Billy Wilder: A Prolific Pioneer of the Golden Age of Cinema
Today is your lucky day for you are about to have the pleasure of knowing and being exposed to the extraordinary life and award-winning masterpieces of one of the most remarkable filmmakers in Hollywood history – Samuel “Billy” Wilder.
Wilder is a name that instantly comes up in conversation, especially if you’re in film school or simply an enthusiast who lives and breathes cinema. His films, achievements, and wisdom have been the foundation of books and the inspiration behind films that have graced the silver screens throughout the years.
The Master of Everything
Wilder was born on June 22, 1906 in Sucha, in what is now known as Poland, to a family of Austrian Jews. He spent his formative years mostly in Vienna where he attended law school at the request of his parents but shortly dropped out when his passion for creative arts was too hard to ignore. He pursued a career in Journalism and moved to Berlin to get more opportunities. Since writing articles wasn’t enough to pay the bills, he had to find other means to support himself, which he found by becoming a taxi dancer or escort to ladies in desperate need of company. He perceived this endeavor as an advantage and a place for finding inspiration and stories for his articles.
His writing career flourished as he worked for various local newspapers and publications, which eventually led to him developing an interest in the film industry. He finally found his place in the world as a screenwriter in 1929, where he first wrote his feature script entitled People on Sunday, an adaptation of Erich Kästner’s novel Emil and the Detectives (1929), and a comprehensive collection of short films. When Hitler rose to power, Wilder moved to Paris, where he made his directorial debut with Mauvaise Graine (1934), but soon emigrated to Los Angeles where his passion for filmmaking blossomed into a career that earned him a place among the stars.
…writing articles wasn’t enough to pay the bills, he had to find other means to support himself, which he found by becoming a taxi dancer or escort to ladies in desperate need of company.
He was the master of all film genres, which was evident through his films such as Ninotchka (1939), Ball of Fire (1941), The Major and the Minor (1942), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), The Lost Weekend (1945), and the most-renowned Sunset Boulevard (1950), which he co-wrote with his writing partner and collaborator, Charles Brackett. More of his epic films include Double Indemnity (1944), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and Some Like It Hot (1959); just to name a few. Although, it wasn’t until he made The Apartment (1960), which he co-wrote with another brilliant writer, I.A.L. Diamond, that he truly immortalized his legacy in the industry. The film won five Academy Awards and Wilder bagged the coveted triple threat award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Before retiring in 1981, he released his last film, Buddy Buddy (1981), which unfortunately wasn’t fully embraced by film enthusiasts despite its superb cast who mostly starred in Wilder’s past award-winning films.
Nonetheless, his writing and vision will always serve as a huge inspiration and paradigm for novice and seasoned filmmakers to ensure that their own projects have that sought-after Hollywood flair that Golden Age filmmakers have popularized.
Knowing the Past to Understand the Present
Most of us may have taken for granted our history classes back in our formative years, but the key to understanding current events and circumstances involves revisiting the past and learning about the forefathers who shaped the present, especially in the world of filmmaking.
The only way we could deeply appreciate the films and the creative ways filmmakers design the narrative in today’s cinema is by recognizing the basics of storytelling that were characterized by prolific filmmakers such as Wilder who heavily influenced other celebrated filmmakers like Cameron Crowe who brought to life memorable films such as Say Anything (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996), and Almost Famous (2000).
Once in a while, make it a habit to expose yourselves to classic films that date back to the silent era and you’d be mesmerized to see how cinema has evolved through the years. It is worth recognizing that the level of sophistication as to how creative geniuses in the entertainment industry brilliantly explore the uncharted waters of storytelling year after year is extraordinary and mind-blowing, giving us assurance that we are heading towards an exhilarating and highly-imaginative future of entertainment while bearing in mind and honoring its pedigrees.
The only way we could deeply appreciate the films and the creative ways filmmakers design the narrative in today’s cinema is by recognizing the basics of storytelling that were characterized by prolific filmmakers such as Wilder…