Billy Wilder

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domino harvey
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#26 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 02, 2008 2:00 pm

Boy, humor is not really debatable, but if you laughed more during One Two Three than Ninotchka, I think that's an impasse our argument will never be able to cross

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swo17
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#27 Post by swo17 » Tue Sep 02, 2008 2:12 pm

For the record, I probably like Ninotchka more than One, Two, Three, though I still really like both.

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zedz
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#28 Post by zedz » Tue Sep 02, 2008 5:47 pm

justeleblanc wrote:The one catch for me is toward the end there is too much dead time after a funny one liner, as if they worked it time for audience laughter.
A minor point, but this is exactly what they would have done. These films were precision engineered for large laughing audiences, not intended for home viewing, and I believe Wilder was especially accomplished at gauging response times. The films play very differently in different viewing contexts because of this.

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david hare
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#29 Post by david hare » Tue Sep 02, 2008 5:58 pm

I'd take this further - I think both films play like lead in home viewing.

Watching comedies alone or at home is a fascinating subject. For me the things that really work and make me laugh out loud are slow burn pictures, like some early George Stevens and McCarey, or the Astaire Rogers musicals, and supremely, Keaton. These movies seem even funnier the better you get to know them. As zedz remarked Wilder seems to scrupulously time and gear the gags and payoff lines for precise impact on a large group audience. I think his screenplays directed by other people like Leisen in fact turned the comedy around to another level altogether.

I have a firm memory of first viewing of Chaplin's The Circus which I saw with a very old pal in the early 70s at a large university theatre screening with a pretty big audience. I actually think this is possibly Chaplin's funniest feature film, but the audience were totally unresponsive. At one point it occurred to me (and to my friend) that the sheer fact that the audience were trying to be too "cool" uncoiled me and I started to cackle. So did Arthur and within five minutes the theatre was literally rocking. There really wasn't a dry eye in the house when the lights came up.

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zedz
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#30 Post by zedz » Tue Sep 02, 2008 8:30 pm

davidhare wrote:I'd take this further - I think both films play like lead in home viewing.

Watching comedies alone or at home is a fascinating subject. For me the things that really work and make me laugh out loud are slow burn pictures, like some early George Stevens and McCarey, or the Astaire Rogers musicals, and supremely, Keaton. These movies seem even funnier the better you get to know them. As zedz remarked Wilder seems to scrupulously time and gear the gags and payoff lines for precise impact on a large group audience. I think his screenplays directed by other people like Leisen in fact turned the comedy around to another level altogether.
The physics and metaphysics of comedy and audience are a topic worth exploring further, I think (though maybe not here). I know exactly what you mean about Keaton. The films play wonderfully with an audience, but silence and isolation often intensify the humour, and certainly bring its abstract beauty right out. Of course, with non-verbal comedy, you don't need those 'breathers'.

For me, Tati really doesn't work in anything other than the abstract sense in a home-viewing context. The films are nevertheless impressive and rewarding, but they're only actually funny on a big screen with an engaged audience - a weird kind of alchemy that utterly transforms the film.

And, getting back on topic, Wilder is the same. Some Like It Hot is weirdly pinched and strained at home but it works like a charm on the big screen. I was lucky enough to see it once in a restored print with a huge, very young audience who had no idea where it was going and let out a unanimous roar at the closing line. If you've ever had that kind of experience, you know exactly why Wilder had to leave a polite pause after his payoffs.

I'd like to suggest as a notable exception to this practice (just a hunch, I haven't checked this against my fickle memory) Howard Hawks, who at his screwball peak was piling laughlines and bits of business all over one another in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, not even allowing his actors to pause for breath, let alone his audience. Which might be why these films are always so damnably funny, wherever and however I see them.

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foggy eyes
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#31 Post by foggy eyes » Tue Sep 02, 2008 8:48 pm

zedz wrote:I'd like to suggest as a notable exception to this practice (just a hunch, I haven't checked this against my fickle memory) Howard Hawks, who at his screwball peak was piling laughlines and bits of business all over one another in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, not even allowing his actors to pause for breath, let alone his audience. Which might be why these films are always so damnably funny, wherever and however I see them.
I saw Bringing Up Baby in a half-full cinema a few years ago, and for some reason it went down like a lead balloon. The place was dead; not a murmur. I found myself in awe of the sheer pace and aggregation of dialogue and incident, but under such circumstances didn't feel like laughing out loud. No-one was into it. I don't think I've watched the film since - it's amazing how such an oddly cool audience reception can really impact the text itself.

