Volker Schlondorff's Cinema: Adaptation, Politics, and the "Movie-Appropriate"

By Hans-Bernhard Moeller; George Lellis | Go to book overview

26
Billy, How Did You Do It?
and Palmetto

During this period, Schlöndorff's model became Billy Wilder, whose negotiation of the commerce-art high wire was the subject of Billy, How Did You Do It? (1992). Schlöndorff's relation to Wilder had gone back to the 1970s when Wilder, having seen The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, sent the younger director a note, calling it the best German film since Fritz Lang's M. Later, the two met in Hollywood when Schlöndorff screened Coup de Grâce for Wilder (Schlöndorff, “Nobody” 12). As head of Babelsberg, Schlöndorff honored Wilder at the studio several times, most notably in connection with Wilder's receiving the 1992 Felix, the European film prize, for lifetime achievement (Schäfer and Schobert 393; Jurczyk). This moment publicly proposed a symbolic family line between the seasoned Central European, who embodied Hollywood professionalism, and the new enterprise, which would connect the cinema of a newly reunited Berlin with that of its pre—World War II predecessors.


Wilder as a Model: Billy, How Did You Do It?

In the context of the 1990s, Billy, How Did You Do It? may well provide a key to understanding Schlöndorff's evolving attitudes toward the profession of filmmaking. Let us look at this work in some detail. Schlöndorff began the documentary in 1988 as an oral history drawn from interviews with the Hollywood filmmaker. It was not completed until 1992, when it took the form of a six-part television presentation broadcast over several weeks in August and September of that year. Billy, How Did You Do It? is a career survey of the director's major works, and one gets the sense that Schlöndorff wanted to capture, as he had done about a decade earlier with Valeska Gert, the personality of an artist advanced in years, before death would make such a venture impossible. In this effort, as well as in Schlöndorff's subsequent work to revitalize Berlin's

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