24 August 2006

15. the apartment

another one from grant park.

billy wilder is one of my favorite filmmakers ever. i think the reason i like him so much is the he embodies several things that i love about classical hollywood cinema. first off, he made the kind of pictures that movie stars loved to be in, because he made them look good and gave them snappy dialogue that made them seem cool. in other words, he kept the movie stars glamorous, and we could use more of that these days. he also used the studio system and its genres to explore his own particular worldview, the (in)famous wilder cynicism. finally, he wrote so motherfucking cleanly.

in my own writing, i notice an amateurish tendency to overwrite, or to let the writing be sloppy and not tighten things up (a good example of this is this: the script i sent into sundance is 175 page long!). wilder didn't fuck around like that: his scripts are only as long as they need to be, and once the picture is over, it is over. "shut up and deal." -- what else needs to be said?

the good writing starts from the beginning. with a voiceover and good visuals, we see and discover c.c. baxter's conflict -- he is another new york businessman, lonely, a cog in the wheel. and as much as it sucks, the only way he knows how to get ahead is to let his bosses use his apartment to fuck other women.

crazy premise for a romantic comedy, right? but that's another thing that wilder did well throughout his career -- gave us premises in genres that we wouldn't expect, and , in lesser hands, would probably be a trainwreck. think about "some like it hot": a comedy about the st. valentine's day massacre, with two jazz musicians dressed up as women? what studio head would accept that pitch?

one of the greatest things about this movie is how well it captures the alienation and bleakness of the disconnected modern city-dweller in the 20th century. life stuck in big buildings, or their cooker-cutter cubicles, or elevators, or shitty chinese restaurants, or small apartments with nosy neighbors, and the only outlet or release is a vain search for love. wilder seems to be asking: why do we live like this? and he seems to be answering: because we don't know any better.


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