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In 1988, Oscar-winning German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff ("The Tin Drum") sat down with legendary director Billy Wilder at his office in Beverly Hills, California and turned on his camera for a series of filmed interviews. The conversation went on for two weeks. The results were aired on German TV in 1992 and debuted on U.S. television when it was shown on Turner Classic Movies in 2006. We are presented with a generous smattering of film clips, rare photographs and artwork, but mostly Wilder just sits in his office and talks with the off screen Schlondorff, moving easily between English and German. Clips shown include: "Double Indemnity," "The Lost Weekend," "A Foreign Affair," "Sunset Blvd.," "Ace in the Hole." "Stalag 17," "Sabrina," "Witness for the Prosecution," "Some Like It Hot," and "The Apartment." Wilder discusses all these films, and the actors in them as well. Mostly, Wilder offers his philosophy of movie making from one of its undisputed masters. As one might expect from...Written by
A casual conversation turns into a great interview
The maker of this documentary and director Billy Wilder originally intended what was filmed here to just be a dry run of what would be the later actual interview portion of a documentary on Wilder's career. The two sit down in Wilder's crowded office and Wilder just starts talking about the various aspects of his long career. The one stipulation that Wilder made was that this footage not be released in his lifetime. Wilder and the interviewer go back and forth between German and English - depending upon what language best expresses the points they wish to make - with helpful subtitles for those of us who speak English when either speaks German.
Wilder says some things that don't surprise me - for example that Jack Lemmon was the definition of a professional. Wilder would not have used him so much and Lemmon would not have been such a great performer had that not been the case. However, Wilder's insights into Marilyn Monroe were new to me. He said while making "Some Like it Hot" that sometimes they would spend all day trying to get one take in which Marilyn had just one line, to the point where he wanted to pin the line to the wall so she could just read it. Other days she would come in and have pages of dialogue memorized. He also had some interesting things to say about making films on the Holocaust immediately after the war and the impact they had on German audiences at the time.
At any rate, this dry run turned out to be so good that it became the actual interview. I highly recommend it to people who are interested in Billy Wilder's career, since it is almost entirely Billy Wilder talking about the projects he worked on, his philosophies of filmmaking, and the people with which he worked. It's a fascinating documentary.
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