Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunset Boulevard

Ok y'all, here we go. We're getting into serious classic territory with this one. Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder's classic dark comedy/drama about an aging star who is basically loosing her marbles.

The film stars William Holden as Joe Gillis a down-on-his luck screenwriter who stumbles across the home of faded silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who decides 2 things. 1. She plans on having Joe write her big comeback film, and 2. She is in love with him. Keeping Norma in her delusions of grandeur is her loyal butler Max (Erich von Stroheim), who continues to insist to her that she is still much loved and as famous as she once was. Joe settles into the life of a kept man, living off of Norma's money and hating himself for it, but things become complicated when he falls for Betty (Nancy Olson), a young woman with whom he begins working on a screenplay. Oh, and did I mention that Joe winds up dead? Yeah, that's not a spoiler, for those stamping their feet in frustration, the film actually begins with the police fishing Joe's dead body out of Norma's swimming pool, and the rest of the film is a flashback chronicling how exactly Joe ended up face down in the water.

The flashback is actually a brilliant addition to this film, because it lets us know, right off the bat, that this will get messy. We know that things aren't going to work out and it adds a layer of suspense as to who will kill Joe and why.

The performances in this film are legendary, at this point. The character of Norma Desmond is really something that has become ingrained into our pop culture, and for good reason, because Swanson delivers one of the best performances of all time. Now, the rest of the cast is great, really, but Gloria Swanson has to toe the line between over-the-top and realism. I mean, her character is a crazy former silent movie star, that's really a license to be as over the top as you would like, but instead she keeps herself from making the character a joke, someone to be laughed at because of how melodramatic they are. Instead it's a character that entertains us and breaks our heart as we watch her retreat more and more from reality. She eventually lost the Oscar to Judy Holliday, for Born Yesterday, which I also did an entry on, if you'd like to get my feelings on that one.

The script is also as flawless as the film. Full of intelligence and bite as it serves as a stark indictment of the Hollywood system that raises people up to God-like status, only to throw them away. It really is one of the best films about Hollywood that you can find.

If you like this film (which I certainly hope you will), I also recommend All About Eve, which came out in the same year and was Sunset Boulevard's main competition at the Oscars (For the record, All About Eve won most of them, and it's probably Bette Davis' best film, so watch it!), it's also about aging and stardom (though, focused more on the stage as opposed to the screen). There, you have two recommendations for the price of one (though I really should make an entry on All About Eve), so that should fulfill you for now. Jesus, that's a lot of parenthesis.

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