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knives
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#32 Post by knives » Thu Sep 18, 2008 6:25 pm

Maybe I sould recheck Kiss Me and One, Two, Three but I found them to be god awful. Didn't watch any all the way through. Won't give up on Wilder though since teh ending to Some Like It Hot had me laughing for about two days.

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tojoed
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#33 Post by tojoed » Fri Sep 19, 2008 5:45 am

knives wrote:Maybe I sould recheck Kiss Me and One, Two, Three but I found them to be god awful.

I shouldn't bother, they are god awful.

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justeleblanc
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#34 Post by justeleblanc » Fri Sep 19, 2008 9:10 am

Those are two of my favorite Wilders. I didn't realize ONE TWO THREE isn't considered a masterpiece.

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#35 Post by SheriffAmbrose » Fri Sep 19, 2008 12:47 pm

There has been no mention of Love in the Afternoon. How do you all rate that one? I think it has many flaws but I love it. In fact it is probably my favorite of his lesser known or less loved films.

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Re: Billy Wilder

#36 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Sat Nov 08, 2008 1:33 am

I've been revisiting some of Wilder's work the past couple weeks, namely The Apartment, Sunset Blvd., Ace in the Hole, Double Indemnity, and One, Two, Three. I wanted to see how they held up to a second viewing, and I wanted to knock a couple DVDs off my kevyip pile.

Wellfor now I'll gush about The Apartment. I really enjoyed it the first time through, but my most recent viewing just left me overwhelmed. A simply magnificent picture and I think it's Wilder's best. Lemmon's performance is incredible, while MacLaine and MacMurray offer wonderful support. I would also be hard pressed to name a better screenplay, which seamlessly blends comedy and drama, and just feels so real. I think it might be Wilder's most heartfelt picture, even if it's so incredibly cynical. Wilder seems to have genuine affection for Lemmon's CC Baxter, and MacLaine's Fran is perhaps the most fully realized female in Wilder's work (though I might like Midnight's Eve Peabody just as much).

Wilder's direction often gets overlooked because of the strength of his writing, but The Apartment has some wonderful set design and Wilder's use of widescreen and black and white is effective. I appreciated the visual nod to Vidor's The Crowd with the rows and rows of desks at the office. Also the homey design of CC's apartment is a great contrast to the sterility of the office. The apartment is small, and a bit rundown, but has a warmth to it, it feels very much like a place you'd want to live, which in turn makes CC all the more appealing, because he seems like the kind of guy you'd want to know.

Simply a wonderful film, and the newish Special Edition DVD is great quality too(well if you ignore the cover).

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souvenir
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Re: Billy Wilder

#37 Post by souvenir » Sat Nov 08, 2008 2:11 am

That's a great summation and it reminds me of my own views towards The Apartment. There's a devotion the viewer develops to Baxter that isn't there in Wilder's other films. Even with his flaws, he's the kind of guy so many of us sympathize with because we either see ourselves in him or he's someone we'd just like to hang out with. As much as I love Wilder, he wasn't typically that interested in bringing the viewer in to relate to his protagonists, but the exception there is definitely Baxter.

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sevenarts
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Re: Billy Wilder

#38 Post by sevenarts » Sun Nov 09, 2008 5:45 pm

The Apartment is amazing; along with Sunset Blvd it's clearly Wilder's best film by far.

I just recently watched Irma la Douce, which must be at the other end of Wilder's quality spectrum. A few funny scenes and bits aside, what an unmitigated stinker, from its conception right through to its execution. Its lousy ideology and artificiality might've been redeemed if it was actually funny, but Wilder's staging of the comedy is as awkward and flat as possible. So many of the jokes and slapstick bits are DOA, not only because most of them aren't funny, but because Wilder does nothing to make them funny.

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Highway 61
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Re: Billy Wilder

#39 Post by Highway 61 » Sun Nov 09, 2008 9:13 pm

For such an irreverent man, Wilder sure did rigorously adhere to a conservative view of comedy. He was funny in the early years, when he was on the fore, and American culture hadn't caught up to his European sensibility. Then in the 60's, America left him in the dust, and he just wasn't funny anymore. It's interesting that Wilder was as aware of this as anyone, admitting it several times in Cameron Crowe's book (despite Crowe's stubborn contrary efforts to paint a pretty picture of his later films). I've always been mystified that a self-aware, no-nonsense guy like Wilder recognized his artistic decline, yet did almost nothing to halt it. (I haven't seen his late dramas like Fedora, but from what I read, it was too little, too late). Most seem to place the blame on I.A.L. Diamond, but that only makes me wonder why Wilder continued to work with him.

