William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director

William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director

William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director

William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director

Excerpt

William Wyler liked to quip, “I could hardly call myself an auteur—although I’m one of the few American directors who can pronounce the word correctly.” While he invariably said this in jest, the slight of being denied auteur status clearly rankled. Wyler saw his friends John Ford, Frank Capra, George Stevens, Billy Wilder, and John Huston celebrated by film scholars and historians as artists whose work exhibited distinctive styles and explored complex themes, while his was dismissed as mere craftsmanship, not worthy of extended scholarly attention.

Nonetheless, Wyler was celebrated early in his career by André Bazin, the father of la politique des auteurs, which defined directors as the primary auteurs of motion pictures—authors who “wrote with the camera.” Believing that cinema and photography, unlike the traditional arts, are inherently realistic, Bazin maintained that film could probe for a deeper psychological complexity and that no other art form could examine life’s ambiguities as effectively. He championed those directors who manipulated the medium the least, allowing all of life’s mysteries and intricacies to remain intact on the screen.

In two articles published in La Revue du Cinema (1948), Bazin expresses admiration for Wyler’s ability to extend and enhance film’s predilection for realism, linking him with the Italian neorealists in his reverence for reality. According to Bazin, by utilizing depth-of-field cinematography, which brings all the planes of the image—foreground, background, and middle ground—into sharp focus and enables the director to cover a scene in a single take without resorting to editing, Wyler provides a vast array of information that allows spectators to formulate their own interpretations of what they see. Furthermore, Bazin finds the democratic equivalent of the spirit of the American spectator not only in Wyler’s technique but also in the films’ characters. He compares Wyler’s mise-en-scène to the literary styles of André Gide and Roger Martin du Gard, which he categorizes as . . .

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