THE INESTIMABLE: BILLY WILDER

That’s the director, lurking in the background, with his trademark owl framed spectacles. When I was a tyke my father took me to a retrospective screening at the DGA of SOME LIKE IT HOT – a then elderly Billy Wilder and Tony Curtis presided.

The screening was packed and the audience screamed with laughter – including a tiny “yours truly”. Afterward a white haired Mr. Curtis paid a loving tribute to Mr. Wilder and the director himself took questions from the audience. In response to a query about the importance of the screenplay in relation to other aspects of film making his unvarnished answer was, “You can’t turn chicken shit into chicken liver.” Spoken like a man who had written some of the best movies ever made. (And, perhaps a little pithier in his native German.)

That’s always been the quote that’s stuck in my head. The one that stuck in my father’s, so much so I found it inscribed on Mr. Wilder’s card in his Rolodex was –

“If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.”

BILLY WILDER (b. 1906 – d. 2002)

3 comments

  1. Invariably people underrate Wilder as a writer. Sure he had help, but the stories came from him; his instincts were impeccable. I challenge anyone to do as well under similar circumstances. He was one of the true greats.

  2. George Kaplan

    Acerbically Wonderful Mr Wilder. What’s particularly impressive is that he had such a distinctive american voice and incredible fluid use of language when English wasn’t his mother tongue (obviously, some credit goes to his great collaborators such as Mr Bennett and Mr Diamond as well) plus he had such facility with profanity too, all this and he’s one of the great directors.
    American cinema used to be so much more cosmopolitan, the emigre directors, actors, actresses, writers really helped with that. Also what would comedy in particular be without the magnificent contributions of Jewish-Americans?!
    Oh, and hear, hear, Foxpudding.

    • When the studios (and old time producers – with instinct and a willingness to gamble on story and talent) exerted the most power, there was more diversity in narrative and style. Now, in an attempt to capture an international audience (and the hobbling of producers by multinational corporations) films have become very homogenized.

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