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knives
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Re: Billy Wilder

#40 Post by knives » Tue Nov 18, 2008 1:11 pm

He did refuse List among others later in his career.

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domino harvey
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Re:

#41 Post by domino harvey » Fri Dec 19, 2008 7:57 pm

souvenir wrote:I also have to defend The Spirit of St. Louis. Like Wilder's other pictures between Ace in the Hole and Some Like It Hot, it seems primarily designed to give the audience fairly light-hearted entertainment and little else. Any problems in the film are mostly inherent to the material. Making a 33 1/2 hour solo flight dramatic and interesting must have been a difficult task, but I think showing the literal construction of how the flight got off the ground, so to speak, is the film's greatest asset. It's a movie about aviation and the flight more than a Lindbergh biopic.

In that a sense, I think it's riveting and the recent DVD release makes the film look incredible. Stewart is too old (but who else could have done a better job at the time?) and, like most of Wilder's films, it runs a little longer than it needs to, but I find it far from a misfire.
I recently watched the Spirit of St. Louis and I agree with most of your comments. I thought it was a much better film than its reputation led me to believe, and the first hour and a half or so, everything up to the flight itself, was very well-done. I thought the extended lead-up to the flight, with the slow starting of the engine and the little tour of the plane for the mirror girl, was a rare study in patience from a Hollywood film. I think the problem with the flight itself is that its cut with too many silly flashbacks that don't amount to anything. If Wilder had cut even two of the later flashbacks, the film would have come in at two hours and would have felt a lot lighter. But nevertheless, this was a pleasant surprise and man does this film's muted color palette look beautiful on the DVD.

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Dylan
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Re: Billy Wilder

#42 Post by Dylan » Thu Jan 01, 2009 2:43 pm

I'm incredibly intrigued by Billy Wilder's 1978 film Fedora, which is currently unavailable on DVD. I've never seen it, and even though I consider myself a reasonably strong admirer of Billy Wilder's work I hadn't even heard of it until a few days ago when I came across Miklos Rozsa's outstanding score (which may very well be the composer's very best work, topping Spellbound, Lust for Life and Providence).

Summary (via this very positive review): It tells of the strange life of the enigmatic sunglass wearing actress who favors big floppy hats and white gloves, who tried to remain forever young out of vanity and met with disastrous consequences. The has-been producer will learn of the reclusive Garbo-like star's incredible tragic secret in the third act... Barry 'Dutch' Detweiler (William Holden) is a broken-down Hollywood producer who borrows $2,000 from his ex-wife to travel to Corfu to try and talk the reclusive villa-living legendary 67-year-old Polish aristocratic actress Fedora (Marthe Keller), who miraculously keeps her beauty, out of retirement. He once spent an afternoon with her on a Santa Monica beach some 30 years ago when he was an assistant director and she was a Hollywood superstar.

I love films and novels about old (pre-1980) Hollywood, and I think I'd really enjoy this.

Wilder's personal assistant on this film, Rex McGee, posted this on Home Theater Forum in 2006:
I was a personal assistant to Billy on this film, and I preserved a preview print of the film from the original camera negative and donated to AMPAS in 1996. It is 8 minutes longer than the release version and contains the entire Miklos Rozsa score before it was chopped up by the producers. Excecpt for having turned pink through the last 28 years, it is in pristine condition and in fact has never been projected. I also donated boxes of outtakes and deleted workprint scenes and screen tests to the Academy. I wrote an article about the production for American Film magazine, and I still have hundreds of high-quality production stills from the film.
From what I've been able to gather, the rights are tied up with a German company who co-financed the film, and Warner no longer holds the distribution rights (Warner, apparently, only picked up the film after Allied Artists tumbled shortly after the film's completion, but released it with little to no publicity). So it's basically in limbo. There is a 1.33 Spanish DVD, and a 1.33 boot either from that DVD or from the Warner VHS. That's it.

Apparently, the producers cut out large sections of Miklos Rozsa's score (which made it onto LP and later CD in its entirety, which is what I recently obtained), and he and Wilder never spoke after that. However, the aforementioned review does single out Rozsa's score, which indicates that enough of it was retained to create an impression:
Wilder patches up his feud and reunites with Miklós Rózsa after their successful collaboration many years ago with Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945) and more recently in 1970 with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and he magnificently scores the film to fit the mood of each character while making good use of his trademark solos of layered strings and woodwinds.
Anyway, who's seen it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Dylan
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Re: Billy Wilder

#43 Post by Dylan » Fri Jan 23, 2009 12:53 pm

Has nobody seen Fedora or will I have to start its own thread in order to garner some attention?

