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Until 1950, American films were strictly entertainment, some deeper
than others. Studio executives were very protective of image and
star-making. In essence, everything seemed perfect. Billy Wilder,
Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman, Jr. created a stunning work of art
that splits the Hollywood sign in two and exposed a dream factory for
what it really is: a struggle to both gain and keep notoriety in the
limelight. "Norma Desmond" and "Joe Gillis" are at opposite ends of
this warped Hollywood mindset, with Gillis, played by that most cynical
of actors, William Holden trying to pay the rent and Norma (Gloria
Swanson) living a lie as a silent queen whose star burned "10,000
midnights ago". How a picture with such a snide look at the industry
could come out in 1950 is simply mind-boggling, considering some of the
light fodder that came out of Hollywood at the time. It has inspired
many modern day disciples such as Altman's THE PLAYER, and Sonnenfeld's
GET SHORTY, both of which took their vicious, hilarious parodies to the
jugular of the movie capital of the world. SUNSET BLVD is the father of
all socially oriented pictures regarding the movies and is by far the
The images of this beautiful black and white powerhouse are fascinating and unforgettable: the dead writer floating in a pool, eyes wide open, looking right at us at the beginning; the eerie pipe organ that plays by the breeze in the middle of one of the most deep and dustiest sets ever; the funeral ceremony of the dead monkey in Norma's courtyard ("That must have been one important chimp. The grandson of King Kong perhaps." says Holden in a delightfully crisp and wise voice-over.) Holden pulls his car into a driveway off of the boulevard that will change his life forever. He is the emblem of the struggle to get notoriety. He has only a few B Movies to his credit. Swanson as Norma Desmond is the symbol of lost fame and has become the talk of legend. What is ironic about her character is that she may be playing herself in an odd way. She WAS an actual silent star whose career went down the tubes after the talkies came about. Her madness combined with Holden's last drop of naiveté combine to give us one of the most electrifying "give and take" between actors I've ever witnessed.
Both lead parts were passed over by several actors. Holden was eventually forced into it as a contract player. How could you pass on such a script? Even "wax figures" (as Holden calls them) Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson come to Norma's to play bridge, of course being Hollywood outcasts themselves, after the invention of sound in film. Some of the dialogue takes a swing at actual movies and people (GONE WITH THE WIND, Zanuck, Menjou). This must have brought the house down in Hollywood screening rooms throughout the town. Louis B. Mayer even condemned Billy Wilder for "ruining the industry". The film is sad and darkly humorous depicting the antics of Norma, who is quite insane, and Holden who is going along with what Norma is giving him, but has plans of his own. Another wax figure still alive and kicking in 1950 appears as himself in an important role. Cecil B. Demille, who once directed Norma/Gloria back in the silent heyday, tries to set her straight, telling her pictures have "changed". They had indeed, especially after this searing comment on celebrity status. I wonder if they knew what they were creating while making this gem.
Scenes are shot right on the lot of Paramount Studios (even the front gate), and Norma's mansion is an unforgettable piece of history and gloom with a floor that "Valentino once danced on." There is so much to discuss, but little to enlighten you on how great SUNSET BLVD is without you seeing it. Just two years later, films began to crop up with the same tainted view of Hollywood, most with varying degrees of deception. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, one of the all-time entertainments quietly had a nasty taste in its mouth regarding celebrity and the invention of sound movies. Watch these films closely and see the skeletons of the modern Hollywood bash films.
RATING: 10 of 10
This is such a great film on so many levels I can't really settle on where
to begin. It is so beautifully shot (in that stark black/white that only
nitrate negative could achieve), has a witty, clever and extremely
well-written script, features some of the best acting in film's history,
acrobatically balances the main plot/subplots with expert precision,
contains some of the best characters on celluloid, has many true-to-life
parallels (Swanson's career/real life cameos/DeMille's involvement/etc) and
is peppered with such great dialogue/narration that today's film writers
should take note. If that weren't enough, there's even a cameo by silent
film great Buster Keaton (among others).
