Home Direction Production • A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder's American Films by Gerd Gemünden

A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder's American Films by Gerd Gemünden

By Gerd Gemünden

With six Academy Awards, 4 entries at the American movie Institute s checklist of a hundred maximum American videos, and extra titles at the nationwide ancient sign in of vintage movies deemed helpful of maintenance than the other director, Billy Wilder counts as essentially the most entire filmmakers ever to paintings in Hollywood. movie historians and critics, in addition to his colleagues, have constantly celebrated Wilder as an American grasp from the vintage studio period. but how American is Billy Wilder, the Jewish émigré from principal Europe? to check Wilder s paintings is to check the transforming of numerous wealthy and sundry cultural sensibilities, formed by means of his event of displacement. This e-book underscores those complexities, unpacking underlying contradictions the place prior commentators often smoothed them out. Wilder emerges as an artist with roots in sensationalist journalism and the area of leisure in addition to with an expertise of literary tradition and the avant-garde, beneficial properties that result in efficient and infrequently hugely unique confrontations among low and high.

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That Wilder’s interest in the avantgarde of his time—writers, musicians, composers, painters—did not deter him from reveling in the vernacular is equally typical for how the relation between Kultur and popular culture was revolutionized in the 1920s. Wilder’s films reveal their in-between status in complex and layered ways. Their precarious position between Europe and the New World is a 26 A Foreign Affair major creative tension shaping the themes, style, and form of his films. It is dramatized in the films’ story lines and characters, and often informs the circumstances of their respective production and very different reception at home and abroad.

3 It was then that German expressionism and Weimar cinema became widely accepted as one of the main stylistic and thematic influences on noir, together with the hard-boiled fiction of Dashiell Ham- 34 A Foreign Affair mett, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, and Raymond Chandler, and the Poetic Realism of Marcel Carné, Jean Renoir, and Julien Duvivier. According to Paul Schrader’s hugely influential “Notes on Noir” (1972), directors such as Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Otto Preminger, Fred Zinnemann, William Dieterle, Anatole Litvak, Edgar Ulmer, Rudolph Maté, Curtis Bernhardt, Max Ophuls, and Billy Wilder had recourse to the cinema of Weimar Germany so as to articulate a personal sense of loss and cultural malaise that befell them in Hollywood.

See Billy Wilder, “Man sah überall nur Taschentücher,” (Magazin) 18 February 1994. Cameron Crowe, Conversations with Wilder 19. Quoted in: Volker Kühn, “Nachwort,” in Menschliches Treibgut, Friedrich Hollaender, , trans. Stefan Weidle (Bonn: Weidle, 1995), 348. ” —Billy Wilder1 Insurance salesman Walter Neff’s (Fred MacMurray) second visit to the Dietrichson home in Los Feliz ends abruptly when Neff catches on to Phyllis Dietrichson’s (Barbara Stanwyck) plan to take out accident insurance unbeknownst to her husband and then arrange for his “accidental” death.

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