SWEETNESS . . . EVEN GRACE

Tom Sutpen, over at Illusion Travels By Streetcar, has posted a couple of paragraphs from a piece about Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid which he'll be publishing in full next month . . . a preview of a coming attraction.  Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:


As a confirmed devotee of Ernst Lubitsch and his fabled ’Touch’ . . . Wilder was capable of investing the most sniggering innuendos
with a dash of wit and a wholly tender, yet never treacly,
sentimentality. Charm. That was the condition his well-honed technique
sought out; and in his direction of such actresses as Marilyn Monroe
and Shirley MacLaine, he became the only artist in American cinema who
could find whole reservoirs of sweetness, even grace, in all the things
that make men drool.



This is an insight into Wilder's work which I've never run across before, and it helps explain how he pulled off Some Like It Hot — a movie about cross-dressing which doesn't have even a hint of neurotic prurience, of homosexual panic, of misogyny.  The influence of Vienna must have something to do with it — the twilight years of an empire seem to provide a good vantage point from which to survey the foibles of sex without taking them too seriously.  (If only Freud had gotten the message!)

Tashlin had some of this in his view of things — see the tender way he treats Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It.  The pop culture of America in the Fifties and early Sixties was one long snigger when it came to women — Wilder, like Tashlin, knew that he had to indulge the puerile impulses of American men in order to deconstruct them, in order to revive a vision of sweetness and grace between the sexes . . . of summer nights in the Prater with waltzes playing somewhere in the distance.

One realizes that “Shut up and deal” is just a very kind way of saying “grow up . . . look me in the eye and ask me to dance”.

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