How the acclaimed Billy Wilder tried and failed to demean Hollywood. Movies

some Like It Hot, double Indemnity And apartment were just some classics that made billy wilder One of the most successful and acclaimed directors in Hollywood.

Poster of Something Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe Winking and Tony Curtis embracing Jack Lemmon
Old theatrical poster from Wilder’s 1959 hit film. Photograph: Shotshots/Alamy

But when, in his 70s, he set out to make a film about how an aging screen siren, Fedora, is thrown out of retirement, he was rebuffed by the same studio that had once had brought them.

The story of the troubled shooting of the 1978 film fedora Told in a novel by Jonathan Coe in 2020, a book narrated by Observer as “A Novel To Cherish”,

now Mr. Wilder and Me With a multi-award winning screenwriter, director and producer to turn himself into a film. It will also trace Wilder’s journey to Central Europe, where members of his family were killed in the Holocaust. Wilder himself will play the Oscar winner Christoph WaltzJoe, like the great Hollywood director, was recently born in Central Europe before becoming a star in Bond films.

Bond star Christoph Waltz smiling in a blazer
Bond star Christoph Waltz plays Billy Wilder. Photo: MediaPunch Inc./Alamy

Mr. Wilder and MeThe film version of Coe’s book has what the novelist calls a “dream team” behind it: Christopher Hampton for script and Stephen Frears ,Queen And my beautiful launderette) as director, while the producer is Jeremy Thomas, whose films include Oscar-winning the last Emperor,

Fedora was played in the original film by Marthe Keller, while the main cast was William Holden, who played Wilder’s character. Sunset Boulevard, Coe, whose previous novels include Costa Book Award winners central england And What’s engraved!Uses Calista, a fictional translator-cum-assistant hired by Wilder to help shoot the film in Europe.

“I saw fedora When it came out,” says Coe, a film buff who has also written a biography of Hollywood legend James Stewart. “It was at a cinema in Birmingham and there were four of us in the audience. all my friends were going to see foreign And close Encounters, I realized it was a sea-change moment in cinema, and that Wilder had lost his audience. ,

Born in 1906 in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wilder was one of many talented filmmakers and executives who fled Hollywood in the 1930s. His mother, grandmother and stepfather were left behind, and all lost their lives in concentration camps.

New film, like Koe Book, will show how Wilder returned to Central Europe in the late 1970s fedora took him on a journey into the darkness of his family’s history. It was also ironic that Wilder was turned down by Hollywood. fedoraHad to use German funding for his film.

By the late 1970s, Wilder had fallen out of fashion with audiences and was out of favor with Hollywood. “I thought for a long time that this would be a touchy subject for a book,” says Coe.

Hampton, whose films include Atonement and, recently, father, Reading Coe’s book immediately knew he wanted to turn it into a movie. “I first met Billy when talking to American immigrants as a preparation tales of hollywood [Hampton’s 1983 play about the European exiles who moved to Los Angeles], He was extremely liberal with his time, and was also very interested in a drama about people such as Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, who had not really succeeded in Hollywood. Wilder, of course, did.

“I later wrote to him about the rights on a libretto for a musical version. Sunset Boulevard, He promptly replied that he had no authority by any ‘brutal boo-boo of the capitalist system’. Paramount, which owned them, then turned me down, saying they were in talks with someone else. He turned out to be Andrew Lloyd Webber. ,

Screenwriter Christopher Hampton, with mustache and goatee, smiling
Screenwriter Christopher Hampton in 2021. Photograph: David M. Bennett/Dave Bennett/Getty Images for Focus Features

Hampton, along with songwriter Don Black, then teamed up with composer Lloyd Webber to turn the 1950 film into a musical. “Billy loved it,” says Hampton, who admits to “an extraordinary admiration” for Wilder’s films. “It’s his unique combination of Mitteluropean and American sensibilities. What fascinates me about Jonathan’s book is his treatment of the way older artists can feel themselves cut off from the pressures of modernity.” .

Coe himself remembers reading an interview with Wilder, who – while clearly hurt fedora was not being made by a Hollywood studio – related to his feelings about filming in Germany with German funding. “He actually said it was a ‘win-win situation.’ If the film was a success it was his revenge on Hollywood. If it was a failure, it was his revenge on Auschwitz.

“I thought it was such an audacious comment from someone whose mother had died in a camp that it had to be the heart of a novel. I felt compelled to attempt a portrait of a man who could make such a joke. “

hopelessly, fedora It was neither a critical nor a box office success. Although Mr. Wilder and Me The film will at least remind viewers what an extraordinarily talented man Wilder was—even if viewed through the lens of his fading film career.

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