Cinema Studies and Film Production
Directors Project First Draft
A Commentary on Humanity
Hollywood in the 1940s is gilded with the monumental names of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Wells, and John Ford. While he received considerable success within the filmmaking industry, Billy Wilder has transformed into but a household name in the 21st century. Now only revered by cinema historians and film junkies, much of his work has gone forgotten. However, after glancing deeper into his intricate and turbulent history his true brilliance at capturing human nature and emotion through plot, mise en scene, and script become glaring. Billy Wilder came to the United States in 1934 as a member of the European diaspora in Hollywood. Wilder slowly garnered attention and then, in the 1940s, bursted into the cinema scene with Double Indemnity, The Major and the Minor, and Sunset Boulevard. Considered as one of the early Auteurs Wilder created films that satirized human nature and desire that aligned with popular international sentiment at the time. He and his films have served as cultural icons and have laid the foundation for many film themes that we see throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Nevertheless, Wilder devised satires against humanity
A direct correlation can be drawn from Wilder’s early experiences and his general film mood. The basis for Wilder’s bleak early life almost entirely stemmed from Germany’s rise to power in the 1930s and World War II. Born into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1906 Wilder first interacted with American culture through stories that his mother, who had lived in America as a child. His mother even nicknamed him Billy after Buffalo Bill. Directors, especially in the 1940s, were cultural images on the international scale. It is possible to say that Billy Wilder first gained a desire to become an American filmmaker at this time; he wanted to embody and learn the American experience and becoming a filmmaker encapsulates all of those needs. As of 1926, after becoming infatuated and almost obsessed with American culture, Wilder made the decision to drop his pursuit for a law degree and become a journalist. From there his career later brought him to Berlin. In Germany he began to write for films, but as he was Jewish, he fled in 1933 to Paris and later came to the United States in 1934. Wilder’s mother, grandmother, and step-father all died in the Holocaust. Given all that he experienced, he expresses his human sentiment through his films. Generally, he made gloomy films that portrayed humans to be inherently bad. Furthermore, many of his films end with all the characters dying. For example, in Double Indemnity (1944) the main character, and protagonist in a way, Walter Neff dies completely alone. After Phyllis Dietrichson, his partner, attempts murder on Neff, he proceeds to kill her only after she had expressed emotion “for the first time”. Neff later dies in his office, alone and knowing that Dietrichson had never loved him and only used him. Given that he experienced such a tragic and devastating young life, he expressed his sentiments through the movies that he made.