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justeleblanc
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Re: Billy Wilder

#44 Post by justeleblanc » Fri Jan 23, 2009 5:20 pm

Dylan wrote:Has nobody seen Fedora or will I have to start its own thread in order to garner some attention?
I've seen it. It's not as terrible as people say, but overall it's pretty predictable. In some ways its a salute to the overwrought melodrama like Contempt is, but obviously, it's a bit more normative.

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Gregory
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Re:

#45 Post by Gregory » Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:50 pm

Sorry to resurrect this comment, but I just watched Fortune Cookie before going back and reading this discussion.
domino harvey wrote:There were also many times that the heads kept getting cut off by the top of the frame, as though the cinematographer had framed for 1.85 and just closed it up afterwards. I know it's unlikely but there were several instances of it in the film and it became distracting.
The main instance of this that I noticed was a scene in which the ex-wife is starting to disrobe and suddenly her head is out of frame. To me, this suggested an emphasis on her as a "body." This resonates both with the viewer's growing suspicions that she's nothing but a tramp and with the theme of her as the target of male gaze, such as in the act she's trying to put together and in the voyeuristic member of the surveillance team who seem to become sexually frustrated when watching her with the lack of "action." (Sorry if "gaze" reads as overplayed jargon, but I can't think of a better term for what I mean.)
There were other instances of exclusion of character's faces in the film's mise-en-scene, such as our view of Boom-Boom's solitary drinking in the kitchen cabinets signaling dejection and humiliation.
----
As for Fedora, I've commented on the forum a couple of times that I'd love to see it on DVD, but I hesitate to comment on any film I've seen unless I've seen it several times or it's really fresh in my mind. It's been a long time for Fedora.
I will say that I think it's highly underrated and overlooked, and that the way that many critics attacked it at the time was something of a disgrace. It was a period of transition in the film industry, and some apparently felt that classical Hollywood was extremely anachronistic, thus using terms like "outmoded" to critique the film's "melodramatic manner of storytelling and characterization" (Schickel).

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domino harvey
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Re: Billy Wilder

#46 Post by domino harvey » Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:15 pm

I noticed it in many of the early scenes where Lemmon is in the hospital bed and later when the camera's following the players around the apartment-- never at a moment when it appeared Wilder was attempting to use the poor blocking for aesthetic purposes. But obviously it was more noticeable and distracting to me than it was to you and probably others I guess. I mean, it's the sort of thing I'd overlook in a film I liked, but add to the shit list for a film I hated :P

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Gregory
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Re: Billy Wilder

#47 Post by Gregory » Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:54 pm

On second thought, I remember noticing downright bad blocking a couple of times even though I wasn't paying particular attention to it. One case was IIRC a two shot where the ex-wife was standing up but the camera moved ahead of her, leaving her momentarily and awkwardly out of frame. (The same kind of thing is evident in a certain other film recently released in 2:1.)
Nevertheless, I thought Fortune Cookie was funnier and richer than a couple of other Wilders I've seen/revisited lately, Irma La Douce and Kiss Me, Stupid.
(edited for typo)
Last edited by Gregory on Mon May 11, 2009 3:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: Billy Wilder

#48 Post by domino harvey » Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:32 am

Recently viewed Wilder's Audrey Hepburn films and I'm more confused than ever. How can the same person be responsible for Love in the Afternoon and Sabrina? Love in the Afternoon is just below (above?) the Fortune Cookie on the comedy scale, a film that seems to literally pause and hold after every allegedly funny moment for laughs that it hasn't inspired. And that insulting, unsettling ending? Oof, what a waste of a decent premise and talented cast! But just a few years prior in Sabrina, the second-best Wilder pic I've seen behind the Apartment, his misanthropic characters managed to be charming (a hard feat, as Wilder's failures confirm), the writing sharp (this is by far the most I've laughed in a Wilder pic), and the cinematography stunning. It's a tour-de-force really, which is why I'm surprised to see the resident board Wilder fanatic relegated it to the "flawed" category. If Sabrina is a flawed Wilder film, don't give me the masterworks.

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Re: Billy Wilder

#49 Post by Perkins Cobb » Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:54 pm

I've always thought Love in the Afternoon was hilarious. It's his most Lubitschian movie. Among my favorite Wilders, along with One Two Three, Kiss Me Stupid, and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

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knives
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Re: Billy Wilder

#50 Post by knives » Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:58 pm

I suppose you have to be in one camp or the other. Personally I'm with Harvey.

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