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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 20 reviews
on January 11, 2012
In the mid 1980s, with his best films well behind him, pushing eighty, the famous and, some might say, notorious movie director Billy Wilder was midly contemptuous of the current Hollywood milieu.

"In the olden days you went to see an MGM picture. It had its own handwriting. Or you knew it was a Warner Bros. picture -- Cagney and Bogart and the small actors that were under contract there. Now studios are nothing but the Ramada Inn -- you rent space, you shoot, and out you go. . . Nobody talks about the picture, just about what kind of deal: Who presents? Whose picture is it? And all that totally idotic crap! It's a world with ugly, ugly, terrifying words like TURNAROUND and NEGATIVE PICKUP. Although I think the two ugliest words in the world are ROOT CANAL, with the possible exception of HAWAIIAN MUSIC. . . . And only a fool would think that by kissing a** you will make it because you are kissing the a** that will be out on HIS a** a week from today and there's going to be a new a** coming in."

That's Wilder in his later years. He wasn't alone in his disgust. A lot of older directors, like Jack Ford, were voluble about the change in circumstances. The traditional moguls -- the Louis B. Mayers and Harry Cohens -- were dead and gone, and the industry was now run by number crunchers who had graduated from film schools or flourished their MBAs, and the bottom line was money -- period.

Wilder was a Jew born in Galecia in southern Poland who migrated first to Vienna, then to Berlin, and then, like so many other refugees, to Hollywood in the 30s. He'd grown up with the business of film making and had shared some miserable conditions with people like Ernst Lubitsch and Franz Waxman. These names may or may not mean much to today's viewers but they shaped cinema during its florescent period in the 30s and 40s.

Ed Sikov covers Wilder's life in enough detail for everyone except some troglodyte doing a doctoral dissertation -- and even in that case, this book would provide a springboard. The emphasis is on Wilder's working relationships and his career, rather than family gossip. That's all to the good, I think, and anyway Wilder was a private person who hid any sentimentality behind a kind of brutal humor. "I laugh at everything," he once said. "I laugh at Hamlet." He lost many of his family members in the Holocaust and his father's grave in Berlin was lost under a pile of rubble and mud during the war.

Sikov ought to know what he's talking about. He has a BA from small but rather exclusive Haverford College near Philadelphia and a PhD in film studies from Columbia. He's written or made major contributions to half a dozen other books in addition to a couple of casual academic appointments. Not that you'd be able to tell he was a professor from his everyday and mostly matter-of-fact prose. I can't help looking at a work like this -- the number on the last page is 675 -- and thinking about the awesome amount of work that went into it. I wrote a dissertation too, much shorter than this book, and it took me two years of solid effort.

At this point I could go on and summarize Wilder's life and career as we get to know it through this biography but I imagine the subject is covered elsewhere so I think I'll skip it. And I won't bother to pass on any of the better-known examples of his difficulties with co-writers like the patrician Charles Brackett or the more compatible I. A. L. Diamond. Neither does the author dwell on Marilyn Monroe's inability to say, "Where's that bourbon?" Anybody who wants to see Billy Wilder in action -- and he was always in action -- might consider getting hold of the special edition of "On Sunset Boulevard." In one of the "Special Features," Wilder paces about, gabbling away in his German accent, waving his walking stick, sitting down, standing up, emphasizing, a gnome running off at the hands. He was a talented and fascinating man and I enjoyed reading this book about him.
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on September 29, 2016
Billy Wilder came to the US not knowing any English and was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for "Ninotchka" just four years later. If that doesn't speak to his drive and genius, what else would? Wilder was one of the first writers to become a director, having gotten there by just pestering Paramount executives until they gave him a small film to get him to shut up, expecting him to fail. This immigrant made some of the most American movies of the past 70 years: "The Lost Weekend", "Sunset Boulevard", "Some Like it Hot" and "The Apartment", just to name a few.
I enjoyed this book: a lot of inside stuff about personalities, perceptive insights into Wilder's film making process with enough detail to satisfy most movie geeks. One of my favorite Hollywood books of the last several years. Well done!
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on November 25, 1999
This bio is very well-written and reads like a novel, as other reviews agree, and I would add that it is even better than most novels. Often one wonders whether a story in the book has really occurred and that helps to develop the fiction aspect of the book. At first I thought that a bio with more than 600 pages would be boring, but it turned out to be very engaging and informative about the golden age of Hollywood and one of the smartest and sophisticated directors ever. Although this bio has so much infomation, the author has such a fluid writing style and such a story-telling ability that makes it very interesting and entertaining. While reading this book my attention span never sagged and it made me keep reading for a longer period at a time. English being my third language, I really appreciated Mr. Sikov's wide range of vocabulary and slang that seemed to fit perfectly into his varied style of sentence construction.
I agree with Mr. Sikov that screenplay writing is a vital part of a consumate and well rounded director, which other celebrated directors, such as Hitchcock, Ford, and Spielberg lacked. For this reason I consider that the two best directors of all times are Billy Wilder and Akira Kurosawa, who besides being great visual and cinematic artists, they had more input and control of their movies by also writing the scripts. Billy Wilder's use of cynicism, sarcasm and curse words in his movies, when allowed, and in his life never came across as vulgar and lewd, but rather as an effective and witty punch line or criticism about the human condition.
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on March 16, 2015
What I found to be very useful about the book was Sikov covered each film Wilder made from the obtaining of the book, the actors, shooting problems, and awards. I'm doing a paper on "Double Indemnity" and it was quite helpful.
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on July 17, 2007
Superb. Exhaustive and well-written. This book provides a view into one of the greats. I had seen a number of Billy Wilder movies before reading the book, but now I have much more appreciation of the man and his accomplishments. After finishing this biography, I have resolved to watch as many of his movies as I can.

If you want to learn about how one individual can go from a rural outpost of a decaying empire to a preeminent position in the center of the world's image maker, read this book. A compelling story of a compelling life.
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on November 30, 1999
Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors, but his films almost don't compare to his colorful life, and the author has captured Wilder's character in all its Technicolor glory. Wilder is a great storyteller on the screen, but he's been equally adept at spinning yarns about his life. Sikov separates fact from fiction in an entertaining read that does nothing to diminish Wilder's stature and puts the director's legendary wit out there for all to enjoy.
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on February 16, 2012
This book is a .."MUST" for a fan of Billy Wilder, or the movie "Sunset Boulevard". It is the perfect compliment to either. Well worth the time to read, and an informative line to the idea, and making of the movie.
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