It’s a whole different business now… The kids with beards have taken over.
This may just be Wilder’s strangest, most fascinating film. While Sunset Boulevard (also starring William Holden) examined a faded silent movie star, by 1978 the director found himself drifting out of focus. The studio system had broken up and a new generation of filmmakers were taking over – the “beards”, the Movie Brats: Coppola, Scorsese, Lucas and Spielberg. Wilder made a desperate (and failed) bid to reinstate the classical style, but he struggled to attract and secure financing, a situation surely made worse when Star Wars ruined cinema.
Fedora is also a barely concealed caricature of Marilyn Monroe, whom Wilder famously detested. In one telling quote he said,
She’s scared and unsure of herself. I found myself wishing that I were a psychoanalyst and she were my patient. It might be that I couldn’t have helped her, but she would have looked lovely on a couch.
And while The Lost Weekend was modelled on Raymond Chandler’s alcoholism, as a warning to him, in this case the intervention was 18 years too late, nearly two decades after Whitey Snyder applied Monroe’s make-up one last time.
As a film, it is clunky, uneven and sour, but it is also Wilder’s Vertigo – a psychoanalytic maze that demands to be seen again, studied. And, for all that he epitomised classical Hollywood and he for his part relied on it, it is brutally honest of the whole system, on a literal and psychic level. No wonder audiences didn’t take to it – they didn’t want to see the curtains torn down.