Before Billy Wilder (1906-2002) left Europe for the United States in 1934 and became a filmmaker, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first in Vienna and then in Weimar Berlin. This book, edited and introduced by Noah Isenberg and translated by Shelley Frisch, collects about 65 articles Wilder published in Austrian and German newspapers in the 1920s.
... sharp and witty journalism ... The collection has been edited by the great film historian Noah Isenberg and translated by the brilliant Shelley Frisch ... Wilder’s profile of Whiteman gives us a glimpse into the future filmmaker’s eye for detail and his ability to channel humor through the seemingly mundane ... The selections in Billy Wilder on Assignment show Wilder carefully honing his skills at splashy prose and erudite analysis. Reading these essays gives us a better understanding of the filmmaker’s first profession, which served him so well in Hollywood ... full of glorious turns of phrase, entertaining narratives, and quirky characters. Shelley Frisch, this book’s superb translator, observes that 'Wilder’s prose is, well … wilder than I usually get to render in my translations' ... Thumbing through Wilder’s essays from the 1920s will make you feel as if you are enjoying yourself at a German coffeehouse, catching up on popular culture, and planning your next weekend adventure in the Weimar Republic. Isenberg and Frisch have done a great service for film historians and fans of classic Hollywood. There are very few filmmakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age whose formative years are worthy of such a deep exploration. With Billy Wilder on Assignment, we get to take a fascinating and entertaining journey with the best narrator of his day.
... a revelation, a trove of snappy pieces that give the reader tantalizing glimpses of the mature film satirist who would win six Oscars for his work ... has a bit of everything: punchy film reviews, profiles, set pieces on the rituals of the new nightlife ... Sharp observations like these show us glimpses of the acidulous social satirist of Hollywood’s Golden Age ... shows us exactly where he was coming from, and it’s great fun to find out.
No doubt the lively cynicism of these pieces will be familiar if you know Wilder’s movies ... It’s funny—charming, even—to learn that such a worldly-wise observer of humanity started his journalism career on a naive note ... it’s delightful to watch him seek bigger tips, upgrading his beauty routine—he was like a shark in pomade—and deploying pretty lies ... Mr. Isenberg seems to recognize how good the series is. He gives it pride of place at the front of the volume ... in spite of running scarcely 200 pages, the book feels padded. A whole section is devoted to Wilder’s reviews, which offer surprisingly little insight into plays and movies. They aren’t even much fun to read ... The book’s limitations are really Wilder’s limitations, and those are understandable enough: If 21-year-olds had mature styles and polished critical lenses, what hope would there be for the rest of us? Besides, journalism had plenty of competition for his time and focus ... The brightest moments here let you watch a little more of the human comedy through Billy Wilder’s eyes. Few saw it as clearly he did or had more fun writing it down.