‘Fedora’ (1978), written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond and directed by Wilder, was the teams penultimate film and for all intents and purposes the more appropriate finish to their legendary partnership than their unfortunate final outing ‘Buddy Buddy’. I saw the film in its Los Angeles first (and only) run in 1978 at a theater in Westwood. I was fourteen and newly aware of and enamored with Wilder’s films. My parents and I were among the dozen or so people in the theater, several of whom walked out on the picture. At the end of the movie a man trudged up the aisle and loudly said to his friend ‘Whatever happened to Billy Wilder?’ I wanted to kick the sonavabitch in his shins. It’s not that I recall loving the movie that much–indeed, at the time my main takeaway was that it made me want to go home and watch ‘Sunset Blvd.’, another Wilder/Hollywood/Willam Holden collaboration. But I definitely felt the elegiac nature of the film and the fact that it was clearly the work of an aging artist, one who might no longer be the hippest guy in the room but whose power, clarity and wisdom was far greater than any of his younger fellow filmmakers. If, as critic Richard Brody suggested recently, the film feels somewhat ’embalmed’ that may actually be a bit of what the team was going for. Wilder was smart, cynical and bracingly unpretentious and he described the script to Universal Pictures studio head Ned Tanen as a ‘high-class soap opera’. (Universal, of course, passed on making the movie).

Which brings me to the above documentary–that I never knew existed until this morning–called ‘Swan Song–The Making of ‘Fedora’. Among the interviewees are Diamond’s son Paul Diamond (also a writer), the DP Gerry Fisher, Marthe Keller, Michael York (who plays himself in the movie) and the producer Harold Nebenzel. It’s a lovely and, for some reason, slightly sad look at what Wilder went through to make a movie that tied together two strands of his life–that of his Hollywood past and that of his very European heritage. There’s nice behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot. York is charming (though he looks distressingly like George Santos). All in all its well worth a watch and has made me interested in rewatching the film (which I saw only once again years after its initial release). There is, however, one serious problem with the doc. Marthe Keller either doesn’t speak English or else chooses not too and nobody subtitled the goddam print. So what you get is effectively two-thirds of a doc about ‘Fedora’ (unless you speak French, of course). This is especially frustrating as I recall hearing that Wilder and Keller didn’t get along terribly well, thus leaving the potentially juiciest parts of the story untold. If anybody watches this and can translate the gist of her interview I’d be most appreciative. 


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