Show contents, with start times:
- Director Spotlight: Billy Wilder, Part 1 (1:31)
- Trivia Question: Billy Wilder (16:24)
- Fact or Fiction: Untimely Deaths (17:05)
- Top 6: Time Travel Movies (26:26)
- Film Spotlight: Rocky (45:09)
- Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (57:05)
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Director Spotlight: Billy Wilder, Part 1
Billy Wilder (1906-2002) was a writer and director, acclaimed for his sparkling scripts and varied directorial style. His Wikipedia entry contains a sketch of his biography — he was a screenwriter in Berlin who fled to France and then the United States after the rise of Hitler. He directed 26 movies in America (his first was made in France and is not memorable), many of them huge hits with critics and audiences.
Though best remembered as a director of films like Some Like it Hot (1959), Double Indemnity (1944), and Sunset Blvd (1950), Wilder had a hand in writing all of those scripts in addition to directing them. This makes Wilder a good example of an auteur, a filmmaker whose movies are clearly his visions.
But unlike many of the famous auteurs who are strongly associated with particular genres or styles, Wilder’s filmography is quite diverse. From total screwball comedies like The Seven Year Itch (1955) and One, Two, Three (1961) to serious dramas like The Lost Weekend (1945) and Stalag 17 (1953), Wilder moved between styles quite easily, making his particular vision tough to pin down.
Some themes do emerge from a careful study of his work, particularly story elements. He preferred the down-and-out hero as typified by Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960), wrote strong female characters (Indemnity helped solidify the femme fatale archetype), and had a cynical view of the world that was still far from bleak. While he was quite comfortable working in dark tones and styles, and his most praised visuals come from these sorts of movies, he always peppered his dramas with bits of humor to keep them from becoming too bleak.
Next week, we will discuss Wilder’s work in more detail, talking about our favorite Wilder movies.
Trivia Question: Billy Wilder
Though Wilder made his last film in 1981, he considered coming out of retirement to direct this classic 1990s film.
Fact or Fiction: Untimely Deaths
- Did a stagehand hang himself on the set of The Wizard of Oz (1939), and is his body visible in the finished film?
Some versions of this story say it was one of the actors who played the munchkins that hung himself. Snopes gets to the truth of things and even has a clip of the notorious shot.
- Did a boy commit suicide in the apartment where Three Men and a Baby (1987) was shot, and can the ghost of the boy, along with the rifle he shot himself with, be seen in the finished film?
- Did Brandon Lee suffer a fatal accident during the filming of The Crow (1994), and is this accident in the finished film?
- Was The Conqueror (1956) filmed near a nuclear testing site in unsafe radiation levels, leading to the deaths by cancer of roughly a hundred members of the cast and crew, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendariz, and the director Dick Powell?
Are all the actors from the Poltergeist trilogy dead under suspicious circumstances?
It’s important to ask the correct question. Snopes covers the issue, but its True or False verdict relates to a different wording of the question. The write-up is an excellent analysis of the story, and Wikipedia has its own page with a different (not contradictory, just different) set of information.
Top 6: Time Travel Movies
Film Spotlight: Rocky
Rocky (1976) is a film whose legacy often overshadows its greatness. Shot on a small budget in the streets of Philadelphia, it’s a surprisingly intimate and personal look at a never-was boxer who gets a lucky break and decides to make the most of it. Unlike some of its (inferior) sequels, it focuses more on its characters than its fights, and in doing so manages to say a lot about America in the 1970s.
The movie is worth watching again if you haven’t seen it in a while, especially if you go into it with the idea of taking another look at it. Not just an endless series of training montages (Even Rocky had a montage!) and boxing matches, this is a movie that holds up well 30 years later and has a lot to say about how standing your ground and giving all you’ve got is important, regardless of whether you win or lose.