Sunday, May 31

Early works reveal Wilder’s light side

Summers abroad may be wild, but staying in Los Angles is Wilder.

Beginning August 18, the Hammer Museum and the UCLA Film and Television Archive are making European excursions much cheaper and easier ““ although for only a few hours ““ with the Archive’s upcoming series “Billy Wilder’s Europe.”

Seven of the famed director and screenwriter’s films that were either made or are set in Europe will be screened through Aug. 29 at the Billy Wilder Theater. While a number of Wilder’s films have been shown at the eponymous theater since its opening last year, this series is the first chance for viewers to discover the earlier works of Wilder’s vast career, which are more lighthearted and less cynical than his most-known works.

“Wilder has such a broad and extensive filmography, so we wanted to just focus on his relationship with Europe,” said David Pendleton, programmer for the series.

“People think of Wilder as an American director, and in a very real sense he was, but we want to remind people of his roots in Europe.”

The series opens with Wilder’s screenwriting debut, “People on Sunday,” a silent movie filmed in Berlin that depicts life in the German capital before World War II. Made in 1929, it was a tremendous success, and many members of the film’s crew took advantage of its financial gains to escape Nazi Germany ““ even Wilder.

“Wilder, who was Jewish, realized he should get out (of Germany) although he’d been in love with Berlin and wanted to stay,” said Charlotte Chandler, a film historian and author of the Wilder biography “Nobody’s Perfect.”

From Berlin, Wilder went to France where he directed “Mauvaise Graine” (screening Aug. 18) before coming to the United States in 1934. After teaching himself English, Wilder began directing films in Hollywood, and the rest is American movie history. He went on to write and direct “Some Like It Hot” and “Sunset Boulevard.”

Yet even his films that are set in America bear the mark of his heritage.

“His whole body stands together with this European sensibility that he brought even to the American films,” Chandler said.

This European sensibility is particularly clear in the ways Wilder dealt with themes of love in his films, according to Pendleton.

“Europe is a place of tradition where people have developed sophistication, especially in romance and sex,” he said.

This nuanced and calmer view of relationships can be seen in “Irma la Douce” (screening Aug. 21) and “Love in the Afternoon” (screening Aug. 24), Pendleton explained, as both films follow the simple ups and downs of romance in Paris.

This differs from Wilder’s American work, films that are widely remembered today for their cynical, yet honest look at contemporary American culture. “He was a very keen observer of American society and his films give an incisive look at life in America during the middle decades,” Pendleton said.

In addition to reminding people of Wilder’s roots, the majority of the films being shown are “good summer comedies with a great deal of heart,” Pendleton said. These films reveal the “more intimate Wilder” and the filmmaker’s signature cynicism is toned down.

In addition to being great films in their own right, catching some of Wilder’s earlier work can provide a base and give insight into his more popular flicks.

“The films are great summer getaways and provide a chance to visit Europe, even if it’s only imaginary,” Pendleton said.

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