Sunset Boulevard

sunset boulevard
dir. billy wilder


“No one ever leaves a star…”

Sunset Boulevard is perhaps the most cynical love letter to Hollywood ever constructed. It’s hard and it’s mean, but it’s true, or at least it feels true, and that’s very important. Hollywood isn’t supposed to feel good: it’s supposed to feel real, and Sunset Boulevard blurs the line of reality like no other.

Norma Desmond is an aging star from the silent era, clinging desperately to the fame she once had. Like Miss Havisham before her, she lives in a mansion frozen in time, surrounded by memorabilia that not only reminds her of this life, but makes it so that it continues. Her dream is to star in another film, and this dream seems attainable when Joe Gillis, a Hollywood screenwriter, falls into her lap.

Sunset‘s strong because it’s lean. That word kept creeping up in my mind; every scene told a story, and every line meant something. Gloria Swanson’s performance is breathtaking because, in many ways, she is Norma Desmond. It’s the realness that’s so striking. The way Gillis and his other writers interact is always rooted so firmly in the reality of Hollywood, so much so that I had to remind myself again and again that the writers weren’t writers at all. The references in dialogue to Garbo and Fairbanks, as well as the cameo appearances of Keaton, de Mille, and others, further cemented this.

This is one of the most important films about show business you could ever see. It captures the highs and lows of being a star in the most sought-after city in the world, and is essential viewing for people who love film–both as a capsule of, and an example of, Hollywood at its most Hollywood.


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