Review: Never Be Boring: Billy Wilder – Du sollst nicht langweilen: Billy Wilder (2017)

Never Be Boring: Billy Wilder – Du sollst nicht langweilen: Billy Wilder (2017)

Directed by: Jascha Hannover, André Schaefer | 90 minutes | documentary | Starring: Mario Adorf, Paul Diamond, Dick Guttman, William Holden, Rudolf John, Marthe Keller, Jack Lemmon, Charles Matthau, Todd Purdum, George Schlatter, Volker Schlöndorff, Armgard Seegers-Karasek, Claudius Seidl, Billy Wilder

“I’m the only director who made two films with Marilyn Monroe. Forget those Oscars, I deserve a presidential award!’ Billy Wilder (1906-2002) was known not only for his fantastic films, but also for his razor-sharp sense of humor. Moreover, he had a clear opinion about everything that had to do with films, screenplays and directing and never hid them. Born in the former Austria-Hungary, Wilder was destined at birth for a great career on the other side of the ocean. His official name was Samuel, but his mother had once been to the US and was so impressed that she affectionately called him Billy. Little Billy developed into a writer and journalist and moved to Berlin at an early age, writing for the local newspaper and writing screenplays. In 1930 he made ‘Menschen am Sonntag’ with colleagues such as Robert Siodmak and Fred Zinnemann – who would later also build a successful career in Hollywood – and that film marks the beginning of an impressively long career that would span no less than six decades. The television documentary ‘Never Be Boring: Billy Wilder’ (2017) by German filmmakers Jascha Hannover and André Schäfer reveals who Wilder was, what characterized his personality and work and how he left his mark on modern American cinema. .

Because of the emerging Nazism in Germany, Wilder left Berlin for what it was. Via Paris, where he wrote the screenplay for ‘Mauvaise Graine’ (1934), he crossed the Atlantic. With about twenty filmed screenplays to his name, he was an experienced hand, who was soon able to work in the US. He had a lot of support from others who had fled to America from Europe, such as Peter Lorre with whom he was allowed to live temporarily. During that period he learned English very quickly by following sports competitions on the radio. Director Ernst Lubitsch helped him in the saddle, among other things by asking him to write the screenplay for ‘Ninotchka’ (1939). Wilder formed a tandem with Charles Brackett at the time, because he preferred to write with others. The two produced some of the most legendary films, including ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945) and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) – both of which earned them Oscars for best screenplay. Because he felt that other directors did not do his work enough credit, he decided to start filming his own scripts from 1942. As his pen became more biting and cynical, Wilder estranged from Brackett and IAL Diamond became his writing partner. With him he made the classics ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959) and ‘The Apartment’ (1960).

‘Never Be Boring’ features people who knew Wilder well and/or worked with him, such as actors Mario Adorf and Marthe Keller (who, incidentally, does not have fond memories of her collaboration with Wilder for the film ‘Fedora’ (1978)). ), director Volker Schlöndorff, critics Rudolf John and Claudius Seidl, biographer Armgard Seegers-Karasek, producer George Schlatter and screenwriter Paul Diamond, son of IAL Diamond. They reminisce about Wilder, who firmly believed that eighty percent of the film revolves around the story. He thought artistic shots were nonsense, they only distract the viewer. Scenario and dialogues make a good film, he thought. No wonder his work is brimming with memorable dialogues. Humor was his trademark and Wilder was easy going. However, that didn’t mean he was easy to work with. He got the biggest names in Hollywood history on camera: from Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper and from Marlene Dietrich and Shirley MacLaine to Jack Lemmon and James Cagney. He dared to give them roles that were against character (primordial cynic Bogart as a race romantic in ‘Sabrina’ (1954) for example) or to critically examine Hollywood (as in ‘Sunset Boulevard’). He ventured into various genres. Wilder also did not shy away from luring the moral knights who ruled the country between 1935 and 1965. His cynical attitude is said to be a direct result of the Second World War. His mother, stepfather and grandmother had died in concentration camps and Wilder filmed the liberation by Allied forces at the request of the American government, hoping to catch a glimpse of a relative. What he saw there marked him for life and strongly influenced his work.

The ‘talking heads’ in ‘Never Be Boring’ agree: Billy Wilder is one of the most important and influential film makers of the twenty-first century. But in addition to countless praise, there is also room for a critical note. From Marthe Keller for example, who was in fact miscast and had to fight against it during the recording of ‘Fedora’. But Wilder also failed to see that he was past his sell-by date in the 1970s. Had he been younger, he might have moved with the times (if he had wanted to and was able to), but since he had already reached retirement age in 1971, that was not an option. The audience of the 1970s wanted Spielberg and Lucas, but Wilder couldn’t stop. Even after his last film (the flopped 1981 ‘Buddy Buddy’ with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) he continued to write new scripts in his tiny office. It shows the perseverance of a man who wanted to make a success of his life at all costs. With an immortal body of work and countless prizes up for grabs, including six Oscars, he certainly succeeded! ‘Never Be Boring’ provides an interesting insight into the man behind the filmmaker, his motivations and his personality. Wilder’s legacy is honored, but there is also room for a critical note. Recommended for lovers of classic Hollywood!

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