I stumbled across this 2006 documentary on FilmStruck. Directed by Volker Schlondorff and Gisela Grischow, it is a free-wheeling conversation with Wilder over the course of a two week period. There was an agreement it wouldn’t be shown until after Wilder’s death.
It is easy to argue that Wilder was the best screenwriter and director in Hollywood history. He certainly was probably the best storyteller. His films include Some Like It Hot; Sunset Boulevard; The Lost Weekend; The Apartment; Stalag 17; Sabrina; Love In The Afternoon. I could stop right there and you would say that was as good a resume as one could have, but that is only a handful of his credits.
There are some good writing and directing tips in the film, which runs about 75 minutes. For me it was interesting to see his personality on film. I was also intrigued by the tidbit in the intro about how in the 1920’s while in Berlin that he may have survived by dancing and being a gigolo at a Lonely Hearts Club. He wouldn’t be the first Hollywood star to survive by any means possible and you can’t underestimate how wild Berlin was in the 20’s. I attended a seminar once where they talked about how the city at one point had over 400 gay bars. In the 20’s, Berlin was everything Nazi Germany turned out not to be.
His take on the Holocaust and how he got his Army documentary on the camps shown to audiences was fascinating. Eventually, he forced Germans to watch it before they could get their ration cards stamped. If they wanted to eat, they had to learn about the camps. He lost family in Auschwitz so it was personal.
It didn’t come up in the movie but I read once that he’d been a big fan of D.W. Griffith. And legend has it that after Wilder started having success in Hollywood, he was out one night with some studio execs (I think it was Mayer but might be wrong) and the table was talking but Wilder kept noticing a guy at the bar looking at them. The guy was drunk, had a well-worn suit that was starting to fray. Finally, the guy came over.
The guy looked at the studio exec and said said, “I should be making pictures!” and a couple more things to this effect. Finally, the guy left. Wilder asked who the man was. It was D.W. Griffith who died shortly after. But It was the incident that sparked Sunset Boulevard in Wilder’s imagination.
You can’t be a storyteller and not know Billy Wilder which makes this a 5 of 5 on the rating scale. That’s all I have to add.