April 13 – April 29
In a monumental career spanning seven decades, Billy Wilder (1906-2002) started out as a central-European émigré who spoke no English and rose to become one of the most widely celebrated writer-directors of Hollywood’s golden age. The young Wilder developed an obsession with American films while working as a freelance tabloid crime reporter in 1920s Berlin.
Following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, he found himself exiled in Paris where he directed his first film, Mauvaise graine, and from there he moved to Hollywood, where he brought an outsider’s perspective and a journalist’s eye for detail to the dark – and darkly comic – aspects of American life. Over a wildly successful career, Wilder became one of the most versatile filmmakers in Hollywood, switching freely from gritty potboilers and realist noirs to romantic melodramas and comic musicals, all defined by a sophisticated wit and crisp, clever dialogue. Themes of investigation and deception abound in his work, but he rejected genre clichés in favour of morally complicated characters and stories that deeply probed the ironies and contradictions of modern life. A lifelong reporter at heart, his restrained directorial style always reflected the primacy of storytelling and the written word to his work. “If the viewer notices direction”, he once remarked, “you have failed”.
This season spans the length and breadth of Wilder’s formidable directorial career featuring key but rarely screened works including the delightful farce The Major and the Minor, the bracingly cynical Ace in the Hole, and the irreverent and autumnal, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
7.00pm MAUVAISE GRAINE
Billy Wilder and Alexandre Esway (1934) 77 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Collaborating in Paris with a group of exiles, including composer Franz Waxman and screenwriters H. G. Lustig and Max Kolpé, Wilder made his directorial debut with a playful action-comedy about a rich playboy who falls in with a ragtag gang of car thieves. Wilder explored naturalistic on-the-fly filmmaking, including shooting on the streets of Paris with a camera mounted on a moving car, and his formal techniques, self-conscious criminals and sight gags foreshadow the nouvelle vague as well as his distinctive Hollywood style. Starring Danielle Darrieux.
Pit Stop: Billy Wilder’s Mauvaise graine by Adrian Danks
8:30pm THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Billy Wilder (1970) 125 mins – PG
Originally intended to run over three hours, Wilder’s melancholy, deeply affectionate and subtly queer take on the “private life” and unpublished stories of the great detective was a passion project he had been working towards for over ten years. Brilliantly designed by Alexandre Trauner and utilising huge sets constructed at Pinewood Studios, this is Wilder’s last great film and a significant influence on latter-day adaptations such as TV’s Sherlock. Featuring one of Miklós Rózsa’s most richly enigmatic scores it stars Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely and Christopher Lee.
The Masquerade is Over: Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Adrian Danks