#49: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

When and how did I watch this?

February 16th, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

“Alright, Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my closeup.”  I played a trivia quiz featuring the quote. That’s just about all I knew about this film.

What do I know about it now?

Norma Desmond (Swanson) was once everything, and our protagonist Joe Gillis (Holden), a screenplay writer desperate for some quick cash, encounters her as her delusion is leading to a crescendo.  The former star actress (though she believes otherwise) has a butler that guards her mail, prepares her for the next big role, and puts on parties that no one attends to feed her ego in order to prevent a total meltdown.  Though initially resistant, Gillis gets sucked into Desmond’s self-enamoring vortex, attempting to escape and return to his own life, but ultimately feeling sympathetic to her, especially after attempting suicide. In a furious scene, Joe, having fallen in love with someone else, dares to leave, only to be shot by a completely crazed Norma. The legendary final scene leaves us melancholy and terrified. I had never heard of Gloria Swanson prior, but her performance is spectacular.  Holden plays a fairly vanilla character, but that’s fine — he has to share screen time with the bombastic character in Norma, who appears ridiculous and unstable throughout. There’s a magnetic quality to Norma, however, and like Joe we’re drawn into her world of false grandeur, on one hand wishing she’d wake up, but also hoping she meets a blissful demise.  The film is thematically dark, but shot in a shadowy noir-style to reflect the aging house and aging occupants. A mesmerizing, iconic film from start to finish.

What are some themes in the film?

Hollywood, the occupation of screenplay/acting, delusion, wealth, loyalty, empathy

Did this affect me personally?

Yes.  Many of the images of Desmond are haunting.  Additionally, the romantic tension between Joe and Betty is overwhelming.

Why is this ranked #49?

Sunset Boulevard is a classic Billy Wilder film, set in the golden age of cinema, addressing the topic of cinema, featuring an outrageous character and memorable dialogue and images.  The score is haunting, and the final scene is legendary.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She watched it intermittently.

Would I watch it again?

Certainly.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

As is the case with similar films on this list, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

The film is heavily dependent upon fantastic writing and clever use of lighting.  These features are sadly underused in modern film, often filtered through digital means,  and then left to effects to “fill in” parts that might be potentially boring.  But in films like this, we meet ourselves and our peers in an alternate dimension, seemingly, all full of ideas and striving to “make it,” and then blurring or burning out before dreams are fully realized.  Perhaps the film is a sobering exercise in futility, but it is also a self-check for hypocrisy, if you wish to attach a moral to it. Regardless, it is full of meaning to a wide audience and should be recognized as one of the true greats of cinema.

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