FEDORA (1978)

PrintE-mail Written by Chris Haydon

Billy Wilder is one of cinema’s landmark figures. An auteur who carved a truly decadent and expansive career, consistently pushing the creative and thematic envelope in the process. For the initial thirty years of his craft, Wilder would be keen to take that additional step; forever questioning the boundaries and limitations of his art form. Although his narratives were largely whimsical in tone and spirit, there was a distinctly adult aesthetic to the production, and its filmic structure was largely audacious.

With this in mind, if any studio-system filmmaker would make a successful transition to the developmental landscape of '60s and '70s Americana - home to the blossoming new blockbuster and waves of contract-free stars - it would be him. However, history was written in an entirely different form. Having initially directed a feature film per year from 1942 until 1966, Wilder’s productivity, and sadly quality, dramatically plummeted.

However in 1978 he helmed an ode to the industry he dedicated so much time to, and in the end, somewhat cast him astray with Fedora; a tingling, vibrant and coyly funny observation of Hollywood movie-making. In 2016, the film finally lands a much-deserved Blu-ray release courtesy of Eureka’s divine Masters of Cinema retrospective, which prides itself on sourcing the lesser-known or appreciated titles from the industry’s rich banquet of directorial talent.

Now it is important to establish that Fedora is no masterpiece. In fact, it is a far-cry from Wilder’s finest work. Films such as 1944’s Double Indemnity, 1950’s Sunset Boulevard and 1960’s The Apartment are of a significantly higher quality in virtually every department. However there is a beguiling charm to his penultimate film; it is sage and sincere - thoughtful yet unusual. It is the product of a director entirely aware the industry he largely helped revolutionise now no longer requires his assistance. That sounds exceptionally gloomy we know, but the final product is quite the opposite.

Similar to his own Sunset Boulevard in structure and style, the film opens with a death and proceeds into a thick sensory recalling of past events, excellently narrated by star William Holden. He plays Barry Detweiler, a down-on-his-luck movie producer who arrives in Greece to locate the titular Fedora (Marthe Keller), an enigmatic star now in retirement. Barry is keen to pull her from unemployment and cast her in his adaptation of the classic novel “Anna Karenina”. However, it isn’t long before things get seriously complicated and well, rather weird. Fedora now resides on a plush private island, with a small group of associates of whom Barry soon begins to suspect is holding the star against her will. To detail any further would taint the film’s experience as it relies heavily on a major, if predictable, twist that alters the landscape for the core duo and those in their direct influence.

The transition to Blu-ray is seamless. Eureka has done a marvellous job at retaining the rich colour palette of Wilder’s film, using digitalisation to really heighten the visual and tonal experience. The print is clean and packed with excellent detail, and viewers have the option to watch a short restoration demonstration which shows just how great the transitional quality is. Much like many of the other Masters of Cinema titles, the audio is fantastic, too. Even when they are challenged with a silent film (this author owns many of their Fritz Lang entries in particular), they are able to preserve and further the medium, even when audio is entirely absent.

It is a slightly different story in regards to extras, however. For a film with such a messy and troubled production history, it would have been nice to receive a more extensive look at the processes and implications of Fedora as opposed to a small assortment of deleted scenes; most of which are extremely grainy in quality. Still, like with all of Eureka’s releases, buyers will gain a detailed essay booklet with their purchase which offers further information about the film, its director and the influences Fedora has had upon the industry since the late '70s.

For those interested in portraits of studio filmmaking, there are few directors who can better Wilder. Even today it is a subject which fascinates and fixates audiences, but for the richest experience, it is best to take a step back rather than ahead. Whilst Sunset Boulevard is unquestionably the superior title, there is still plenty to enjoy with Fedora, and it isn’t likely to gain a finer, more authentic release than this.

Special Features: Deleted Scenes / English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired / Restoration Companion / Booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard, a new essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns, a vintage piece of the film’s production, and archival imagery.

FEDORA (1978) / CERT: PG  / DIRECTOR: BILLY WILDER / SCREENPLAY: BILLY WILDER, I.A.L. DIAMOND / STARS: WILLIAM HOLDEN, MARTHE KELLER, HILDEGARD KNEF, JOSÉ FERRER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 


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