Fame kills: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
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James and Thomas wrap up their series of episodes on film noir with a discussion of Billy Wilder’s acerbic and vastly entertaining critique of Hollywood avarice and vanity, Sunset Boulevard.
The movie business from the beginning has created some sad and grotesque figures, and this film focuses on two in particular. One is the sad and deluded has-been celebrity. Sunset Boulevard gets “meta” in its reflection of the perils of star-worship, especially in the character of Norma Desmond, a former silent film idol played unforgettably by a real-life former silent film star, Gloria Swanson.
The other Hollywood type this film shows us is the ambitious loser. Film noir protagonists tend to be losers, and indeed the loser seems like a distinctly American archetype, the flip-side of the American dream with its expectation that one should always be advancing one’s station in life. Perhaps no place generates losers like L.A., and in Sunset Boulevard we get our man in down-and-out screenwriter Joe Gillis, played by William Holden.
Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com
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