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Conversations with Wilder Paperback – September 25, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; Reprint edition (September 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375709673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375709678
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 8.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A world-class director interviews the Master, and every line is fascinating. As with Zen and the Art of Archery and other texts about mastery, the shock of pleasure in reading this enlightened and affectionate conversation is the utter simplicity that comes with true mastery. There is laughter too, as with anything first-rate in this form. Wilder and Crowe don't waste time on theory or generalities, and the result -- as in their film work -- is truth, pure and simple." -- Mike Nichols

"It's always best to hear straight from the director about his own work. This book of interviews is just that: rich in information and autobiographical detail, filled with wonderful anecdotes and observations, often irreverent and hilarious, and sometimes surprisingly moving. Cameron Crowe's book is like Wilder's best films: sharply observed, absolutely succinct and precise, funny but always with a very strong, serious foundation. Billy Wilder is one of the few genuine masters we have left, from a period in film history that is now gone. Which makes Conversations with Wilder all the more precious and valuable." -- Martin Scorsese

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Customer Reviews

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Cameron Crowe does a great job of getting Billy Wilder to "open up," for certain.
Interplanetary Funksmanship
I recommend this book to any student of film of any age & anyone who just loves movies.
MOVIE MAVEN
Both are "interview" books, and each paints a very lively picture of its subject.
Richard Green

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"Conversations with Wilder" is an insightful and engaging book about the elusive and curmudgeonly Billy Wilder, one of the great filmmakers of the last century. Not being from his generation (nor Crowe's, for that matter) I knew very little about Billy Wilder other than The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. Crowe's book is extremely entertaining and filled with amazing photos from Wilder's life, both cinematic and personal.
More than that, "Conversations" mines deep into the bowels of Wilder's mind and pulls out gem after gem, great stories of an era in Hollywood that has long since passed. Just to hear (read) Wilder speak of Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, etc... and to get intimate details of Wilder's relationship with these luminaries, his thoughts and anecdotes about working with them, makes "Conversations With Wilder" well worth the trip. Crowe also manages to humanize Wilder, bringing out the charm, intelligence and of course the great Wilder wit, still very much alive at age 93.
As much as I enjoyed the interview portions (a great majority of the book) I equally enjoyed Crowe's interludes, describing Wilder with great insight, and weaving many humorous anecdotes himself about the great Wilder and Crowe's journey in writing the book.
This book is a must read not only for Wilder junkies, film fans, and anyone who has an interest in a time that has come and gone in American cinema, but is an entertaining read for the neophyte as well (like me). Highly recommended!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Steven K. Marshall on November 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I just burned through this book in record time. Seeing Billy Wilder's thoughts and reflections upon his work is a true joy. His memory and acuity are amazing for anyone, but in particular for the 91-year-old man he was during this series of taped interviews with writer/director Cameron Crowe. Wilder's body of work almost comprises a compact history of the film medium. In assessing his own accomplishments, the maestro is both brash and humble. If you have anything more than a passing interest in film as an art form, this book is not to be missed.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By MOVIE MAVEN on January 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Cameron Crowe, the author of this terrific book, knows not only what questions to ask but WHY he is asking those questions. Crowe has done his homework and knows almost as much about Billy Wilder as Wilder does, himself. Crowe reminds him and prods and teases and the result is one of the most interesting books I've ever read about Hollywood movies and the "system" that used to control them. The reader becomes so "friendly" with Wilder and Crowe throughout the book, that the ending becomes very moving. I recommend this book to any student of film of any age & anyone who just loves movies.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Monkey Knuckle Asteroid on July 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Billy Wilder has given us some of the greatest films ever made, and there has been remarkably little attempt (or success) in achieving an insight into what drives him, how he works, what he loves and what he regrets. Give thanks, then, that Cameron Crowe has stood up for all us Wilder fans and given us this book which only a fan could write and which everyone can learn from.
To be clear, this book is not like the Hitchcock/Truffaut book of interviews it is oft compared to. In that book, Truffaut went through each and every film with Hitch. That book is as much about how the movies were made as about the man who made them. "Conversations With Wilder" is just that. It's transcribed interviews and conversations, where the topic can run from the last line of "The Apartment" to how Wilder escaped from Nazi-era Germany.
Fans of classic movies should not be without this book. Even if you've never seen a Wilder film in your life (and if you haven't, then you're missing out on the movies which shaped modern filmmaking), this book is filled with on-set pictures, stories about stars ranging the gamut from William Holden to Claudette Colbert, and, best of all, interplay between the old guard and the new guard. Crowe handles the conversations deftly, and keeps them from dropping down to the level of a sycophantic fan.
Simply, this is one of the best portraits of a director ever put to paper. And if you've never seen classics like 'The Apartment' or 'Some Like It Hot' or 'Ace in the Hole,' after reading this you won't be able to stop yourself from clearing the shelves of Billy Wilder films. Celebrate genius, buy this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brady Buchanan on April 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you wish to know more about how movies are made and the importance of various specialist's input to a successful film, read this book. Billy Wilder downplays his position but aptly describes the various functions of moviemaking.
As I am of his era, it is most interesting to me to hear about the many stars of the 30's and 40's and their talents. I read this book based on others who have reviewed this book and their 4 and 5 star awards. I was not disappointed!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Cityview on December 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Young writer-director Cameron Crowe begged legendary writer-director Billy Wilder to do a cameo in his film "Jerry McGuire." Wilder refused the role, but agreed to a series of interviews. The result, "Conversations With Billy Wilder," is a lively account of Wilder's amazing life and influential career. It also stands as an insightful lesson on filmmaking and film history. Wilder made classic films, including "Some Like It Hot," "The Apartment," "Double Indemnity" and "Sunset Blvd." Now in his 90s, Wilder hasn't made a movie for years. But he's consistently cited as an influence by such modern filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee and Crowe. Wilder is not given to biography or bragging, but Crowe (a former rock journalist) gets the old man talking about his films, his stars (Marilyn Monroe drove him crazy), his opinion of today's films (loved "Gump," hated "Titanic") and his early days in Berlin and Vienna. Wilder's wit and memory are sharp, which makes listening to him via these interviews a total joy. "Conservations" makes it clear that Wilder views himself as a writer who also directs. Wilder's careful attention to character and plot development is the reason his films remain vital, and why so many modern filmmakers emulate him. The book contains several side treats. One is the chance to see the friendship between Wilder, the old master, and Crowe, the young talent, develop and deepen. To use a movie comparison, it's a little like Luke and Yoda. It will be interesting to see how the friendship impacts Crowe's next film. Another treat is seeing the elderly, somewhat frail Wilder take great pleasure in having lunch, sipping a martini or betting on football.Read more ›
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