As any attendee of Metro Classics knows, Sean and I have long been enamored with the great Filmspotting podcast. Based out of Chicago, the show (also broadcast on WBEZ public radio) is hosted by "Art-House" Adam Kempenaar and "Mainstream" Matty Robinson, two witty and knowledgeable guys who would much rather spend fifteen solid minutes diving into the intricate minutiae of a film than simply casting off an up-or-down vote, incorporating one snappy line and getting on with the show. It's their geniality and passion for film that makes the program special. Recently the two have also begun teaching classes on film at the University of Chicago. Their new course coincidentally is on the films of Billy Wilder. In honor of this academic summit and our upcoming screening of Sunset Boulevard, we sent a few questions Filmspotting's way in hopes that they could enlighten us all on the genius of Wilder. They did not disappoint.
1) In your upcoming class at the University of Chicago you will be examining ten major Wilder works, what films will you be showing?
We divided the class into three parts - dramas, comedies and then a group I'm calling 'genre' pics. We start with Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., The Lost Weekend and Ace in the Hole; then go to Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment; and finish with Stalag 17 and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
2) Are there any in particular that you had to leave out that you wish you could include?
I've always been very curious about A Foreign Affair with Marlene Deitrich, but have yet to see it and couldn't include in the class because it's pretty tough to find. It's not currently on DVD.
3) What will the course be like? How much homework are you guys asking for?
No homework! We offer a little lecture to provide some background and context, play clips from supporting/similar films and then watch the film and spend the rest of the class discussing it.
4) Wilder made so many diverse pictures; what do you consider the hallmarks of his work, something that defines his films time and again?
Honestly, that's something I'm still working out and look forward to continue working out with the class through our discussions. But I think there's a dark side to Wilder, even with some of his most blatant comedies, that often comes through. And personally, I'm more invested in the dramas - he offers flawed heroes who strive to be almost Nietzschean supermen but fail miserably.
5) What is your favorite color?
6) Is there a quintessential Wilder scene that you would show the ignorant world in an attempt to define his style?
Something from Double Indemnity for sure - too many to choose.
7) Are there any Wilder films that disappoint, that don't work for you?
Many, actually. Wilder himself said nobody should bat 1.000. He thought .400 was a good average, and that's probably what he hit for his career. Especially later, there are a bunch of goofy comedies that don't really work or are worth watching mainly as curios - Kiss Me, Stupid, to name one... even The Seven Year Itch, for me, is mostly forgettable. Wilder really didn't know how to function outside the studio system, and The New Hollywood kind of ran over him.
8) If you had to choose between the ability to fly or be invisible, which would you choose?
Fly. And I think anyone who says otherwise is insane, frankly.
9) Which is your favorite Wilder film?
See #6. Can't get enough Barbara Stanwyck.