Billy, How Did You Do It?

Very excited to realize that the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of THE LOST WEEKEND has the best extra you’re ever likely to find. This is NOT my essay — it’s Volker Schloendorff and Gilsea Grischow’s Billy, How Did You Do It?, a three-part interview with Billy Wilder in a swivel chair. (Wilder’s reaction when he finally saw the film: “Never interview a man in a swivel chair.”)

There’s about three and a half hours of it, I think. My VHS recording of it from the BBC, which I inherited from my friend Lawrie Knight, vanished some time ago, and the DVD release was an incomprehensibly truncated edit (from which all trace of LOST WEEKEND had been expunged), so I’m very glad to own it again.

It’s not perfect — it cuts off at the height of Wilder’s career, thereby deleting the years of arguable decline, in which there are a lot of good films, and/or interesting ones. I adore THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Others may prefer ONE TWO THREE or KISS ME STUPID, but they’ll find no mention of them here. BUT — the stuff on THE APARTMENT, DOUBLE INDEMNITY and the debt to Lubitsch is priceless for Wilderites.

The Lost Weekend [Masters of Cinema] (Blu-ray) [1945]


21 Responses to “Billy, How Did You Do It?”

  1. That was the first thing I watched when the new blu-rays arrived. Fascinating stuff, the story about why he left Paramount was wonderful – makes me wonder if it inspired the end of The Apartment, with Baxter leaving his soul-sucking job to become a mensch.

  2. Yeah, and I love the symbolic empty birdcage in his office.

  3. For me Ace in the Hole is Wilder’s best, as it is for a lot of people.

  4. Wilder intermittently thought so himself. His commercial instincts didn’t allow him to fully embrace a film which flopped, and cost him a lot of credit at the studio, but his artistic side in some ways appreciated the film all the more for that.

  5. I’m gonna have to get this. Or I should reiterate: I’m gonna HAVE to get this.

  6. There is, as yet, the problem of getting multiregion Blu-ray players. I have one, but it was a bit of a struggle to find, and I wasn’t even sure it could be reprogrammed until I tried.

  7. Nice to hear all three parts are available. A 95 minute distillation played on TCM a few months back.

  8. Yeah, the shortened version is rather disappointing when you consider the wealth that’s in there. None of it’s padding!

  9. jiminholland Says:

    Haven’t yet seen the swivel-chair interview — guess it’s goddam time to finally buy a blu-ray player — so I’m wondering about the height of career cut-off point you mention.

    The Apartment? The Fortune Cookie?

    I think the canonical account has that second one as Wilder’s last unmitigated success….

    In any case, I’m always a bit puzzled by the late-Wilder-in-decline narrative: as though the director of Stalag 17, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, The Spirit of St Louis, Love in the Afternoon, and Witness for The Prosecution wasn’t a filmmaker who was treading water.

  10. I like a lot of those films you mention, but agreed, none is major on the order of Ace in the Hole or Double Indemnity. I think the interview show more or less climaxes with The Apartment (when Moss Hart, at the Oscars, supposedly whispered to Wilder that he should quit, right now).

    But I’m glad he made nearly all those other films, and I have a special place in my heart for his Sherlock Holmes.

    Fedora would have been a very fitting last film, even if it’s quite flawed. Buddy Buddy is pretty close to being Wilder’s Atoll K.

  11. jiminholland Says:

    I’m less fond of those films than you seem to be, although, yes, there are things to like in all of them.

    I was actually angling for the position that the late stuff –some of it, anyways — was among Wilder’s best work.

    I’ll take Kiss Me Stupid and Sherlock Holmes over any of the mid-fifties string I named in the earlier post.

    I’d say Fedora, too, but it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to rely on my memory.

    And, by the way, seeking Amazon (USA) for the DVD, I found this:

    Makes you want to laugh, make you want to cry – just like Wilder at his best.

    Or perhaps not.

  12. I can picture Wilder in such a hat…

    One Two Three and Kiss Me Stupid are certainly more ambitious works than, say, Witness for the Prosecution. And more successful than Spirit of St Louis. The later work is in some cases a little ponderous, and I wish he’d done more drama. Part of what’s great about Holmes is that it’s a new field for Wilder, and it came from his genuine love of the character.

