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The Sublimely Subversive Cinema of Billy Wilder

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The Sublimely Subversive Cinema of Billy Wilder

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, July 17, 2024 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0496
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Writer-director Billy Wilder (1906­–2002) made social satire and scalding comedy look easy. A product of the old Hollywood studio system—the assembly line that was allegedly contemptuous of anything artful or unconventional—Wilder brilliantly and consistently established himself as an unforgiving observer of his adopted country. His caustic and brutal observations manifested themselves in charming and sometimes-outrageous comedies, as well as forceful dramas.

The Polish-born and German-raised genius behind The Apartment and Some Like It Hot, captured the outrageous quirkiness of the United States better than most of his Hollywood contemporaries. Wilder brought out the best in his stars: Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as Prohibition era musicians fleeing Chicago in women’s garb to avoid gangland execution; Marilyn Monroe as the stunningly flighty upstairs neighbor of a frustrated married man in The Seven Year Itch; Marlene Dietrich singing sardonically amid the ruins of Berlin in A Foreign Affair.

There was the serious side of Billy Wilder, who as a successful screenwriter was forced to flee Germany on the arrival of Nazism and had to leave his family behind to perish. Once safely ensconced at Paramount Pictures, Wilder, with the help of such outstanding fellow writers as Charles Brackett, channeled his anguish into hard-hitting dramas which, with grim humor, scrutinized the dark sides of World War II and postwar-era American life: the cruelty of Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard; the scheming murderous couple of Double Indemnity; the exploitive newspaper industry in Ace in the Hole; and the devastating impact of alcoholism in The Lost Weekend.

The Wilder gift for provocation and dark humor dared to take on Nazi prisoner-of-war camps (Stalag 17), corporate America sexism (The Apartment), Cold War tensions (One, Two, Three), and the litigious nature of U.S. society (The Fortune Cookie). This is not to overlook the romantic side of Billy Wilder, which surfaced from time to time in such sophisticated adult romps as Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, and the critically neglected Avanti! In short, Billy Wilder was in many respects the ultimate commentator on American culture.

Film historian Max Alvarez offers a sprawling tribute to the laughter and intensity of the great Billy Wilder and his unforgettable Hollywood achievements.

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