Wednesday, September 8

Pulling Rabbits: On Billy Wilder

The top of the list of "greatest directors of all time" is usually comprised of the same few names: Alfred Hitchock, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorcese. Some non-english directors usually make the list (Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa and Eisenstein), but that's about it. Those are the guys whom people agree on are the best filmmakers ever. But to me, there appears to be one massive omission: Billy Wilder. Only the worst of filmnerds seem to have so much as heard of the man, let alone seen his movies. And in my humble opinion, this is a gross unjust to one of the most awesome filmmakers that ever lived.

And the thing is: I don't understand it. I can see why many people would not appreciate someone like Bergman, since he makes very slow-burning and meditative pictures. But that is not what Wilder did. He made comedies and thrillers, and very funny and very thrilling ones at that. Maybe the filmnerds shun him because his movies don't aim to be the highest of art, but that still doesn't explain much. This is a man who made some of the best pictures of all time, and it's time everybody realizes this.

Nobody might be perfect, but he got pretty damn close.

I will now list four reasons why you should remember the name of Billy Wilder.

1. Unlike most other "old" movies, Wilders movies are really fast-paced
I sometimes hear things along the lines of "old movies are boring". But when I am done murdering the person who said that, I always have to admit they do have a point. Movies nowadays move at a much faster pace then 50 years ago. This can make epics like Lawrence of Arabia quite tedious for people who are not used to that sort of thing. But the funny thing with Wilder is that his movies move at a pace that is perfectly fine for modern standards. His comedies, in particular, feature dialogues with so many jokes on both sides that it's sometimes hard to keep up. You almost forget you're watching a movie that is almost fifty years old. Which is exactly what cinema should be: timeless.

2. He wrote awesome scripts
Wilder was one of those directors who also (co)wrote most of his scripts. And the cool thing about Wilder is that he was both a good director and a good writer. There are not many people who can really say this: Woody Allen maybe, but not really many more people. He wrote dramatic stuff, he wrote funny stuff, but all with an enormous sense of cool. Here are some quotes from Some Like it Hot alone:

Sugar: Water polo? Isn't that terribly dangerous? 
Junior: I'll say. I had two ponies drowned under me. 

Sugar: I come from this musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor.
Joe: Where did he conduct?
Sugar: On the Baltimore to Ohio. 

Sugar: Oh, Daphne, how can I ever repay you?
Jerry: Oh, I can think of a million things.
[Sugar gets into bed with him]
Jerry: And that's one of them! 

And these are just the jokes that don't require any context to be funny.

Also, this.

3. His movies has stood the test of time.
The funny thing about Billy Wilders themes is that they are as relevant now as ever. Some Like it Hot is about two men who dress up as women to hide from the maffia. Most of the jokes in the film are about the difference between men and women and pretending to be somebody you're not to get lucky. In the time of gay marriage-debates and Facebook this isn't too alien a subject for many people. The Apartment concerns the abuse of power in the workplace and extra-marital relationships, which in a time of economic depression and a higher divorce rate then ever might hit a lot closer to home then most modern movies. And Sunset Boulevard is about the paradox of stardom in Hollywood, and how we eagerly accept new stars yet brutally drop them when their time is done. Not much seems to have been learned in the meantime.

4. Three out of the four movies I have seen of his have a car chase in the first ten minutes.
You just can't argue with that.


This song is pretty much my definition of "sexy" as a positive.

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