William the Conqueror

When moviegoers delve into the pantheon of revolutionary, uncompromising, maverick filmmakers, the obvious names materialize: Peckinpah, Kubrick, Scorsese, Altman, Lee, Tarantino, even Eastwood. But William Wyler's name rarely pops up. That's because your parents -- even your grandparents -- are probably more familiar with his work than you are. To shed some light on this prolific director, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents William Wyler: Great American Director, a showcase of his films.

Wyler was quite the hell-raiser back in the day when he was directing films for Samuel Goldwyn. In 1936, he helmed his first Goldwyn film, the lesbian-themed drama The Children's Hour (later retitled These Three). Wyler and Goldwyn clashed when Goldwyn threw out the Sapphic theme and replaced it with a safer, heterosexual storyline. Wyler remade the film in 1961, with both the title and the lesbian plot intact.

It was when he escaped from Goldwyn's vise-like grip that he made his most definitive, Oscar-winning films, such as Mrs. Miniver (1942), Roman Holiday (1953), and the 1959 gladiator epic Ben-Hur, whose homoerotic subtext is still debated to this day. (After all, the script did get an uncredited polish from Gore Vidal.)

Wyler was perhaps the Steven Soderbergh of his day, a director who could helm both darker, complex features (like his kinky 1965 psycho-thriller The Collector) and studio blockbusters (Funny Girl, his last big hit, in '68) without dismantling his artistic integrity. Catch his films and watch an early rebel at work. Roman Holiday screens at 8:15 p.m. today; Ben-Hur screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, February 4. Festival runs through February 17. 1001 Bissonnet. For tickets and showtimes, call 713-639-7531 or visit www.mfah.org/films. $6.
Feb. 3-17


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