"The kids with beards have taken over, with their zoom lenses and handheld cameras," Hollywood producer Barry 'Dutch' Detweiler sarcastically remarks in 'Fedora' (1978), one of Billy Wilder's last films. He was referring to the new generation of filmmakers who reinvented Hollywood in the '70s and who would later be documented in 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls'.
Wilder's earlier masterpiece, 'Sunset Boulevard' (1950), was a nostalgic ode to the silent film era, and the decline of its stars when the talkies arrived. "I am big," its faded star Norma Desmond defiantly claimed, "It's the pictures that got small."
In a similar way, with in fact the same main character (William Holden), flashback structure and voice-over narration, 'Fedora' looks back on the studio era in which Wilder himself thrived, and which by 1978 was gone forever. This time the movie star, the mysterious Fedora, has committed suicide - like Anna Karenina, she threw herself in front of a train - and the film is framed around her funeral, a lavish public spectacle which as Detweiler comments is "like some goddamn premiere".
In flashbacks, Dutch Detweiler's attempts to cast her for his Tolstoy adaptation slowly uncover the bizarre mystery behind her unfading youth and beauty. Though meticulously structured, the plot is quite outrageous at times, and in many ways a charicature of itself. But still, by the final scene when a horde of mourning fans rushes in to see the beautiful corpse of their Fedora, the cynical fickleness of stardom does sink in.
It makes 'Fedora' feel like a swan song, a curious and deliberately old-fashioned film. As a New York Times review from the time put it:
...if it seems outmoded, well, that is very much Mr. Wilder's intention. "Fedora" is old-fashioned with a vengeance, a proud, passionate remembrance of the way movies used to be, and a bitter smile at what they have become.