One of the most appealing aspects of this film is how, in the story, an aging, forgotten star is trying to recapture a bygone era (the silent film era). What's interesting is that now, so many years later, we're looking back at her looking back. To present day viewers, Gloria Swanson of the 1950's is a long forgotten lost gem and to experience her own longing for the 1920's is especially captivating (and a little chilling, I might add). I don't think this film could have had that same effect when it debuted and maybe this added dimension holds so much more appeal for today's audiences. We all know that nothing lasts forever, but we don't often consider the abandoned participants; much like the veterans of a past war.
In response to the famous Swanson line (while watching one of her silent films): "...we didn't need dialogue; we had faces", I'd like to also add that they "didn't need movies; they had films."
They truly don't make them like this anymore. 10/10
I have yet to see a Billy Wilder film that I haven't loved, and Sunset
Boulevard is definitely one of those films. It's interesting to watch the
film during different times in one's life when I was a child watching this
film, I thought the story was good and that Norma Desmond (Swanson) was a
pretty scary lady. In my teens/college years, I appreciated it as a
certified classic and for its commentary on Hollywood. Now, in my late 20's
and early 30's I found it to have a different impact on me I was saddened
by Desmond's mental illness, and when she makes her final descent down her
staircase and utters her famous line as the camera pans the faces of the
people around her, so full of pity, and the care her butler/ex-husband takes
to make sure she's happy for maybe the last time in her life made more of an
impact on me than any other time in the 20-odd times I've seen this film.
There are only a small handful of central characters in Sunset Boulevard and
they are so richly written that this film will remain timeless. There are
not a lot of `dated' themes in this film the circle of life that is
Hollywood isn't going to be much more evolved in 2050 than it was in 1950.
If you haven't seen this film, watch it because there is something for just
about anyone in this film.
Usually, Cinema is considered as the most delicate form of art because it
has the biggest potential to become 'dated' one day. Once a movie thought
'mind-blowing' can easily become a 'turkey' a decade later.
This is not the case here. Sunset Boulevard still remains as one of the most eerie film in the cinema history and still a realistic depiction because of its reflection of Hollywood. It can give you the idea of the dream land's transformation into a nightmare.
The film is about a troubled script writer 'Joe Gillis and a forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond's weird relationship and the madness that surrounds them and the people around them. Don't wanna give much of the plot, on account the fact that it is a pure gem that should be invented without knowing nothing. But I can talk about the cinematic aspects of this movie.
This movie has some very eerie moments because of using a great cinematography. The moments of burying the dead monkey and watching the old film of Norma Desmond are exquisitely presented. The movie has some one of the most innovative scripts of cinema and that is certainly justified by the unforgetable and memorable lines captured from the film. The directing is top-notch but who are we kidding it is Billy 'the great' Wilder. The end of the movie is one of the most chilling part of the movie and it can truly give you some nightmares about insanity. The narration of the movie by the head character was probably done by this movie at the first place and this influenced so many movies afterwards.
One of the reasons that this movie is still not dated is because of its courage. The Hayes code was at its peak at the beginning of fifties which manipulates the producers to limit their bad thoughts on one subject, especially on Hollywood. The movie got 11 oscar nomination but only got 3 of them. Apparently, the reason was its harsh criticism on Hollywood.
There are some arguements about Sunset Boulevard's genre. It is considered as the greatest film-noir of all time. I don't think it is a film-noir at all. For some aspects, the movie has some noirish elements such as the black and white German-expressionist cinematography and an 'on the edge of insanity', femme-fatale but these two are not enough to make a film-noir. I think this is a psyhcological drama with some horror(the end is horrifying for me) and with some very very dark comedy.
Overall, This is truly a classic and one of the best movies of cinema history that will never lose its effects on cinema. Heavily influences American Beauty and Mulholland Drive, also making those movies a must see. 10/10
Although this movie was made 8 years before I was, I saw it for the
first time yesterday and I was blown away! I have spent my life missing
what has just become one of my favorite movies of all time.
The acting was superb, the storyline riveting and the characters were people you could care about. Max was my personal favorite. There was a quiet, tragic dignity to him. I expected something to be revealed about him but was not prepared for the truth.
