Long before becoming the famous filmmaker of “Sunset Boulevard”, “Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment”, a young Billy Wilder briefly worked as a dancer for hire in the ballroom of a trendy Berlin hotel. As he described the business – a business that required a certain amount of imagination and full-fledged role-playing – for a German newspaper in 1927, “It is not an easy way to earn a living, and it does. also not the kind of, kindhearted guys can take. But others can live on it.
What drives them to pursue careers that can be so fulfilling and yet so destructive?
Wilder’s observations on his experience – taken from one of his many delightfully acerbic journalistic articles anthologized in BILLY WILDER ON ASSIGNATION: Dispatches from Weimar Berlin and Vienna between the wars (Princeton University, 212 pp., $ 24.95), a new collection edited by Noah Isenberg and translated by Shelley Frisch – enter the heart of our enduring obsessions with show business and the performing arts. For those who find themselves inside its golden cages, what drives them to pursue careers that can be so fulfilling and yet so destructive and exhausting, and what pleasures, if any, do they derive from it? ? And for those of us looking from the outside, why do we remain fascinated by these people – their privacy, their talents and their appetites – and what do we find when we scratch under their familiar surfaces?
As a new generation of books demonstrates, these questions are always worth asking, about artists and works we thought we knew intimately and those that were not examined.
The film’s original X rating was not imposed by the Motion Picture Association of America, but by shy executives at United Artists, who feared the film would make viewers gay.
Glenn Frankel is a master of the cinema-biography genre – books that take a single film and explore their making from conception to release, with all of humanity and the cultural history going in between – and he turned associated with an extremely worthy subject in “MIDNIGHT COWBOY” SHOOTING: Art, sex, loneliness, liberation and the making of a dark classic (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 415 pp., $ 30). In previous books, Pulitzer Prize winner Frankel wrote about creating conventional westerns like “The Searchers” and “High Noon”, but “Midnight Cowboy” is a horse of a different color: this 1969 film, based on James Leo Herlihy’s novel of the same name, tells the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a naive Texan who arrives in Manhattan with dreams of becoming a successful gigolo but ends up pushing the men in Times Square as ‘he shares a sordid apartment with a streetwise vagabond named Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). Despite a subject considered transgressive for the time and the fact that it was initially released with an X rating, “Midnight Cowboy” won the Oscars for Best Picture and for its director, John Schlesinger, and its screenwriter, Waldo Salt.