Why You Should Watch a Billy Wilder Film
On March 27th, 2002, the world lost a great man. Though most people aren’t aware of Billy Wilder or his style of storytelling, many in the film industry know his work. Classics like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment are only a few of the greats from a lifetime of quality films. To mark the anniversary of his death, I have decided to take the time to introduce you to the man and my own reasons why you should check him out.
Billy Wilder originally came to the United States after fleeing Berlin when the Nazis came to power. Being Jewish, Wilder headed to Paris for a time before coming to Hollywood. There, he made his start writing screenplays. From there, he began to gain more control over his films, turning soon to directing and producing them. Wilder had one simple rule: don’t bore the audience. He once said that “an audience is never wrong”. He understood that movies were just that, and that nothing would make him happier than people who liked his pictures. But this is only one of the reasons why he was such a great filmmaker. Below are some of the things that make a Billy Wilder film a great choice for a Saturday night.
When I was a kid, my movie knowledge was reduced solely to Disney films. In these films, the good guys were good, and the bad guys were bad. That was it. Even as I grew up and was interested in other films, I found that still to be true. It wasn’t until I saw Casablanca when I was a kid that this wasn’t always the case. Billy Wilder knows this, and doesn’t create characters – he creates living, breathing people. People that we recognize from our own lives, people we sympathize with, people we see inside of ourselves. Sure, there’s good guys and bad guys, but Wilder takes more than enough time to blur those lines beyond recognition for us. It’s a fascinating concept, and Wilder is a master craftsman.
Hollywood has become the land of repetition, whether it be actors picking up similar roles through typecasting, or movies fitting in to that typical ‘cookie cutter’ style. Some directors make the same kinds of movies all their lives. Billy Wilder is the furthest thing from those people.
Are you looking for a romantic comedy? You’re got Ninotchka or Sabrina (the original, with Humphrey Bogart instead of Harrison Ford). Comedy in general? Some Like it Hot or any of the Matthau/Lemon comedies will do the trick. Suspense and mystery? Double Indemnity or Witness for the Prosecution. Wilder was a storyteller, first and foremost. And it didn’t matter what genre or ideas it involved. If it was a story, he’d tell it. No film ever came out the same way twice with him, which makes every film fresh and full of quality storytelling from one of the best.
Billy Wilder hated it when films treated the audience members like idiots. He believed in simple storytelling and letting the audience move themselves from point A to point B. No spelling it out. The audience was smart. They would get it.
Billy marches to the beat of his own drum, and most of his films follow this format. Sure, we know that there’s going to be some kind of happy ending to the romantic comedies, or some kind of drama in the middle. But that’s all we know. Wilder’s films always provide the most interesting and realistic way of moving from the beginning to the end, and it’s not always in the way you think. His films have layers to them that make them a treat to watch. Watching a Billy Wilder film is like sipping on a glass of fine, expensive wine. It’s not something you have just to quench your thirst. You want quality. The same is true of Wilder’s films.
If talk is cheap, but good talk is expensive, Billy Wilder would be rolling in dough. The man’s dialogue is absolutely incredible. Similar to the way he makes films, the dialogue doesn’t just get you from point A to point B, or move the story along any point in between. It reveals layers of character depth, hints at inner thoughts, and allows the characters to move from people on the screen to figures we recognize in our own lives.
I’m not talking just about the characters in present time. Two of Wilder’s films, Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity, use voice-over work. Wilder’s dialogue in his voiceover work is something remarkable. The man said once that “In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.” With Wilder, this is a lost art. Very few films continue to use this, and even fewer do it as well as him.
Have you seen any Billy Wilder films? What did you think? Leave me a comment below!
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