Tag Archives: Billy Wilder

Billy, How Did You Do it?

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Billy & Cameron. Photo By Neal Preston

We lost the great Billy Wilder 15 years ago today. I thought it would be great to remember him with this 2005 Sight & Sound piece that Cameron wrote. It’s new to The Uncool and we hope you seek out a Wilder film to watch tonight!

Billy, how did you do it?

‘Elizabethtown’ director Cameron Crowe pays tribute to Billy Wilder

 The first Billy Wilder movie to ever grace my family’s living room was Some Like It Hot. I was too small to catch all the subtext of those cross-dressing musicians, but this much was clear: something was going on inside that movie. A subversive sense of humour was at play, and those big laughs rocked our house. Later, someone pointed out that the same man made Sunset Blvd., another movie we all watched together as a family. Both were late-night ‘movies of the week’ on TV. The magic was palpable, even on that small screen.

I decided to become a film-maker to protect a script I’d written called Say Anything… A number of other directors had passed on it, and the script was about to fall into the hands of someone who cared a lot less about it than me. Wilder, a journalist who became a director for similar reasons, was one of the first masters I turned to in preparing to direct. Most writer-directors seeking inspiration eventually go to Wilder. I worked through his pictures one by one. His work was like a drug – character-rich stories filled with laughs and story turns so deft you could get a body rush sitting in the theatre. Eventually, I got to The Apartment, sadly after my father had passed away. Halfway through, it was already my favourite. When I heard the last line of the movie, “shut up and deal”, I realised where one of my dad’s favourite phrases had come from.

Part of the great fun of being a fan of Billy Wilder is that your favourite Wilder pictures change over the years. For me, sometimes it’s Love in the Afternoon; other times it’s A Foreign Affair; but usually I return to The Apartment. The characters, the score, the melancholy and the perfection of the script and performances… It’s hard to top. though the fizzy comic wallop of Some Like It Hot sure gives it a run for its money.

In my experience of interviewing him, Wilder usually chose Some Like It Hot or The Apartment as his personal favourite. His reasons he said, were mostly script-based. He just loved the structure and the successful collaborations with his writing partner Izzy Diamond. He often mentioned the ‘cracked mirror’ scene in The Apartment as one of his favourite moments in any of his films He explained that these pictures and Sunset Blvd. “just worked”. Of his audience favourites, the only one that seemed to displease him was Irma la Douce. As for his favourite actors, he always mentioned Lemmon and Matthau and, with an extra twinkle, Charles Laughton.

Double Indemnity survives because of its masterful victory of tone and performance and direction. For a still young director, it was a work of sly bravura. And Wilder’s favourite element – the inner ‘love story’ between Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson – gives the movie its freshness and a dark kick. Many try for this tone; few get there.Wilder used to say that a masterful comic actor like Cary Grant would forever be beaten at the Oscars by a less talented, furrow-browed serious actor with a “physical ailment of some kind”. It was his way, I think, of waving the flag for what he felt to be a far more difficult exercise – comedy. He was a great fan of modem pictures that had a certain graceful comic perfection, like the Japanese film Shall We Dance?. He also loved the deep-tissue satire of American Beauty. As for his own legacy, Wilder sometimes scoffed, “Why would anyone care about me?” But, in fact, he’d noticed the parade of younger film-makers who cited him and made a point of telling me it genuinely surprised and touched him. “A lot’?” “A little,” he’d answer with a trademark flick of his eyebrow that indicated the opposite might also be true.

As Wilder once said of Audrey Hepburn, “there is only one”. But his lessons to other modern directors are clear: protect your script and your characters; observe the values of script structure… Take a look at the work of Wilder’s own heroes, from Ernst Lubitsch to William Wyler, and then go out there with a camera and tell your stories with glee and a ferocious lack of false sentimentality. But most of all, “don’t bore them”.

Courtesy of Sight & Sound – Cameron Crowe – October, 2005

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Mar 27, 2017

“Shut Up And Deal” – The Apartment & Billy Wilder

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CC Baxter & Fran Kubelik

In honor of Billy Wilder’s birthday and the fact that his classic film, The Apartment, turned 52 years old this past week, we present a new article. Cameron wrote about his affinity for this film in an article entitled “Billy & Me” for the UK newspaper, The Guardian.

If you haven’t seen it, please pick up the Blu-ray that came out earlier this year.

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Jun 22, 2012

Billy Wilder’s Wit & Wisdom

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Marilyn & Billy

After the overwhelmingly positive response to Billy’s Tips for Writers, we thought we’d share some quotes from Conversations with Wilder.

On Marilyn Monroe: “She was very tough to work with. But what you had, by hook or crook, once you saw it on the screen, it was just amazing. Amazing, the radiation that came out. And she was, believe it or not, an excellent dialogue actress.”

____

On Barbara Stanwyck: “With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody’s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake — just a wonderful brain she had.”