  13. jiminholland Says:

    Fedora or Trilby?

    To Be or Not To Be?

  14. I adore One Two Three A major hit with Wilder and Cagney in total rapport. And that’s not to mention the yummy Pamela Tiffin. Pauline Kael HATED it. But who can resist film with lines like “Capitalism is a dead herring in the moonlight.”?

  15. The one of the things that ruined the BBC’s new Sherlock for me was that, for me, the first episode (spoiler) ripped off Wilder’s heartbreaking ending (which I could’ve lived with) and then added an extra happy bit where Sherlock dashed in and rescued her. Imagine Robert Stephens doing so in the original…

    In Steven Moffat’s defence he has praised Private Life repeatedly in interviews, which doesn’t seem to have helped it’s general standing.

  16. Christopher Says:

    for me,One Two Three was the last of the genuine Billy Wilders until The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes in the early 70s which harked back to the classics in all depts.

  17. The Fortune Cookie strikes me as amiable. I can understand some people not going for Kiss Me Stupid (and others loving it), but what’s your problem with that one?

  18. There’s an interesting comment here stating that Steven Moffat’s praise for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes doesn’t seem to have improved it’s standing. Um. As Private Life is a mastepiece (flawed? Maybe. A masterpiece. Definitely.) I think the praise of Moffat is neither here nor there, as for it’s standing it doesn’t matter if only a relatively few people appreciate it for what it is, as long as they do. There’s something a little ass-backwards in the idea that Moffat’s praise should count for much in the elevation of an already *great* film by *Billy Wilder*! And of course he should praise it as he ripped it off, it’s not as if he’s deigned to descend from Olympus and confer his blessing; he “hommaged” something great and turned it into something gutless for morons (this time the woman survives, saved by Super-Sherlock. Way to miss the point). I totally agree with the above commentator for criticizing Scandal in Belgravia’s ending, as you can see I loathed it with the heat of a 1000 sons! But then that episode does show the much-praised Moffat’s flaws, much mechanical aptitude as a plotter but cursed by forced “wit”, an inability to stick the ending, a tendency to chuck logic out the window (*when it suits him*), and a general air of fakin’ it (particularly in his vaunted “emotional” beats). Annnd relax! Whatever his contribution, Tin Tin was crap too! Rant ends.

  19. “Mastepiece”? Uhr, I meant “maste*r*piece”. You say masterpiece, I say mastepiece, let’s call the whole thing off.
    In complement to my vitriol above as regards the sainted Moffat, I should say that though *deeply* flawed Scandal in Belgravia was actually one of the *better* of the very few Sherlock episodes there have been, it certainly wasn’t entirely dreadful. So there’s that.

  20. I like Moffat Who better than Russell T Davies Who, so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps more than he deserves, who knows? Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch are two actors I’m glad to have in the TV schedules, too.

  21. Meh. They’re all right, I suppose (he says, grudgingly). Laugh at me as you may but I think Jeremy Brett at his best – before the illness took hold – and even at somewhat less than his best is a *far* superior Holmes to Cumberbatch, who in some of his performances strikes me as rather constipated. As for Smith, well his performance in the Isherwood thing was okay but when you see the real Mister Issyvoo in a documentary one can’t help but be aware of how a greater actor would do a better job of embodying him. I’m not talking about imitating but *embodying*, if that makes sense, it’s something that really good actors can do whether playing characters or real people and Smith doesn’t. There’s something not quite *there*. Isherwood was alternately relaxed and engaged in the interview I saw while Smith seemed a bit studied (as when he’s trying to play eccentric or enthusiastic in Doctor Who, I can’t decide if he’s worse at it than Tennant or not), or a little constipated – it’s that word, again – rather actory, playing at real rather than feeling real (too sentimental as well) but don’t mind me, I’m hard to please and prone to arsery (not that makes me wrong, necessarily).
    You won’t find me arguing that RTD is better than Moffat and I do enjoy *bits* of his work (and Press Gang was good) but I don’t think he is, as the kidz used to say, *all that*. Give me Robert Holmes any day. Heh.

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