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Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe

Conversations with Wilder (edition 2001)

by Cameron Crowe

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178666,644 (3.92)1
Title:Conversations with Wilder
Authors:Cameron Crowe
Info:Knopf (2001), Paperback, 400 pages
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Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe


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Showing 5 of 5
Billy Wilder's work is among my favorites of cinema -- Some Like It Hot is possibly up on my Top Five list (which I've never actually made) -- and I'm charmed by this collection of interviews with him, ranging from his very early work as a writer/director to post-career. It's interesting not only for showing how he developed as an artist, and how his responses to his own work changed (his comments on, say, Marilyn Monroe or Ace in the Hole are revealing), but how writing about movies changed from the forties to the eighties.

The interviews/articles range in quality --a 1944 Life article and a 1960 Playboy interview are among the best, while the 1970 Action interview is painful to read -- and it's amusing to see what anecdotes get repeated, from story to story, and how they morph. It's also interesting watching how Wilder shapes his public face, how he becomes more practiced in saying what he wants to say, how he learns to communicate more fluently.

The last several interviews are really kind of sad -- not only does Wilder continue to insist that his next picture's gonna be the big hit he hasn't had in a while (it never was), but he also becomes more vocally bitter about the development of American cinema, away from his kind of witty, coherent storyline and toward more spectacle-style cinema. And while I don't disagree with him, that story is a really good thing to have, it became just the conservatism that old men engage in. Railing against the encroaching dark.

Reading a book like this is a really good lesson in how shallow the interview usually is. All of the repetition becomes onerous, and then almost ominous -- what's not being said? Wilder must have been more than the sum of "I would worship the ground you walked on, if you lived in a better neighborhood" and giving the audience two and two and letting them make four and "directors don't bury their dead", but he's been cagey enough that we can't see it.

I found myself thinking, a lot, about the limits of relationships while I was reading this. How well can we ever know someone else? If we were asked to define our friends, how well could we do so, and how revelatory would that definition be?

(This is a hell of a book for those of us who write RPS -- provoking some ideas that I'm pretending I never had, as well as making me think about the nature of publicity and media.)

The insights into Wilder aren't inconsiderable, either; the glimpses of him actually working as a director, and the discussions of his writing routine, are fascinating; he makes some very interesting points about the communal nature of filmmaking, and has some intriguing techniques for coping with that.

This might be more valuable for the thoughts it provokes than for the actual content. But it's charming, full of bon mots and sweet anecdotes, and is a good book to flip through, since it's in easily-digestible chunks. ( )
1 vote cricketbats | Apr 18, 2013 |
Crowe obviously idolizes Wilder, so if you're looking for some fireworks here, you won't find them. But you will find some insight into Wilder's approach to filmmaking. As I am a film buff, Wilder is on the short list of my favorite directors, so this was a joy to read. ( )
  nog | Aug 21, 2009 |
A captivating trip through the oeuvre of a great filmmaker, filled with insights and anecdotes to enhance enjoyment of a wonderful collection of films. ( )
  klg19 | Jan 25, 2008 |
This book was very entertaining, thanks mostly to Wilder’s wit and willingness to talk very directly about certain subjects. I was a little disappointed, though, that Wilder proved elusive when asked other questions. That’s probably what kept the book from being a true conversation about filmmaking. I always felt like Cameron Crowe was just sitting at Wilder’s feet, asking his idol whatever questions popped into his head, and scribbling down little nuggets of wisdom as Wilder scattered them around. ( )
  bostonian71 | Jan 23, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375709673, Paperback)

Conversations with Wilder, an invaluable, photo-intensive volume, is a kind of remake of Truffaut's must-read interview book Hitchcock, with Cameron Crowe in the inquisitive Truffaut role and wily 93-year-old Billy Wilder as the crafty master director. Drawing on his experience interviewing the monsters of rock and his deep, shot-by-shot knowledge of Wilder's work, Crowe gently and cunningly coaxes answers from Wilder--arguably today's most influential living director--on what made his hits tick and his flops suck, along with glimpses of what might have been. Did you know Mae West and Mary Pickford spurned Sunset Boulevard and Wilder spurned Marilyn Monroe for Irma la Douce? That The Apartment was inspired by Brief Encounter and the look of Double Indemnity was based on M? The gossipy insights are great too. Bogart spat when he talked, so Wilder couldn't back-light him in Sabrina, and Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe woman had to towel her off after each take--discreetly! Wilder loathed Raymond Chandler (partly because Chandler disdained James M. Cain when adapting Double Indemnity) but gives him his due as a screenwriter: Chandler could do dialogue and descriptions, but he couldn't construct a scene. "He was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence," says Wilder. Agatha Christie was the opposite: "She had structure, but she lacked poetry."

Some critics scoff at Crowe (who cried while directing emotional scenes in Jerry Maguire) for taking on the cynic Wilder. But they're brothers under the skin. Both leaped from popular music journalism to directing. Both incorporate actual events in their films. Wilder keenly regrets not filming this scene in The Spirit of St. Louis, which he claims really happened: the night before his historic flight, Lindbergh's handlers talked a pretty waitress into having sex with him. They claimed he was a virgin, and likely to die on his voyage. In the hero's parade upon his return, she waves at him through the ticker-tape, but he doesn't see her. "Would have been a good scene," mourns Wilder. Without this book, we'd never have known about it. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:36 -0400)

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