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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

I’ve been a movie buff since the early 1970s. My first “favorite” director, once I had some inkling of what that title meant, was Frank Capra. He made inspirational films, films with humor and with hope. Most of all, Capra was simply a great storyteller.

But then I grew up. I still appreciated the films of Capra but I started to branch out. For a while, I sang the praises of Federico Fellini. He was a foreign film director, an Italian no less, and I suppose I felt that admiring Fellini would make me look a little more intellectual. Not that there weren’t Fellini films I truly loved liked “La Strada” and “The Nights of Cabiria.” There’s no question that Fellini was a gifted artist.

And then there was the one and only Billy Wilder. I eventually “drifted” to Wilder when my worldview became more realistic and cynical. Which reminds me of an old joke, “I was once as pure as the new fallen snow but I drifted.”

I have long held the opinion that Billy Wilder is the quintessential American filmmaker. His work best defines the America of the second half of the 20th century – energized, hopeful, filled with promise and hypocrisy, greed and deceit, humor and romance.

Recently, a friend who reads this blog [Mike B.] found me a copy of the 1986 AFI Tribute to Billy Wilder. I watched that tribute today. The broadcast honoring Wilder was filled with much of the same brand of wit, wisdom and humor that typified Billy Wilder’s work for 50 years. The kind of wit that is absolutely nowhere to be found today in television or film.

Below is a clip of Wilder’s acceptance speech from that magical evening. You’ll see displayed in this clip, the kind of wit and wisdom to which I’m referring. You’ll also witness some of Mr. Wilder’s realism and intelligence as he foresaw the future of his industry at a time when many of his peers, and even some younger than he, chuckled at the thought of tiny screens attached to the steering wheel of the car orĀ  huge screens on your bedroom walls.

What I always remembered most clearly about this clip was Wilder’s reassuring words to his fellow picture makers and creative talents – “We are not expendable. The fact is, the bigger they get [the corporations who make the money off of the creative talents of others], the more irreplaceable we [the creative talents] become.” I’ve always remembered that speech and I’ve always been inspired by Wilder’s words as I continue to be inspired by his life’s work.

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