For its series on “Foreign Americana,” Doc Films has programmed a number of classic American films made by directors from different countries. Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, Max Ophuls’s Caught, and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, which inspired last week top five’s, were the first films to screen. Next up is Billy Wilder’s famous Sunset Boulevard, the native Austrian’s pointed critique of American celebritism and Hollywood’s lack of respect for its own history.
Despite his status as one of the most successful directors in history, Wilder isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For one reason or another, auteurists never had much use for him. Aside from considering Irma La Douce one of the ten best films of 1963, the Young Turks of Cahiers du Cinema rarely sang his praises; Andrew Sarris also placed him on the lowest rung possible in his original pantheon of directors, although it’s important to note he bumped Wilder up a few notches in his 1998 book You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, History and Memory 1927-1949.
Personally, I’ve always held a fondness for Wilder, even as I find aspects of his work problematic. He didn’t have much of a formal presence, for starters, and much of his famous dialogue can be accurately attributed to his longtime script collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond, but there’s no denying his keen understanding of human behavior. More than anything, Wilder was a great director of actors, able to draw out dynamic and deeply intricate performances from people who rarely exhibited such skill when working with other directors. Check out my five favorite Wilder films after the jump.