List 9

An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the darkthat is critical genius. 

Billy Wilder

Greetings All,

Since his birthday occurred earlier in the week, and his filmography as a writer and director ranks among the very best produced by twentieth-century American cinema, we would like to devote our current list to the films of Billy Wilder

Born in the town of Sucha (then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now a part of Poland) on June 22, 1906, Wilder grew up to spurn his father’s business career and to parlay his early love for American pop culture (particularly jazz, silent films, and cowboys) into a (short-lived) journalism stint in Vienna and a much more consequential career writing screenplays in Berlin, where his most important contribution as a screenwriter remains the proto-neorealist film, People on Sunday (1929), directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, who would themselves go on to make some remarkable films in Hollywood. After Hitler came to power, Wilder promptly fled to Paris, where he got the chance to direct his first film, Mauvaise graine (1934), but even before that film was released, he had emigrated to America to escape the Nazi threat and to try his luck in Hollywood.

His career in the United States is rightfully storied: as a co-screenwriter with Charles Brackett, he had a hand in some of the best films made by Ernst Lubitsch (whose directorial practices remained a touchstone for Wilder throughout his life), and together they wrote the scripts for two early Wilder-directed films that won multiple Academy Awards (including Best Screenplay in both cases) and played a big role in the development of film noir: The Lost Weekend (1945) and Sunset Boulevard. Along with Double Indemnity (1944), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17, Sabrina (1954), and The Seven Year Itch (1955), they also made Wilder one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his generation. 

After his partnership with Brackett came to an acrimonious end during the making of Sunset Boulevard, Wilder eventually found a new screenwriter with whom he would go on to meaningfully collaborate in the final decades of his career: I.A.L. Diamond (another expat from Europe) would serve as co-screenwriter on every Wilder film from Some Like It Hot (1959) forward, and while some of the films from this collaboration (like The Apartment [1960] {cue Shane crying over the fact that this film was not streaming for free}) may indeed remain canonical in American cinema, a lot of the work Diamond and Wilder did together tends to get overlooked nowadays.

This is beyond regrettable. The lion’s share of their films still have the power to unsettle, challenge, and titillate while masterfully using irony, playing with cynicism, and celebrating queerness. Accordingly, in addition to the Billy You (Most Likely) Know (Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17), we’re also suggesting that you spend some time with the Wilder You (Probably) Don’t (Kiss Me, Stupid, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Avanti!)―we think you’ll be surprised by what you find. 

Let’s get to it!