BILLY WILDER: The Directing “King of Cool”
There are very few writer-directors who became living legends not only for the films they made, but also for being themselves and their storytelling quotability. Steve McQueen has often been dubbed “The King of Cool,” and rightly so for his roles in The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Bullit. But when it gets to behind-the-camera, I don’t think any director could hold a candle to Billy Wilder. He made Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend (winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay), Stalag 17, Sunset Boulevard (winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), Ace In The Hole, Sabrina, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment (winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and Original Best Screenplay), One Two Three, The Fortune Cookie, The Front Page.
Whenever I watch a Billy Wilder film it makes me want to try writing a comedy about real life. The sort of thing that Woody Allen is so brilliant at.
He was the role model of being a writer-director who Woody Allen has now emerged into.
Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) wrote a great book that is a collection of interviews called Conversations With Billy Wilder. He initially approached Wilder about playing a part in Jerry Maguire.
“I won’t do it,” Wilder responded. “I don’t act.”
“But it’s only a small part.”
“Then I definitely won’t do it.”
The Wit & Wisdom of Billy Wilder is classic — and always exactly right on.
He was born in Austria. Fled Germany during the rise of the Nazis. Worked in Paris and London. Came to America to make movies. He became an Americaphile. He loved America and it’s language and spoke it better and quicker than almost anybody else.
In the 1990’s PBS profiled Billy Wilder on American Masters. Here is that show in 4 parts. He tells the truth with an acerbic twist of biting humor. That was his genius.
In 1976 I was on the Universal Pictures studio lot and walked past a bungalow. On the parking space out front was stenciled, “Billy Wilder.” I looked up and he was behind his desk at a window on the phone. I waved. He waved back. I’ll never for get that face.
Fore more information and to download some of Billy Wilder’s scripts and interviews visit: http://cinephilearchive.tumblr.com/tagged/Billy-Wilder
Here are a couple of his movies just to sample his simple genius. His genius was in making it all look so simple.