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Conversations with Wilder Paperback – September 25, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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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.


"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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; Reprint edition (September 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375709673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375709678
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #970,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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?
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