I NTE RV IE W — BILLY W ILD E R: THE A RT OF SC REENW RITING T RI E N N I A L S C RE E N WRI T E RS FE ST IVA L
»Film’s thought of as a director’s medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It’s that stupid amateur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot – the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they’ve had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve.« I learned from when I was working with Lubitsch and from analyzing his pictures – to do things as elegantly and as simply as possible. If you’d always had more respectful directors, such as Lubitsch, would you have become a director? Absolutely not. Lubitsch would have directed my scripts considerably better and more clearly than I. Lubitsch or Ford or Cukor. They were very good directors, but one wasn’t always assured of working with directors like that.
Jane Fonda arrived with the envelope and handed it to Mr. Huston. Huston was to open the envelope and give it to Kurosawa. Kurosawa was to fish the piece of paper with the name of the winner out of the envelope and hand it to me, then I was to read the winner’s name. Kurosawa was not very agile, it turned out, and when he reached his fingers into the envelope, he fumbled and couldn’t grab hold of the piece of paper with the winner’s name on it. All the while I was sweating it out; three hundred million people around the world were watching and waiting. Mr. Huston only had about ten seconds before he’d need more oxygen.
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I see Federico Fellini on your wall of photos. He also was a writer who became a director. I like »La Strada«, the first one with his wife, a lot. And I loved »La Dolce Vita.« Up above that picture is a photo of myself, Mr. Akira Kurosawa, and Mr. John Huston. Like Mr. Fellini and me, they too were writers who became directors. The plan for the presentation was for three writer-directors to hand out the award – John Huston, Akira Kurosawa, and myself. Huston was in a wheelchair and on oxygen for his emphysema. He had terrible breathing problems. But we were going to make him get up to join us on stage. They had the presentation carefully orchestrated so they could have Huston at the podium first, and then he would have forty-five seconds before he would have to get back to his wheelchair and put the oxygen mask on.
While Mr. Kurosawa was fumbling with the piece of paper, I almost said something that would have finished me. I almost said to him, Pearl Harbor you could find! Fortunately, he produced the slip of paper, and I didn’t say it. I read the name of the winner aloud. I forget now which picture won – »Gandhi« or »Out of Africa.« Mr. Huston moved immediately toward the wings, and backstage to the oxygen. Mr. Huston made a wonderful picture that year, »Prizzi’s Honor«, that was also up for the Best Picture Award. If he had won, we would have had to give him more oxygen to recover before he could come back and accept. I voted for Prizzi’s Honor. I voted for Mr. Huston. //
Published on Mar 15, 2014