegoers: “Classic cinema is outdated…”.
a memorable scene:
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The end of ‘Twilight of the Gods’, one of the best endings in the history of cinema. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) walks down the stairs gracefully and deliberately, haughty as a movie star. She was, but now she’s just a deranged old glory in her mansion who has drawn everyone’s attention by committing an unforgivable crime. But she thinks they are coming to get her to put her back on the pedestal from which she was banished: that Hollywood pantheon that left her behind when sound replaced silent movies. “Whenever you want, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready to roll“, are the last words of the scene, and of the film.
THE 10 BEST BILLY WILDER FILMS
Barbara Stanwyck established herself as femme fatale of not to go classic in this film of deception, infidelity and crime. In it, a reckless insurance agent knocks on the door of a stunning married woman, and initiates a relationship with her in which her lover, like Lady Macbeth, whispers in his ear the evil things he must commit. In this case, she kills her husband to collect a large sum of money. A masterpiece of the genre and probably one of Wilder’s best films.
Twilight of the Gods (1950)
When you reach a certain age in Hollywood, and you’re also a woman, doors close as quickly as they opened when you were a young girl. This is what happens with the great Norma Desmond (Swanson), with the aggravating circumstance of coming from silent cinema and having to adapt to sound. A paradigm shift portrayed by Wilder in an atmosphere of madness and decline, in which Desmond is still great, and it is her films that have become small.
Temptation Lives Upstairs (1955)
Wilder composed a hilarious comedy about male hysteria. Specifically, about that moment of confusion and doubts that he attacks them when they have been married for 7 years (that is what its original title, ‘The 7 Year Itch’, refers to). This is reflected in a man with palpable weaknesses, from cigars to women, who finds himself living next door to Marilyn Monroe. Most of the scenes are made up of his imaginations, revealing that universal masculine imaginary of fears, insecurities and temptations.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
The wonderful Charles Laughton – one of Wilder’s favorite actors – plays a lawyer who will defend the innocence of a young man accused of murdering an old woman to keep her fortune. The director plays with ambiguity, something quite unusual at the time, and combines it with his irresistible sense of humor. Adaptation of a novel by Agatha Christie, this film swept the Oscars and is considered one of the most interesting comedies in cinema.
With Skirts and Crazy (1959)
Who does not remember Marilyn Monroe singing under the entranced gaze of a transvestite Tony Curtis? This is one of the most beloved and popular classic comedies, and it’s no wonder: it has romance, music, plots and one of the most famous closing lines in cinema: “Nobody is perfect!“. This final touch is simply the natural result of a comedy that does not get old, that is as funny and satirical as the first day.
The Apartment (1960)
It would be difficult to decide which film best represents the genius of Billy Wilder, but without a doubt this would be, for many, the chosen one. It shows more than ever how the filmmaker knew how to calibrate sentimentality and cynicism, within the framework of a sharp portrait of modern society. Even so, the story is about a Jack Lemmon madly in love with Shirley McLaine, who is the lover of one of the bosses who extort him to consummate his infidelities in his apartment. The protagonist gives in again and again, but with McLaine he will find something to stand up for and claim his dignity. An absolutely wonderful couple who will meet again in ‘Irma, la dulce’ (1963). The best details of ‘The Apartment’ make it a masterpiece, and perhaps also one of the best Christmas movies ever.
One Two Three (1961)
If there is an adjective that can define this film, it is undoubtedly ‘strenuous’ (in the best of ways). His portrait of the Cold War, of the battle between capitalism and communism, and its momentary truce due to the celebration of a wedding, seems like a race against the clock with a james cagney in a state of grace ‘Funny’ falls short.
Last year Audrey Hepburn became a star thanks to ‘Roman Holiday’, and this movie with Billy Wilder was just one more confirmation of her talent and charisma. Humphrey Bogart and William Holden joined her in the cast of this romantic comedy in which she plays Sabrina, the daughter of a chauffeur who works for the rich Larrabee family and who is no longer the girl everyone remembered. The two heirs of her house will notice her, a young woman full of ambition and humility. She got six Oscar nominations and later there was a remake in 1995 with Julia Ormond.
The Great Carnival (1951)
Kirk Douglas leads the cast of this film noir and journalism film that exhibits a sharp satire of the media. It was a public flop at the time, but today we remember it as a rare gem in Billy Wilder’s filmography. What’s more: ‘The great carnival’ seems more relevant today than ever. The story follows a ruthless, alcoholic reporter kicked out of every major outlet and ends up at a small Albuquerque newspaper, where he sees an opportunity to revive his career when a man gets trapped in a mine.
Trackless Days (1945)
The first time Billy Wilder won the Oscar for Best Picture (as well as Best Director) was for this brilliant film about the devastating effects of alcoholism. Based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson, it follows a writer (played by Ray Milland, who also won the Oscar and entered the list of Oscar-winning actors) who gives up a weekend getaway with his girlfriend (Jane Wyman) and his brother (Phillip Terry) to go drinking. The film left out the homosexuality of its protagonist (the Hays Code would not have allowed it), but it is still a film more courageous and real than the dramas of the time.
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