"SUNSET BOULEVARD: CENTENNIAL COLLECTION"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
William Holden as JOE GILLIS
Gloria Swanson as NORMA DESMOND
Erich von Stroheim as MAX VON MAYERLING
Nancy Olson as BETTY SCHAEFER
Directed by: Billy Wilder
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One of the most famous lines in American cinema is Norma Desmond saying, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
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However, without the context of the film “Sunset Boulevard,” the depth of the quote is lost.
I had not seen “Sunset Boulevard” until just this year. As the first film in Paramount’s Centennial Collection, it’s a significant piece. After all, even though it was made in 1950, it is quite powerful in what it has to say about Hollywood as an industry.
“Sunset Boulevard” is a classic, and considering it’s a movie about a has-been in 1950, it’s relevant to how we still look at Hollywood today and the stars from the 1960s and before. Just as the industry changed between the silent era and the talkies, the Hollywood of today is very different from the Hollywood of the golden era, but it’s still as harsh.
I suppose I have done myself a bit of a disservice by having not seen “Sunset Boulevard” before now. After all, it’s on the AFI Top 100 films list, and it’s a must see for many cinemaphiles. Sadly, some of the impact is lost on me, having grown up in the “Star Wars” era where special effects ruled the day.
The story reminds me of a real-life “L.A. Confidential,” only without the modern, flashy look. It tells the story of the murder of Joe Gillis, a two-bit screenwriter. The film opens with the police coming to his place of demise, and Gillis (played by William Holden) narrates the film in retrospect.
It’s not long before we see how the down-on-his-luck Gillis befriends a silent-era movie star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). He uses her as his meal ticket. She falls in love with him. He hopes she will have a comeback, but he soon learns that her life is arguably as pathetic (if not more) as his own. While the studios still adore her legacy, no one wants to work with her.
The Centennial Collection presentation of this film comes with a commentary by Ed Sikov, who wrote a book about the film. The second disc is packed with historical retrospectives of the film. There are interviews with most of the major players, or at least those who knew them. There are also script pages, a spotlight on the score, a look at the locations of the film and a spotlight on Paramount Pictures in the 50s.
If you’re never planning to set foot in Hollywood, this film might be lost to you as just another example of film noir from the 50s. However, if you have the dream to make it to Tinsel Town, you might want to check this flick out because Hollywood is as hard on dreams as it was back in the 1950s (or the 1920s, for that matter).