A highly readable biography of the creator of such film classics as Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, and Some Like It Hot....

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ON SUNSET BOULEVARD: The Lift and Times of Billy Wilder

A highly readable biography of the creator of such film classics as Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, and Some Like It Hot. Wilder was one of Hollywood's first writers to also direct his own films, making 25 films, most of them memorable, all of them interesting, over nearly 40 years. He began professional life as a journalist in Vienna, but quickly made the move to Berlin and screenwriting. His energy, his ideas, and his comedic talents brought him ever more success until the Nazis came to power. Jewish and rightly paranoid, Wilder got out right away, eventually ending up in Hollywood. There, after a few lean years spent mastering English, he enjoyed so much success as a writer (e.g., Ninotchka) that he was able to take the then unprecedented step up to directing--it was the only way he could be sure that his scripts were shot the way he knew they should be. Wilder's aesthetic, like that of so many old-time directors, stressed an artful artlessness, a delicate subtlety that looked easy but required a master's touch: ""You have to make the public forget that there's a screen. . . . If you try to be artistic or affected, you miss everything."" He also refused to get locked into any one genre. While his films were always full of mordant humor and a jaundiced view of humanity, they ranged from combat movies to musicals to the social commentary of Lost Weekend. With Double Idemnity, Wilder even invented the film noir. While film journalist and sometime PBS film advisor Sikov's own efforts rarely rise above workmanlike here, his unusually detailed and astute understanding of the art and craft of directing does help. He has also assembled a wealth of Wilder's famous witticisms, gibes, and retorts. The acerbic Wilder may not have been the nicest man in Hollywood, but he's the most quotable. Worthwhile and enjoyable, though hardly definitive.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998