Perfection Personified: William Wyler

It’s hard to reconcile William Wyler’s long and storied career with his current standing in the American cinema. Despite having received an unmatched twelve Academy Award nominations for direction (and winning three), his name is rarely mentioned alongside the stalwarts of American film canon, such as Ford, Wilder, Hitchcock, and Welles. Like many other directors of the period, Wyler was a European émigré, who settled in the United States following World War I. His mother was a distant cousin to Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios at the time, and she convinced Laemmle to give Wyler a position. Starting at the bottom, Wyler was a part of the “swing gang,” cleaning stages and moving sets before landing a job as an assistant director. By 1925, he was the youngest director on the Universal lot and directed several of the western shorts that Universal was famous for. Wyler received his biggest break in features with the silent film The Shakedown, released in 1929, and directed 21 features over the next fifteen years, not including the uncredited work he picked up for other directors. In World War II, he joined the US Army Air Corps and shot footage that would be used to create documentaries for the home front, alongside fellow Hollywood directors Frank Capra, John Ford, George Stevens, and John Huston. Upon his return, he earned his second Oscar win for the postwar drama The Best Years of Our Lives. The 1950s were his decade of spectacle, producing lavish films such as Carrie, Friendly Persuasion, and The Big Country, and finishing the decade with the epic Ben-Hur. Wyler’s process on-set led to the off-set moniker “40-take Wyler,” referring to the number of times he would shoot each scene, forcing the actors to shed their performative stance for a more naturalistic portrayal. This need for perfection has produced some of the greatest cinema of the studio era and should solidify Wyler’s standing as one of the greatest directors of all time.
 

Date:
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Time:
7:30 p.m.
Location:
Dryden Theatre
William Wyler | Silent Tuesday. Working with the sole surviving print of William Wyler’s The Shakedown, the George Eastman Museum has restored this visual tour de force, proudly presented here in 35mm. James Murray is a boxer whose turbulent life is turned around when he makes the inspiring acquaintance of a young orphan.
Date:
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Time:
7:30 p.m.
Location:
Dryden Theatre
William Wyler. In this fast-talking pre-Code melodrama, Wyler follows a day in the life of George Simon (John Barrymore), a successful lawyer who is trying to balance his career by helping the people from his neighborhood while taking high-paying sensationalist cases to pay the bills.
Date:
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Time:
7:30 p.m.
Location:
Dryden Theatre
William Wyler | Youth in Love. In this memorable adaptation of Emily Brönte’s classic gothic tale of romance, deceit, and sibling rivalry, Oscar-winning cinematography bathes the doomed lovers in somber tones.