I've always liked William Holden but my experience with Gloria Swanson was limited to her brief role in "Airport 75". I will now look for more movies by her. What an expressive face.
It was fun to try to recognize some of the old time actors that were portraying themselves.
An all around excellent movie. One I truly regret having waited this long to see. But it is definitely a case of better late than never.
The plot has been discussed at length in other comments.
To me SUNSET BOULEVARD has it all. The comedy is sly, the drama is of epic proportions because it's not JUST a story about Hollywood or an aging actress. It's really about the giving up of dreams.
Norma's dream of return, held to for 20 years, is ironic because Norma so closely parallels Gloria. That Norma cannot make a comeback in 1950 even with connections to DeMille is sad. The sadness is due to Norma's refusal to accept her aging or the politics of Hollywood that worship youth. It's ironic that Norma has no place in Hollywood (the parade has passed by) but DeMille is still working and in the scenes from Samson and Delilah we spot other old-timers like Henry Wilcoxon and Julia Faye--still working but not as STARS. The final irony here is that Gloria did make the comeback that Norma couldn't make.
Norma has a thing about STARS.... she says at one point... "the stars are ageless." Well this is true in a filmic sense. I can still watch Gloria Swanson in THE LOVE OF SUNYA or MANHANDLED and yup, she is ageless. She is still twenty something. That screen image is forever held up like a bad mirror to the reality of being 50. On another occasion Norma says "nobody leaves a STAR, that's what makes one a STAR." True again, but it's not just Gillis who is leaving Norma, her fans have already left. Hence if one is left, one cannot be a STAR.
Gillis also gives up his dream (temporarily) of being a writer, Max gives up his dream of directing, and even Betty gives up her dream of love with Gillis. Scary stuff.
The film is also about LOVE. Look what these people have done for love: love of another person or love of fame or whatever. Max loves Norma. Norma loves Gillis. Gillis loves Norma and Betty. Betty loves Gillis and Artie. Artie loves Betty. And all of them love Hollywood.
Everyone is crushed at the end of this film..... The scene of Max "directing" the scene as Norma descends the staircase is one of the all-time great scenes in a film. Norma's final speech, which sums up everything ("there is nothing else"), is devastating. Can she really be insane and make this lucid speech? If she's NOT insane then she has knowingly killed Gillis to prevent his leaving her (a STAR)....... Also the shots of Max blinking away tears as Norma descends (supposedly into madness) and also of Hedda Hopper crying are equally as devastating as Norma's speech about "being back" and "all those wonderful people out there in the dark" (which of course includes us every time we watch the film).
I cannot think of any other film (possibly CITIZEN KANE) that works on so many different levels. And Gloria Swanson gives the greatest performance in film history!
Every time I go to L.A., which isn't too often, I look at these
palm-bemused, once smart stucco facades, and wonder if a Norma Desmond
from a later era might be hiding from the world inside them, buttressed
by cable TV (AMC or TCM, no doubt), a poodle named FiFi or Sir Francis,
walk-in closets full of leopard-print Capri pants that haven't fit in
decades, and a world class liquor cabinet that has seen heads of state
under the table on a good night. It is because of Sunset Blvd., for
certain, that my mind could ever go there. It is one of the most
indelible films you will ever see.
This film is great for many reasons, not the least of which is because it is Hollywood's first look back at itself. In the milieu of this film, the silent era is only 22 years behind us. The people left behind by the rush to sound can still palpably TASTE the fame, the accolade, that particular past being not so very dim and distant. The sadness of their lives was real, and at that point in history, all around, if hidden. Way more has been made of the supposed "savagery" of this film vis a vis the faded star than I think exists now, or ever did. The often cynical Wilder is deeply in touch with the tragic here, as much as the grotesque.
