Five Great Films by Billy Wilder

After years of somewhat patchy DVD coverage, the films of Billy Wilder are finally getting the DVD releases they deserve. In celebration of this fact, I have written a piece for FilmJuice listing my five favourite Wilder movies. The list includes — in no particular order — The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot and Murder Mills.

My take on Wilder is that many of his films feature a tension between brutal cynicism and crowd-pleasing optimism that sometimes cuts very close to the winds of mushy sentiment. Had Wilder been anything less than a great director, this tension would most likely have resulted in some spectacularly dishonest filmmaking. However, each of the films I explore in the article work because they are all heart-felt journeys out of cynicism and into the light. In each case, you can follow the path and see Wilder talking himself down off the edge:

Billy Wilder is the most sentimental filmmaker to ever acquire a reputation for cynicism.

As I worked my way back through Wilder’s films (including some of the decidedly less interesting works produced late in his career) I couldn’t help but wonder about the tension between cynicism and romanticism. Indeed, if Wilder’s films are to be understood as the product of a mind endlessly seeking reasons to be cheerful, what does this say about the wider relationship between cynicism and romanticism? Are all cynics disappointed romantics? Are all romantics naive cynics? Wilder’s films certainly suggest some form of connection between the two dispositions.

REVIEW – Red Riding : 1983 (2009)

The first two adaptations of David Peace’s novels have been characterised by a stylistic dualism.  Their foregrounds are both occupied by more of less convincing Crime tropes.  Searches for murderers, attempts to ferret out corrupt cops, investigations of conspiracies and doomed love stories.  However, the meat of these two films lay not in the foreground, but in the background.  Red Riding : 1974 and 1980 were films whose visuals spoke of an encroaching and slowly expanding evil.  An evil that slowly becomes systemic before taking on almost mythological proportions.  Visually the films gave us an image of the North as a Garden of Eden fallen into the worst kind of sin.  Red Riding : 1983 undoes a lot of that work by using words to fill in beautiful cracks and gaps left by powerful images.  Its obsession with salvation seems naïve and very much like a cop out.  However, the sheer banality of 1983’s evil has a power of its own.

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