Fedora (1978) at Film Forum

Marthe Keller and William Holden in "Fedora"

Marthe Keller and William Holden in “Fedora”

On Friday September 5 Film Forum will present a one week engagement of writer/director Billy Wilder’s 1978 film “Fedora,” starring William Holden and Marthe Keller, in a new restoration.  My only question is “Why?”

Of all the great films Wilder made, including “Double Indemnity” (1944), (which Film Forum just showed), “Ace in the Hole” (1951), “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), “Some Like It Hot” (1959), “The Apartment” (1960) and “The Fortune Cookie” (1966), why, oh why, does Film Forum see fit to revive (or should I say “resurrect?”) “Fedora?”

“Fedora” is best described as “Sunset Boulevard” meets, well, “Sunset Boulevard,” only without the wit, gothic / noir ambiance or Gloria Swanson.  In fact “Fedora” plays like a very rough first draft of “Sunset Boulevard.”  

As in “Sunset Boulevard,” Holden again plays a man who meets a reclusive movie actress, Fedora, who lives sequestered in her stately home.   Holden is a down on his luck independent movie producer.  He wants Fedora to come out of retirement to star in a film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”  The film begins about two weeks after his quest when we see Fedora throw herself under a train (that is not a spoiler, it’s the very first scene).  I suppose there is supposed to be some kind of irony here since that is how Anna Karenina does herself in (that is a spoiler).  The majority of the film is told in flashback.

It is interesting to see Holden in this role only two years after his exceptional, Oscar nominated role in “Network” (1976).   In “Network” Holden played the head of a network news division, an old time newsman, who laments the idea of news becoming entertainment.  In “Fedora” he plays an old time  producer who laments the way movies have gone.  He describes the style of filmmaking, that was taking hold during the seventies, as “A hand held camera and a zoom lens.”  The difference is that, in “Network,” I cared about Holden’s character.  In “Fedora” I did not.  I think the difference is that in “Network” Holden’s character is much more developed than it is in “Fedora.”  In “Network,” we know more about Holden’s character’s life, back story and what he is going through.  In addition, in “Network,” the writing, by Paddy Chayevsky, is just dynamite.  In “Fedora,” Wilder and long time writing partner I. A. L. Diamond turn in a script consisting of tepid dialogue with plotting that is, well, plodding.

“Fedora,” which is a bit of a mystery, features a painful third act containing excruciatingly obvious, “paint by numbers” exposition and flashbacks.  Do not get me wrong.  Exposition is an important element of screenwriting.  When handled properly it can effortlessly provide an audience with everything it needs to know about stories and characters.  In “Fedora” the exposition is about as subtle as being constantly elbowed in the ribs.

It is really too bad.  “Fedora” could have been a darkly comic gothic mystery.  What we are left with are stilted performances, tepid writing and obvious exposition.  “Fedora” is truly a film for Wilder “completists” only.




About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on September 3, 2014, in Film Forum and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great review, thaaanks!

    Sent from my iPhone


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