Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"It sure did the old pornographer's heart good."

Bear with me while I prattle on about my addiction to the nerd crack for one more second. The other day I began Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking*, a memoir of the year that followed the death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne. While I've read a bit of Didion's previous work, I'd read nothing by Dunne. On a whim, I fired up The Complete New Yorker to see if there was any Dunne in the archive and--huzzah huzzah--I scored. Among others, he'd written a lengthy piece on Billy Wilder. It's ostensibly a book review of Cameron Crowe's Conversations with Wilder, but is actually an anecdote-laden overview of Wilder's life and work.

It's refreshing because Dunne, like David Thomson (and unlike Crowe), refuses to write a typical hagiography and knows how to blend the, ahem, sweet with the sour. I could probably find a better example of this to excerpt, but I love this story the most. Does Billy come across as a sexist old fucker? Yup. But you gotta love him:
The critical reaction [to Kiss Me, Stupid] was incendiary--smut, pornography, and worse. In this magazine, Brendan Gill called it "squalid" and "repellent." An unqualified rave came from the unlikeliest place--Vogue. "It is a profoundly affecting picture," the Vogue critic wrote, "as witnessed by the number of people who walked out on it." The Vogue reviewer, coincidentally, was my wife.
Today, Wilder maintains that Kiss Me, Stupid is no good, and that he would like to burn it, but the Vogue review did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. "Dear Joan Didion," he wrote, "I read your piece in the beauty parlor while sitting under the hair-dryer, and it sure did the old pornographer's heart good. Cheers, Billy Wilder."

* And how is TYOMT you ask? Just as you've heard: heartbreaking, crystalline, unflinching, stripped to the marrow, excellent.


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