Wednesday, July 22, 2015

And the Oscar for Best Director of All Time Goes To...

'I'm a writer, but then...nobody's perfect'
Every once in a while I like to back track a bit and get off the Bravo Real Housewives tittie. I normally don't like to throw my Ivy League degree in Film Studies into people's faces but, hey ya'll! I got an Ivy League Master's degree in Film Studies: Translation I got the world's most useless degree in one of the most prestigious Universities in the continental United States and am knee deep in student debt that will cripple me until the end of time. Ergo, I have somewhat of an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema that serves no purpose whatsoever and impresses absolutely no one. Yay me! 
But once in a while I'd like to utilize that and open people up to something they might not be aware of or worse care about, but this is my blog and I get to do whatever I want so strap in. It's not an excerpt from my dissertation on Warhol so don't worry. I'll sprinkle some snark and fun facts all over it and make it readable. 
A filmmaker that first put me on this useless track to no where was Billy Wilder. I was 10 and my dad made me sit down to watch Some Like it Hot one afternoon. Even though it's an oldie, most of you have probably seen it considering how iconic it is, if you haven't then it's about time you crawled out of that cave you've been living in. My dad was like that. If he had something he wanted to turn you on to, you didn't really have a say in it. And that's basically what I'm doing to you now, obviously you could stop reading but where's the fun in that? Also, I can't ground you if you do, so I have substantially less power. Nothing I can say will have as much resonance than his films on their own, but here's trying. 
Wilder collaborated withMonroe on two films. In this scene all she had to say was 'where's that bourbon?' It took over 20 takes. He later quipped that Ms. Monroe had breasts like melons and a brain like Swiss cheese. You can say it was a love/hate relationship.
I don't think in the history of cinema there has been a director more consistent than Wilder. Even Hitchcock had his ehhh moments. But name me a Billy Wilder film that didn't really ride...I dare you. In my subjective (and well-informed) opinion, there are none. One after another, after another, Wilder never faltered and excelled in every genre he tackled from Film Noir to slapstick comedy to puckish satire. If I was to try to put into a syntax his films from best to worst I couldn't possibly because each shines in their own way. Sunset Blvd. is just as good as Some Like it Hot, Double Indemnity is just as good as Ace in the Hole, One, Two, Three is just as good as The Apartment, the list goes on. All of his films are excellent leave it at that. So let's reserve to talking about one in particular. I've had many arguments with people about this film, it's one of two in his catalogue to win Best Picture honors and one that I always mistakenly put at the bottom of my list as in; well I like it but that's as far as that goes. I was wrong I admit it. 

Wilder with one of his favorite actors, Jack Lemmon. A man who really understood how to handle Wilder's material.
I'm talking about The Apartment. A film that most Wilder fans would say is their favorite so I by force of habit initially argued against it, but I no longer can, ok? You win people, it's genius, it's brilliant, it's everything, can I marry it? Considering Wilder was the king of making films with highly controversial themes and masking them so they slid right by the censors, this film really takes the cake. It concerns a mid-level insurance salesman of sorts C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who basically pimps out his apartment for his higher ups at the company so that he can get ahead and they can quietly cheat on their wives. Things take a turn when an adorable elevator operator named Fran Kubelik (Shirey MacLaine) attempts suicide after a particularly bad break up in said apartment with none other than Baxter's boss. This sounds like something that Aronofsky, Bigelow, or Jarmusch would direct today and it would be highly depressing, make everyone feel like they wanted to blow their brains out and win all the Academy Awards for being the most bleak film of the year with the most good cry moments. Surprise surprise it's a comedy. And only Wilder could do that. Well, it's a romantic comedy, but a comedy none-the-less, and if you think about the plot, you have to wonder how on earth it got passed the rigid Hollywood censorship board of 1960. 

C. C. Baxter (Lemmon) and Ms. Kubelik (MacLaine) share a moment. 
Also you might have noticed it has an element of being anti-capitalist (definitely a no-no for those times) but with Wilder's wit and flair for farce and satire, it coupled better than buttercream and red velvet cake. It's served as the basis for many films and shows that followed, particularly of our generation, hence it was way ahead of its time. American Beauty, regardless of being a sweaty piece of turd modeled the plot and mostly the plight of main character after The Apartment; and Matthew Wiener used the film as a blueprint for how an office would function and how people within it would act when he created Mad Men. Perhaps because it's not so far out there like Sunset Blvd., that it flew under my radar, but in retrospect that's its beauty. A film that has a clear message that doesn't beat you over the head with it is always a good one. Subtlety is a very difficult film language, and Wilder was the master of it. Jack Lemmon, a frequent collaborator of Wilder's said that when one reports to set with the script, the script is treated like the bible. Not a comma or apostrophe can be changed. 

All hail the king on his throne.
And all for the better. When Wilder finished a shooting script, there was no need to change a goddamn thing. He's one of the few that when the words went from his brain to the page, they were perfect. If we look at contemporary filmmakers, they seem to have one thing that they are good at, one genre that they shine in, or just one film that we can call 'flawless'. Wilder had about 40 of them. Think about that for a hot minute. On his tombstone is written 'Billy Wilder; I'm a Writer, but Then, Nobody's Perfect'. Even in death, the man had a joke for us and if you know where that joke came from, let's be besties. As I said before, there's little I can say about his films, or The Apartment in particular that the film can't tell you itself so do yourself a favor and watch them! 

Below, some clips to get you warmed up: 

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