12 April 2010

Review: "Sunset Boulevard"

I have started to fulfill my promise, I have begun watching more classic films. Next on my list: Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder's 1950 film about an aging silent screen star's attempt to return to the big screen. I have seen two of Wilder's films, Sabrina (1954) and Some Like It Hot (1959), which are two of the best classic comedies from the 1950s. Sunset Boulevard stars William Holden (who would later star in Sabrina), Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson. Famed director Cecil B. DeMille makes also makes a cameo appearance in the film. Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including nominations for all Best Picture, Best Director and acting nominations for the four aforementioned stars. It won awards for Art Direction (Black and White), Music and Writing. Sunset Boulevard is a fantastic film that dramatizes the negative aspects of Hollywood, and just as Sunset Boulevard itself is synonymous with the golden age of the film industry, Sunset Boulevard is a classic film about an aging actress that spawned a long list of imitators. William Holden's and Gloria Swanson's performances are so mesmerizing that it is hard to believe that this film is pure fiction. With Swanson's deadpan sarcasm, Sunset Boulevard may be one of the first American black comedies.

Like All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard begins at the end with a body floating in a pool. Through his narration we learn the body belongs to Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling Hollywood screenwriter who is finding it harder and harder to sell his material. He is three payments behind on his car, and in a last ditch effort to find some work he goes to Paramount Studios where a young script reader, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), deflates his ego. On the run from the repossession crew, Joe parks his car in a seemingly abandoned garage of a large house on Sunset Boulevard. The house belongs to Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a former silent screen star who has long since lost her fame. Norma has written a script which she hopes which thrust her back into the spotlight, and she convinces Joe to stay at her mansion to edit her screenplay. With the help of her servant Max (Erich von Stroheim), Norma turns Joe into a kept man by lavishing him with attention and gifts. One evening when Joe tries to return to his old life Norma slits her wrists, prompting Joe to return to her side. Norma eventually sends her screenplay to her old friend Cecil B. DeMille, and while on the Paramount lot Joe runs into Nancy again and the two begin working on a screenplay together. He starts sneaking out of the house at night to be with Nancy and eventually Joe has to choose between the women in his life.

Sunset Boulevard has spawned many imitators, but the one film I kept envisioning was Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway. It makes me wonder if Dianne Wiest's Helen Sinclar was channeling Norma Desmond in her performance. The aging actress has long been a central issue in Hollywood films, from All About Eve (1950) to Being Julia (2004). It is amazing that it has taken me so long to see this film, and it was not until seeing it that I realized that the famous line "Alright, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my close-up." is from this film. I should stop being amazed at the references I have missed because I have not seen so many classic films. The final scene of Sunset Boulevard is reminiscent of the final scene in one of my favourite cult films, Cecil B. Demented. As a true fan of film I loved Sunset Boulevard and I love almost every film about the industry. It has a true dark sense of humour and incredible performances from every actor. Gloria Swanson was incredible as Norma Desmond, it was mesmerizing to watch her create a character so blinded by her own ego. My only complaint is that my mind often wandered to memories of watching the reality show Kept, Jerry Hall's criminally pathetic show about finding herself a kept man.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment