I feel I’m endlessly repeating myself here, I’ve surely stated it so many times on this blog, but I love Billy Wilder’s films. They have an art and craft that seems sadly lacking in modern Hollywood. Sure, they are often incredibly entertaining, dramatic and/or funny, but there is an artistry to them too, a depth of honesty and craft, so even the most superficial of them (say, his late-in-career Jack Lemmon romantic comedy Avanti) has something special that rewards repeated viewings. Maybe its the casting, the performances, the music, the gags, the drama… maybe they just all contain a little bit of Billy Wilder’s soul. They don’t feel like ‘product’.
The scripts though; those are the real thing, so finely polished they put so many current films to shame; like so many of Hitchcock’s films, Billy Wilder’s films had such magnificent scripts. So much care and attention evidently lavished on them, only when finally, absolutely ready were they taken into production. I wish all modern scripts were given such attention- so many films these days are being shot whilst screenplays are still being written. Look at what happened to Prometheus– all the work seemed to be on the design and the film’s mash-up of two authors work failed to gel into a cohesive whole; it is clearly two different films. And sure, James Cameron may have spent years writing his future Avatar sequels but they undoubtedly will be clumsy behemoths with cringe-worthy dialogue and littered with plotholes. Its almost a given of any current blockbuster. Scripts don’t need to be so well thought-out as they used to be, there will be plenty of noise and CGI spectacle to distract audiences.
So its always a pleasure to watch a real piece of craft and art, and usually Billy Wilder’s films fit the bill nicely (well, I haven’t seen a bad one yet, anyway).
The Lost Weekend has, incredibly, languished unwatched on the shelf here for nearly two years, a shocking and shameful statistic. What have I been doing? In my only defence is the stark fact that, as Wilder’s films are a finite number, the joy of discovering one for the first time will regrettably always be a rarer and rarer pleasure. But anyway, I finally got around to it.
The film is a dramatic work concerning alcoholism and its effect on a life as it spirals out of control. There is an unflinching honesty to the proceedings that is both stark and surprising considering the film dates back to 1945. Its dark, its depressing, but there is certainly a truth to it. I have seen what effect alcoholism can have on people and their lives and could recognise some of that in this film. Of course being set in 1945 much of what we see here is the stuff of history and rather dated- very often with films as old as this, one can feel its almost a science fiction film, as distant from the present as a film set in the far future, but this is certainly clearly as relevant today as it was back then. Its a great film.
On its original release The Lost Weekend rightfully garnered rave reviews and success, finally wining four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Yes, this was clearly the age when Oscars went to deserving films. I must say Ray Milland here was a revelation to me, I had no idea, of all the films I have seen him in, that he had this in him- what an amazing performance. Sad to reflect he would later end up as a bad-guy in the Battlestar Galactica tv pilot in the late ‘seventies, but hey, that’s Hollywood careers for you, no respect for whatever awards are on the mantle case .