In his memorable Oscar acceptance speech for 1993's Best Foreign Film winner Belle Epoque, Spanish director Fernando Trueba quipped, "I'd like to thank God, but I don't believe in God, so I'd like to thank Billy Wilder." It's a tribute to the venerable comic genius behind Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment that Trueba may have been only half-joking. Since Wilder's retirement after 1981's Buddy Buddy, many aspiring filmmakers have made a pilgrimage to his office in Beverly Hills, but Cameron Crowewhose impressive credits include Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Say Anything..., and Jerry Maguirewas intent on sticking around until the elusive 91-year-old answered all his questions. Crowe's persistent visits finally broke down the director's resolve, and their lively sessions are documented in the essential Conversations With Wilder, a candid and frequently hilarious volume on his life and work. Doomed from the start to fall under the shadow of François Truffaut's Hitchcockfor the obvious reason that Crowe is no Truffaut and Wilder is no Hitchcocktheir dialogue contains the expected, though still priceless, anecdotes about four decades in Hollywood. But it's also a surprisingly insightful look into Wilder's creative mind. A former writer and associate editor for Rolling Stone, Crowe uses his skill as a journalist to coax Wilder into in-depth discussions about his successes and failures, each recalled with a vividness that belies his age. Wilder's unfailing populist instincts have most of his opinions corresponding with public responsethough he's proud of his lacerating media satire Ace In The Hole (a.k.a. The Big Carnival), a box-office disasterbut he claims no higher goal than entertaining the masses. To that end, Conversations makes a solid case for Wilder as one of cinema's supreme entertainers. Just leafing through the book's collection of black-and-white stills is like taking a brief, nostalgic tour through a Golden Age in American comedy.