I can’t think of a time I have ever been so struck by a film. An ageing, past-her-prime movie star, questioned by police the morning after she has shot dead the man she loves. In the same room a woman tries to sell the story of her descent into madness over the phone. That, I feel is about as neat a summation as you could hope for. Sunset Boulevard is a film noir about an aging silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), desperately clinging on to the fading star of her fame. The film bases its general narrative around the cheating, stealing and selling (of oneself (and one’s soul?)) of Hollywood and the film industry. Hope will draw you into this film, and pain and the path of human destruction left by clutching at fame will make you unable to look away. It is fascinating, how, what starts out as a seemingly dire situation for failing writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) running away from repo men, can in fact slowly get worse even under the Hollywood veneer of ‘getting better’ (making money). The film seems to be made as a cautionary tale to what power and fame can do, how they can affect you, how they can change you. It is an unnerving slide into the depths of human psychology, which will grip you from the first scene, with Gillis’ unnerving posthumous narration leaving you unable to look away. It is fascinating, how the problems of a modern day LA are still so apparent, even back then (this film was made in 1950). ‘Sweetheart¸ if I lose my car it’s like having my legs cut off’, these are the words uttered by Gillis when he fears his car will be repossessed, and are words which would no doubt be echoed by many LA locals when faced with the idea of having to travel around on LA’s public transport system!
Watchable? Absolutely yes! I could barely look away once I started, gripping from beginning to end.
Could I watch it in the bath? Once you start watching it, you may not stop – so yes you can…although whether you choose to or not depends on whether or not you wish to emerge on the other side looking like a prune…your call.
Would I recommend it to all my friends? Undoubtedly – while I am prepared to admit that it may not be the film for every occasion, I am now convinced that it is one everybody must try as part of their education of the cinematic/artistic world.
Interesting fact: When crew members asked Wilder how he was going to shoot the burial of Norma’s monkey, one of the film’s most bizarre scenes, he simply said, “You know, the usual monkey-funeral sequence.”
Do I feel like I have a greater appreciation of cinema: Yes I do, the film is made almost entirely as a flashback and is narrated, which gives me an insight into the differences and nuances which can be made to the timeline of a film, and how this then affects the viewing experience.
Rating in the series: #1 (If something can top this then God I cannot wait to watch it!)
If you would like to suggest a film then please do leave a comment, and if you would like to see the full list, and my aim over these 39 days, then go to my 39 Days 39 Films page on my blog. Thanks for reading!