This movie deserves all the accolades it has gotten here, as well as "Maltin's" four stars. It certainly ranks up there as one of Hollywood's greatest achievements. Seeing it again only reinforces my opinion that William Holden was one of the truly great actors of the last [!] century. Gloria Swanson, however, steals every scene she's in; you can't turn away from watching her, even though she makes you really uncomfortable - it's like watching a train wreck. I don't know if the black & white was an economic or an artistic choice, but the film would never have been as effective in color. The opening shot - the floating, dead body of Joe Gillis, eyes wide open, shot looking up from the bottom of the pool - is one of the great shots, and an unforgettable opener, matched perfectly by the unforgettable closing closeup of Norma Desmond. To have Cecil B. deMille actually play himself was an inspired touch. Throw in Eric von Stroheim and you have an unbeatable combination. Truly one the all-time must-see films, although I don't know how to classify it - film noir? black comedy? Hollywood fable ? horror story? psychodrama? Who cares; just see it.
Hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) accidentally falls in
with faded screen legend Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). She lives in a
crumbling old mansion with her butler Max (Erich von Stroheim). She
refuses to believe that she's no longer remembered and will never make
another movie. She gets Gillis to stay with her and rewrite "Salome"
which she thinks will be her comeback. Gillis has no other choice and
things slowly get out of hand.
A VERY cynical view of Hollywood--especially for 1950. It shows what Hollywood does to people like Norma--it makes them stars, tells them that they're great and dump them coldly when they're no longer needed. It also takes swipes at directors, agents, screenwriters, even entire studios! It has a tight quick script, is appropriately filmed in gloomy black and white and is masterfully directed by Billy Wilder. Everybody thought this was a bad idea when it was being made. It was believed to be too cold and vicious for the public. Also Holden was warned it would ruin his career by playing a younger man kept by an older woman. But it turned out great and is now rightfully considered a classic.
The acting is almost all good. I never thought Nancy Olson was that good. Her character is too pure and sweet to be believable. Everybody else is right on target though. Holden is just great in his role. You see the pity, anger and helplessness on his face when he realizes Norma is falling in love with him--and he's trapped. von Stroheim was equally good as Max who encourages Norma's delusions. Swanson however is just magnificent! She has a very showy role and could have overplayed it--but she doesn't. She's mad for sure--but you only see it peeking through every once in a while. When she loses it completely at the end it's frightening. If she had played it like that all through the movie it never would have worked. How she lost the Oscar that year to Judy Holliday for "Born Yesterday" is beyond me. This is a must see and a true Hollywood classic but VERY cold and cynical. A 10 all the way.
"I am big--it's the pictures that got small". "All right Mr. deMille--I'm ready for my closeup".
In Hollywood of the 50's, the obscure screenplay writer Joe Gillis
(William Holden) is not able to sell his work to the studios, is full
of debts and is thinking in returning to his hometown to work in an
office. While trying to escape from his creditors, he has a flat tire
and parks his car in a decadent mansion in Sunset Boulevard. He meets
the owner and former silent-movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson),
who lives alone wit her butler and driver Max von Mayerling (Erich von
Stroheim). Norma is demented and believes she will return to the cinema
industry, and is protected and isolated from the world by Max, who was
his director and husband in the past and still loves her. Norma
proposes Joe to move to the mansion and help her in writing a
screenplay for her comeback to the cinema, and the small-time writer
becomes her lover and gigolo. When Joe falls in love for the young
aspirant writer Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), Norma becomes jealous and
completely insane and her madness leads to a tragic end.
"Sunset Boulevard" is a bitter and tragic masterpiece of the genius Billy Wilder that exposes how Hollywood uses people and forgets them when they get old and are considered decadent by the industry. Further, it also shows the consequences of the lack of adaptation of a former star to the end of a successful career, being forgotten by fans and the industry, and the price that some persons accept to pay to join this business. The last time I saw this film was on 22 September 2002 and even having watched "Sunset Boulevard" for maybe five or six times, I still get excited with most of the scenes and I dare to say that it is in my Top 10 movies ever. The DVD has an interesting documentary called "Sunset Blvd.: A Look Back" (a.k.a. "The Making of Sunset Boulevard" with the presence of a still impressively beautiful Nancy Olson telling peculiarities about this awesome feature. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Crepúsculo dos Deuses" ("Dusk of the Gods")
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