WHO is he?

Austrian-born American screenwriter, producer and filmmaker who directed over two dozen feature films between the early forties and the early eighties. After having written a few films, Wilder emigrated from Europe during the rise of Hitler and found a lifelong home in Hollywood. He won the Academy Award for Best Direction twice, for The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Apartment (1960) and four more for Best Screenplay.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Throughout his career, Wilder, along with regular writing collaborators, I.A.L Diamond and Charles Brackett, dealt with narrative situations at the time considered a bit risqué or controversial. Adultery, marital infidelity and betrayal abound in these sexually charged films. Even though they generally stay away from politics, some of these films satirise rival ideologies such as Nazism and Communism, while never hesitating to send up America’s own twisted liberalism. The protagonists in these films are opportunists and schemers, frequently bending and breaking the unwritten moral code of the conventional Hollywood hero.

Style

Wilder’s movies have a transparent style of direction and cinematography that artfully multiplies the pleasure of the script while never calling attention to themselves. He was a huge admirer of Ernst Lubitsch and his sophisticated approach to comedy testifies to that. The sharp dialogue and plotting is complemented by inspired performances and delicate aesthetic flourishes. Even in his non-comedies, there is always a lightness of touch that prevents the films from becoming too ponderous without sacrificing the integrity of tone.

WHY is he of interest?

Wilder was one of the most accomplished scenarists in the history of Hollywood and his influence on later day mainstream screenwriters cannot be underestimated. But, equally, his directorial style, which always enhanced the written text and extended its comedic possibilities on screen, remains something of a reference book for today’s comedy film directors.

WHERE to discover him?

Among Wilder’s most acclaimed movies, Ace in the Hole (1951) follows a seedy newspaper reporter, played by Kirk Douglas, desperately in need of a break, who capitalises on the misfortune of a miner trapped inside a mountain. The film is not just a cynical, scathing depiction of a dog-eat-dog world, but also, like many of the director’s other works, a very culturally-specific movie about the American Dream and the myth of fame and fortune that it professes.