CMCL-C 326 Authorship in the Media
Topic: The Films of Billy Wilder
Lecture/Discussion:MW 4:00pm-6:00pm LI 044
Screenings:T 7:00-10:00pm JH 065
Modern notions of the great auteurs from the classical era of the Hollywood system tend to be dominated by ambitiously visual directors, those (Hitchcock, Ford, Welles) who largely distinguished their films from the studio norm through the use of striking innovations in how films could look. As such, less visually flamboyant auteurs from the period—such as Billy Wilder—have often been regulated to second-tier status in the pantheon of Hollywood directors, despite the fact that just as many studio classics from the Golden Age (30s-60s) bear his name as any other. While the stylistic impact of his films shouldn’t be underestimated (Double Indemnity, for instance, set the template for noir iconography), Wilder nonetheless was first and foremost a writer. His films privileged visual efficiency in the service of witty and often cynical dialogue, which he co-wrote with a number of collaborators, including Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond. Like many Hollywood directors, Wilder was a European émigré—a Jewish filmmaker who fled the rise of Nazi Germany early in the 1930s. Most of his family was left behind, many of whom died later at the concentration camps. This helps to explain the deep cynicism which underlines much of his work; yet Wilder’s films often buried that bleak view of the world within a more playful relationship with some of the lighter standard genres of Classic Hollywood—romantic comedy and screwball farce. And within his body of work is a fascinating historical glimpse into the contradictions of modernity, gender dynamics, the cultural logic of capitalism and media institutions in the mid-20th Century. While this course will attempt to cover Wilder’s entire career, the primary emphasis—given that this is an eight-week course—will be mainly on the most noted films from the height of his Hollywood fame. These will include: Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Sabrina (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). The primary course textbook will be Conversations With Wilder (Knopf, 1999), which will be supplemented by additional secondary readings posted to Oncourse. The final grade will be determined by response papers, a research essay and participation.