courses > 2009 spring

Elective Courses

CINE 115 - Billy Wilder

ENGL 292
601 | T 5:30-8:30pm

Perhaps because his films were so popular, or perhaps because his signature was by design so subtle, writer-producer-director Billy Wilder generally gets passed over in discussions of great directors. Furious with such distinctive stylists as Hitchcock, whom he dismissed as a modernist, Wilder created what a critic has called “invisible narratives,” seamless stories with superb dialogue and skillfully crafted plots that enthrall their audiences and draw no attention to themselves as films or as works of art. Yet for all his talk about entertaining movies, Wilder’s films reflect a drive to instruct that he only obliquely acknowledged: “If you're going to tell people the truth, be funny or they'll kill you,” he once remarked, “Never bore.” Wilder explicitly wrote and directed for “the masses” and with this aim produced a remarkable range of popular, well-crafted films, including the great comedies Some Like It Hot, Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, and Stalag 17 (basis for the popular TV show, Hogan’s Heroes). His brooding melodramas were equally successful--Sunset Boulevard, a critique of Hollywood, and Lost Weekend, which brought the problem of alcoholism to the screen and into American conversation. His brilliant “Double Indemnity” arguably launched the genre of film noir. Getting his start as a screenwriter, Wilder’s scripts as well as his ability to bring out the best in actors resulted in his working with many of Hollywood’s greatest in the nearly 30 films he directed from the 1930s to the 1980s. This course will explore Wilder’s work from this range of perspectives, as well as from the point of view of genre (farce, melodrama, social commitment, noir). We will also trace, along the way, how this German exile played a major role in creating and refining that peculiarly American and very popular type of film, the Hollywood classical narrative.