on December 10, 1999
"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!
on November 23, 1999
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.
on July 13, 2000
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.
on January 17, 2000
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.
on January 19, 2002
Cameron Crowe does a great job of getting Billy Wilder to "open up," for certain. There was many interesting anecdotes and facts I previously did not know, so this book is the page-turner everyone proclaims it to be. Crowe does a good job at kibbitzing an answer out of the somewhat stubborn Wilder. However -- since Crowe consciously based the format of this book on the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews of 1966 -- it is lacking in certain areas.
Firstly, many of the photographs are horribly transferred stills from the movies, which were taken from video, not film. The pixelization is sometimes so horrible as to wipe out almost half of the information. As there are many more photos done by this makeshift method (most of the others are publicity stills or of Wilder, Hollywood movie stars, etc, not from the actual movies), it would seem to me that the publisher (not some dinky independent, but Alfred A. Knopf, major player over here) could have gone the extra mile and made some high-quality stills from the studios' answer prints. Since they didn't, however, this volume appears "rushed to market."
Second, Crowe's organization is horrible: Unlike Hitch/Truffaut, it sort of meanders from movie to movie and then back again. It's organized chronologically (by interview session, not movie), and often goes back over movies already discussed, because Crowe forgot some question or another. Also, Crowe doesn't go much into the bit players and character actors at all. I mean, HOW COULD HE GO AN ENTIRE VOLUME ON BILLY WILDER WITHOUT EVER MENTIONING SIG RUMAN (who was to Wilder as Leo G. Carroll was to Hitch) or Cliff Osmond?
Perhaps, it's because Crowe spends more time dropping the name "Jerry Maguire" every other page or so (as long as he was shamelessly self-plugging, why not "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," a much better movie?). Tom Cruise -- who's never been in a Wilder movie -- is listed in 10 different pages in the index. Also (unlike Truffaut) Crowe goes to great lengths in order to insert himself into the text, including going over a house call by Wilder's doctor, a lunch with Wilder and his wife, phone calls Wilder is taking , etc. (in Hollywood, these are called "gratuitous scenes").
Lastly, the end notes list (with big backdrops of those horrible pictures from VHS) the credits, but they are very incomplete, and don't list most of the technicians or supporting cast.
All-in-all this book is very good, but heavy editing is needed to give it a semblance of chronology, and Crowe's gratuitous and voluminous self-referencing really could do with a ruthless editor's red pen. That, and some quality stills, would have made a good read a classic.
on December 1, 1999
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. The book also contains numerous photos from Wilder's life and brief descriptions of all of his movies. Particularly given his reluctance for self-promotion, "Conversations with Billy Wilder" is a gift for anyone who loves movies.
on April 7, 2000
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!
on December 18, 1999
I picked this up since I was familiar with Cameron Crowe's work both as a writer and filmmaker. While I was somewhat aware of Wilder's work (I've only seen "The Lost Weekend" and "Sunset Boulevard"), I'd recommend this book only to hardcore Wilder fans; much of the book Crowe spends time asking Wilder about why/how he got a certain shot, or how certain actors did or did not fit a certain role of a certain film (Wilder reiterates on several occasions that he always wanted Cary Grant in his pictures but couldn't get him) - this is all minutiae that the casual reader will not care much about. Still, Crowe makes ample use of his journalism expertise to get Wilder to open up (alas, we don't learn much about his life save for how he met his second wife and a bit about his time as a writer in Berlin before he immigrated to the U.S.) and it was nice to see how the Fan and Master became friends over the course of these interviews. Also, very nice graphic design, layout and photographs that complement the subject matter throughout the book. I plan to revisit "Converstaions with Wilder" once I've rented some more of Wilder's films, and I'm sure it will be a better read next time around.
on February 25, 2000
...and if you've read the fairly extensive backlog of available Billy Wilder bios and interviews(two other books were out within the past ten years, I think)---you won't mind plowing through the familiar ,oft-told Wilder anecdotes in search of fresh material.It's there because Cameron Crowe asks a number of very specific questions,and Billy's obliged to search his memory,rather than falling back on the glib stories that have made up his(admittedly entertaining)reportory for lo these many years.Crowe's observations of Wilder's daily routines are illuminating----there is a downside to being the oldest living legend in town.The guy's obviously had about all the accolades and fawning attention he can reasonably endure.Reading this book cured me of my one-time desire to actually meet the great man--- I think we'd both be dissappointed,but hell,I don't blame him.How many times do you want to hear how great you are when you're 96 and all you want to do is cross the street to the corner lunch counter unmolested?Crowe gives us a vivid picture of a Hollywood luminary who has outlived virtually everyone he ever worked with----must be quite a sensation--- I only hope I live long enough to experience a similar one.
on November 17, 2000
Billy Wilder is a man who loved making pictures (his term), and a man who takes responsibility for what he put on the screen. In this book-long interview by fellow filmmaker/writer Cameron Crowe, Billy Wilder's humanity shows through - most definitely in his association with Marilyn Monroe, with whom he made The Seven-Year Itch and Some Like It Hot. Here was an actress who gave him plenty of headaches on the set, but reading between the lines one can see his appreciation for what she brought to the screen. He is frank when discussing his regrets, the greatest of which was never making a picture with Cary Grant, and shows a great ability to recognize his failures as well as his successes. Crowe, an obvious Wilder fan, deserves much credit for drawing so many insightful observations from this man who devoted his life to the motion picture industry - first, in his mind, as a writer and then as a director - and, while asking nothing in return, he shows great delight that his best work is appreciated. This book is better than Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock and is a must-read for any true fan of the movies. After reading it, one will surely appreciate Wilder and his contibutions to the movie industry.