Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... FEDORA

Only now does it occur to me... that Billy Wilder, in his 1978 film FEDORA, simultaneously peels back the veneer on the more ghoulish aspects Old Hollywood and sends a nostalgic love letter to the studio system. Suffice it to say, there's a lot going on in this film, but I'll make it quick.

In a story told largely in flashback, William Holden plays a washed-up, elderly Hollywood producer named "Detweiler" (which sounds a lot like "Wilder" in passing conversation)

who travels to Greece in hopes of turning up "Fedora" (Marthe Keller), a reclusive Garbo-esque screen icon who resides on an island villa, along with her sleazy plastic surgeon (José Ferrer), a macabre Polish Countess (Hildegard Knef), and her bizarre housekeeper (Frances Sternhagen). Fedora has been in a state of seclusion since a nervous breakdown on her last film shoot (after a short-lived love affair with Michael York––played with good humor by Michael York).

There is more to "Fedora" herself than meets the eye, and it soon becomes apparent that she is probably being held prisoner by this menagerie of knockoff CLUE characters.

Aha! It was... the Housekeeper in the Bedroom with the Hidden Wall of Michael York Photos!

Without revealing the main payoff (which comes about an hour earlier than it should), I'll say that FEDORA often feels like a watered-down, latter-day Hitchcock/early De Palma flick, and its primary motivation seems to be a postmodern critique of Hollywood through a postmodern distortion of Billy Wilder's own SUNSET BOULEVARD. All of this is relatively interesting.

I wouldn't call it a failure by any means, but I also wouldn't say that it's particularly enjoyable. Perhaps it's only overdue for a campier remake by John Waters.

With Kathleen Turner as the Countess?

Anyway, the entire basis of this post is a hilarious moment where William Holden's character is lamenting the end of the studio system, by (playfully?) attacking the rising generation of young American filmmakers, the so-called '70s "movie brats," as the reason why he can't make movies anymore. He says,
"It's a whole different business now––the kids with beards have taken over! They don't need scripts! Just give 'em a handheld camera with a zoom lens!"

By "the kids with beards," he is surely referring to Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, George Lucas, et al., and while it's not a particularly vicious critique, it's interesting to see a contemporary (and possibly facetious) reaction from Wilder to a Hollywood he barely recognizes.

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