by Blake Backlash
It can be difficult to know how to begin. The attempt to come up with a first line for his novel about alcoholism sends Don Birnham, the protagonist of The Lost Weekend, into a bout of sweaty self-doubt. The fear of the blank page is enough make him abandon the manuscript of The Bottle to go searching for an actual bottle.
If Billy Wilder ever experienced such creative uneasiness himself, it doesn’t show in the films. The openings of The Lost Weekend and Double Indemnity are both memorable because of the strikingly assured way they immerse us quickly into their narratives. We watch Fred MacMurray stagger into an office in the wee-small hours and start to dictate a memo, in which he confesses to murder. And we watch Ray Milland through a window, as he packs a suitcase and casts nervous glances towards the bottle of whisky we can see dangling on a rope that hangs out of that window. The endings of both these films will, in different ways, return us to these opening images – this is a pattern that Wilder used most famously in Sunset Blvd, which opens with William Holden’s corpse floating in a swimming pool, as William Holden starts to tell us how he came to be floating there.