Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SUNSET BOULEVARD (Billy Wilder, 1950, USA) Dead men tell no tales, but Joe Gillis speaks from his watery grave, a mournful soliloquy concerning the death of Hollywood and his own regretful affair. Director Billy Wilder’s film begins with the name of Sunset Blvd. painted in the litter-strewn gutter as the camera pulls back to reveal police racing towards a murder scene. The film is structured as a flashback until it comes full circle to Joe’s floating corpse, taking the audience on a sad and satirical journey through the silent past of obsession, possession, and shattered dreams. Gloria Swanson’s dedicated performance as the ghostly Norma Desmond is possessed of fury and fire; Desmond has become subsumed by her own screen persona, her body no longer flesh and bone but nitrate and camphor. The destitute screenwriter Joe Gillis is wonderfully portrayed by William Holden; a man whose fate is decided by a flat tire, a man who prostitutes himself: he is the dark reflection of talent that sells-out to the highest bidder churning out trash for a paycheck. Unfortunately, Hollywood hasn’t changed in the past 60+ years. Wilder casts famous director Erich von Stroheim as the hollow ex-husband, drained of all identity except for his desire to prolong Norma’s fantasy: her faux belief in a comeback. Buster Keaton appears as one of the forgotten waxworks, a sad decline of a legendary force of nature; a genius whose films have survived into the 21st century. Finally, Norma falls through the lens darkly and becomes the wicked daughter of Herodias…eternally ready for her close-up. (A+)

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