Billy Wilder's Fedora is quite the oddity in terms of how the story within the film eerily resembles its production. By the mid-1970s Wilder was a renowned genius known for his classics like The Apartment and Some Like It Hot, who was having trouble engaging modern audiences with his old-fashioned tales. His film before Fedora had been the maligned The Front Page which featured the star duo of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, but had done little at the box office. Wanting to work with him but fearsome for any economic losses, executives at Universal Pictures decided to pay Wilder and co-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, for their screenplay with the option to refuse it if they didn't like it. Such is the dilemma faced by washed down producer Barry Detweiler (William Holden) in the film, who arrives to a remote Greek island in pursue of the elusive Fedora (Marthe Keller), a grand lady of the screen who vanished mysteriously at the height of her career. Convinced that he will be able to convince Fedora to make a big comeback, Barry falls into a delirious web of deceit, murder, and more classic Hollywood references than you can shake an Honorary Oscar at. In anticipation of an upcoming Blu-ray release by Olive Films, Film Forum will be showing the new restoration of the film from September 5-11. Here we give you 5 reasons why you simply can not miss this event.
5) The cameos
Billy Wilder was legendary, which meant he probably knew everyone in the industry and everyone wanted to work with him, so Fedora is filled with cameos from some of the most beloved stars in cinema history. José Ferrer and William Holden have leading roles which they devour with intensity and gravitas, but there are also key turns from Henry Fonda and Michael York who play themselves!
Fedora is a bittersweet satire that looked at a world that had practically become lost by the time it was filmed. Flashback sequences feature opulent sets and costumes, the likes of which has been replaced by gritty realism in the 1970s. At one point, Barry complains that Hollywood had been taken over by the "guys with the beards", meaning the gods of New American Cinema including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
If anything, Fedora acts like an unofficial companion piece to Sunset Blvd. in how it dissects how Hollywood can lead people to utter and complete madness. There are endless references to the 1950 classic and Keller has the time of her life chewing the scenery like a modern Gloria Swanson.
2) Marthe Keller
Billy Wilder found the model after discovering her in a preview screening of Sydney Pollack's Bobby Deerfield. He had originally intended to bring Marlene Dietrich out of retirement to play the part (talk about meta!) but the legendary actress seemingly loathed the novella that had inspired the film. Keller takes on the role with a voraciousness that's all but gone in modern films and in a key scene as Fedora receives an Honorary Oscar we wonder why Keller's own nutty, self-indulgent, self-conscious performance failed to receive any attention from the Academy.
1) William Holden
Fresh off an Oscar nomination from his career-best work in Sidney Lumet's Network, Holden chose this campy melodrama as his return to the screen and we can see that he felt as if he was making justice to his doomed Joe Gillis of Sunset Blvd. In the 1950 film, Holden's character narrates from beyond the grave, in Fedora he survives which is a victory upon itself. While he delivers a terrific performance, the film also pays homage to his youth, when he was one of the handsomest men in the planet (his younger self is played by none other than Stephen Collins of 7th Heaven!).
Fedora plays at Film Forum from September 5-11. Click here for tickets and more information.