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Sweet & Sour: films by Billy Wilder

5 July - 5 September 2018

The legendary screenwriter and Hollywood director Billy Wilder was a brilliant word artist. His Oscar-winning classics are brimming with irresistible and cynical humour: incredibly funny, bold and incisive. From 5 July Eye presents a comprehensive programme on Wilder’s films, most of them comedies with a dark edge.

 ‘I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect’. Billy Wilder’s epitaph references one of the most famous one-liners in film history. Funny into death, Billy Wilder was one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century, though he preferred to regard himself foremost as a writer. In his films he combined sprightly humour and a cynical view of life like no other. I.A.L. Diamond, one of Wilder’s regular co-scriptwriters, once described his films as a mix of ‘sweet and sour’.

Wilder won Oscars for The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment (1960). He also made stars of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and his alter ego Jack Lemmon.

taking a swipe at hollywood

Billy Wilder persistently tested the limits of censorship in his films and never shied away from controversy. Double Indemnity (1944) was the first film to tell the story from the perspective of a murderer. Wilder took a swipe at Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard and got away with cross-dressing in Some Like It Hot. In Ace in the Hole (1951) he pilloried the yellow press.

unparalleled

Billy Wilder (1906–2002) grew up as a Jewish kid in Vienna and went to Berlin as a young and budding journalist. There he also made his first forays into film. When Hitler seized power in 1993 he took refuge in the United States, where he found work in Hollywood writing screenplays for filmmakers like Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks. From 1942 he became a director himself, though he also continued to write the scripts for his films, something unparalleled in Hollywood. Among his co-screenwriters were Charles Brackett (fourteen films) and I.A.L. Diamond (twelve films). In addition to his unrivalled sense of humour, Wilder introduced a European sensibility that would change Hollywood forever.

film programme

From 5 July Eye will be distributing three of Wilder’s films to cinemas across the country: the film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944), the Oscar-winning alcoholism drama The Lost Weekend and his most personal film Ace in the Hole (1951). Eye’s programme includes all the great classics from Wilder’s oeuvre, such as Sunset Boulevard and a new restoration of The Apartment that premiered this year in the Cannes Classics section. A new 4K restoration of Some Like it Hot is expected to premiere at Eye this September.

Wilder’s early years as a screenwriter are highlighted by films like Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939) and Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941). Films from his later period include the cult film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and Fedora (1978), a film inspired by Sunset Boulevard.

The film programme is enhanced by introductions and specials exploring themes from Wilder’s films, such as the influence of censorship on Wilder’s films. Also featured in the programme are screenings to live music, including the silent film Menschen am Sonntag (1929, screenplay by Billy Wilder) which was restored by Eye. New digital restorations of a number of his films will also be offered, as well as unique 35mm prints from Eye’s own collection and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Full programme

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