Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a down-on-his-luck writer (is there any other kind?) who finds employment revising a bloated Salome screenplay, pet project for aging silent-screen diva Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). The rub is that he must dwell in her creepy mansion/shrine-to-her-former-self while he works, listening to Desmond emote to the shadows. She is convinced Salome is the key to her comeback. Gillis knows better, but he soon comes to forget or ignore that fact, as the ghostly allure of faded stardom gets the better of him, all despite the cloaked warnings of Max (Erich von Stroheim), Norma's mysterious butler. As the plot of Billy Wilder's noir classic slowly spirals in on itself, the movie itself spirals outward, one particular scene being key: Desmond snuggles down with Gillis and commands Max to screen one of her early silent pictures -- the meta-joke being that the film screened is Queen Kelly (1928) indeed starring Swanson, and directed by von Stroheim, one of the few he helmed before falling out of Hollywood's favor, keeping his career afloat by taking bit parts ... much like the role of Max, in this film, perhaps. Likewise, the Twilight Zone episode "The 16mm Shrine" is a supernatural narrative extension, in which an obsessed and secluded actress finds a portal out of this world and into the world of her old movies. Better than the static hell seemingly preferred by the characters of Sunset Boulevard.

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