BILLY WILDER STARTER KIT
Last week, I watched Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie. When mentioning the film to people I knew, I was surprised at how many people didn't know the director's name. Yet, as I talked about Wilder's films, everyone had seen several.
Billy Wilder is by no means obscure. He won his first Oscar sixty years ago. Four of his films are in the AFI top 100 films of all time list. It's easy enough to catch his films on American Movie Classics or Turner Movie Classics. If you watch old movies, you probably have seen at least of few of his films whether you were aware of it or not.
Here, in order of my personal taste, are ten Billy Wilder flicks for your own personal festival:
Wilder convinced silent film star Gloria Swanson to come out of retirement in order to play her most memorable role as Norma Desmond, the most frightening film diva to ever grace the screen. This is one of the darkest, noiriest, cringe-inducing films I've ever seen.
When talking about prison films or war films, this is on both lists for top ten of all time. It's set in a POW camp in Germany during World War Two. One of the prisoners is actually a German spy, but whom? Paranoid, tense, and perfect?
As far as I know, this was the first American film to portray adultery. The story, based on a James M. Cain novel, features a voiceover by the lead actor, Fred Macmurray that lets us in on the scheme.
The Lost Weekend
The first well-done movie about addiction. There were plenty of goofy Reefer Madness type movies that were little more than shock value, but this is a fine example of what alcoholism and detoxing is really like. Ray Milland stars.
Some Like It Hot
Ever wonder why Two Guys In Drag movies keep getting made? Because, once Billy Wilder did it so well, there are always Hollywood executives who believe that it can be done again. Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe.
This won five Oscars, and was nominated for five others. A poor chump allows four managers to use his apartment for their extra-marital affairs, while all the neighbors think he's a horrible womanizer. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray.
Irma la Douce
Jack Lemmon is Shirley Maclaine's accidental pimp in this strangely colorful comedy set in France. After the Oscar-winning film The Apartment, this was considered by the critics as a failure. But in retrospect, it's a funny and surprising film.
Witness for the Prosecution
On the surface, this is a courtroom movie without much more to it. But as the film unfolds, there are twists that would set even the most jaded Law & Order fan on ear. Many similar films have been made since, but few so well.
Kiss Me Stupid
Dean Martin plays a womanizing jerk of a lounge singer. An aspiring songwriter, working as a gas station attendant, sabotages his car in an effort to keep him in town. An underrated comedy with Wilder's usual misunderstandings and mistaken identities.
The Seven Year Itch
Marilyn, the dress, and the grate. There are other reasons to watch this comedy, but this should be enough.
WEEK WRAP UP
I was in Utah all week, reading poems to Salt Lake City's art scene. Overall it was a success, if you don't take into consideration that I have over 400 DVDs to watch and I STAYED IN A PLACE WITH NO TV. Well, only for a few days, but then I stayed in another place with a TV and a BROKEN DVD player. I vainly attempted to fix the DVD player. I even tried a computer I found, but the picture was jumpy.
Was there not one film nerd in Salt Lake City I could convince to watch Aguirre: The Wrath of God with me? If there was, I couldn't find him or her. I could find plenty of folks with whom to discuss the poems of Lorca or Ginsberg, in fact, I was at a party one night at which a nineteen year old earnestly read Ginsberg's A Supermarket in California from his book Howl to anyone who would listen.
Here, in San Francisco, I could easily walk into a place like The Atlas or Ritual Coffee Roasters and convince a stranger to watch a Herzog movie with me on his or her overpowered laptop. But in Salt Lake, I couldn't excite anyone with the mention of Klaus Kinski.
Is this the Jimmy Cliff curse? Am I paying for not having yet watched The Harder They Come? I've had that DVD for a month, but something always happens that I don't watch it all the way through.
Regardless, I have 293 days left to watch 425 DVDs. 1.45 DVDs per day. It's over 10 per week now. I have to hit 11 per week for a while to get it under 10 again.
So there's no pick of the week. I didn't watch a single movie this week for the first time since the Reagan administration.