My last night in Los Angeles would not have been complete without a visit to the New Beverly. For ages I have lusted over their programme from afar and now, on my final night, I had been presented with a perfect opportunity: Avanti! (1972) followed by Fedora (1978). Perfect – a double dose of Billy Wilder.
Avanti! is a family favourite and if you have ever visited Italy (especially Southern Italy) you will understand why this is such a funny film. The country’s bureaucracy, national mentality, the food, the attitudes – everything is exposed so perfectly and on the nose that you are not mocking a cultural stereotype but laughing because it is so familiar. Once, visiting relatives in Italy many years ago, we were in a restaurant when the waiter began to rapidly relay the varieties of pasta they served. I burst into laughter because it reminded me so much of a certain scene. Also, it is Jack Lemmon doing his note-perfect uptight shtick and Juliet Mills as his insecure, loving opposite. It may not be one of Wilder’s most praised or best loved films but it is a gem nonetheless.
Then, for a complete change of pace and tone, Fedora. Wow. This very obscure Wilder centres on a faded, reclusive movie star (Marthe Keller) whose ex-lover (William Holden) – now a Hollywood producer – attempts to lure out of retirement. My interpretation of the film was a combination of tragedy and body horror while Ariel (who kindly came out for my final night despite having work to do!) mentioned that it was Wilder’s version of his much long-for-but-never-made horror film. Fedora seeks youth and beauty because she wants to stay young and relevant: she’s mannequin-like, eternal, vampiric and I found it rather fittingly that the veneer of her appearance had unintentionally been enhanced by the slight pink/peach tone of the 35mm film. It was a perfect exposition of the lethal and deadly nature of the showbiz industry. A befitting film for a final night in Hollywood.