____

On Audrey Hepburn: “That’s the element X that people have, or don’t have. You can meet somebody and you can be enchanted, and then you photograph them and it’s nothing. But she had it. And there will not be another. She exists forever, in her time. … She started something new, she started something classy. She, and the other Hepburn, Katharine, at a different time.”

____

“I never overestimate the audience, nor do I underestimate them. I just have a very rational idea as to who we’re dealing with, and that we’re not making a picture for Harvard Law School, we’re making a picture for middle-class people, the people that you see on the subway, or the people that you see in a restaurant. Just normal people.”

____

“I just always think, `Do I like it?’ And if I like it, maybe other people will come and like it too.”

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“I, you know, am all over the place — every category of pictures I have made, good, bad or indifferent. I could not make, like Hitchcock did, one Hitchcock picture after another. … I wanted to do a Hitchcock picture, so I did `Witness for the Prosecution,’ then I was bored with it, so I moved on.”

____

On making “Some Like It Hot” in black and white: “I liked it in black and white. I was then one of the last guys still doing it. But when I run into people — you know, as a test — they say, `I saw “Some Like It Hot,” it was wonderful, wonderful,’ and I say, `How did you like the color photography?’ They say, `It was great, it was absolutely great.’ People forget, they don’t remember. It’s less important than the content of the picture, you know. After five minutes they forget about it.”

 

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May 2, 2012

Billy Wilder’s Tips for Writers

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It was 10 years yesterday that the world lost Billy Wilder. We will be sharing some of his wisdom from Cameron’s book, Conversations With Wilder from time to time. Let’s start with his Tips for Writers.

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then –
  11. – that’s it. Don’t hang around.
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Mar 28, 2012

Inquire Within: Inspiration

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Welcome to another edition of Inquire Within… Through your submissions, Cameron will answer your questions in his own words.

Leah Greenwood (Raleigh, NC): The first time I saw it, in the theater while in college, I walked out and decided to change my major.  Almost Famous (and therefore you) are single-handedly responsible for my renewed focus on writing/English/journalism.  What movies changed you? Shaped you?  Winds up in your DVD player every month?

Cameron: Thanks Leah.  I hope you stuck with it — journalism needs you.  It’s still a living, growing and important field… whatever the format, print or blog or online.  Nothing beats the importance of details, and the discipline that comes from checking facts.  Sometimes in the immediacy of online blogging, details sadly go out the window. But truth always still reads like the truth, and if you’re in doubt, the NY Times or The New Yorker and a number of other hallowed
publications are still touchstones for the timeless kind of journalism that will always need a home.

I was changed by a bunch of films and books.  The works of journalists Seymour Hersh and Jonathan Alter are simply great, as are the absolutely gripping Robert Caro books on Lyndon Johnson.  Most recently, Bob Dylan’s reinvention as an author and even a DJ (Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour) are big in my house.  Movie-wise, Carnal Knowledge is a timeless inspiration, along with the movies of Preston Sturges, and Wes Anderson, Jean Renoir especially Rules of the Game, Truffaut’s Day for Night, Stolen Kisses and of course, The 400 Blows.  Spike Lee’s first three films are still amazing, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a reminder of a great writing and directing voice still in play… and Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin are aces for combining humor and wild surprise, and always a strong beating heart. And don’t forget Mr. Wilder and Mr. Ashby.

Please send in your questions for Cameron and maybe yours will be part of a future installment of Inquire Within…
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Dec 5, 2011

Billy Wilder: Happy Birthday!

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I know it’s getting late today, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to mention and celebrate the late Mr. Billy Wilder’s birthday. Mr. Wilder would have been 105 today. Luckily, you can honor the man by checking out the Conversations in Wilder section of the site . You’ll find an excerpt from the book, Wilder quotes, a filmography and mini biography. You could also watch one of his fabulous films. The Apartment would be a good place to start. You really can’t go wrong with Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, Some Like it Hot, Kiss Me Stupid or countless others in his filmography. Billy directed 27 films, but many people forget what a great writer he was as well.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Wilder quotes:

“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.”

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Jun 22, 2011

Sunset is Coming…

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sunsetdvd

Billy Wilder’s classic film Sunset Boulevard is finally coming to DVD sometime late this year. Extra features on the Paramount DVD will include an all-new documentary on the film (with new interviews with Glenn Close and others) as well as an audio commentary by Ed Sikov, the author of the Billy Wilder biography Sunset Boulevard.

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Jun 20, 2002

Billy Wilder – 1906 – 2002

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wilderbday

Cameron Crowe’s mentor, filmmaking legend Billy Wilder, 95, passed away this past Wednesday in Los Angeles. Wilder is survived by his wife of 53 years, Audrey, and daughter Victoria. There will be no funeral, according to Daily Variety, but a public memorial will be held later this year. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.

You can read the numerous stories about his life and career here: NY TimesDaily Mail, CNN, PBS: American Masters. There’s also a great list of Wilder quotes (From Cameron’s Conversations with Wilder) available here.

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Mar 29, 2002

Mike Finger’s The Blue and the Black