FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

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The Modernist

FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby The Modernist » 26 Jun 2009, 20:38

It's been a bit of a mad day for me so I'm not in the mood to say that much tonight (sorry). But feel free to kick things off, especially you Mimsy!

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby cheifwhat » 27 Jun 2009, 00:39

Well I liked it. Not loved it but liked it. I think the odd ending helped. It helped make the narrator from beyond the grave more digestable. It's all about the ending isn't it? otherwise it's just another cracking good thriller yarn
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby straw mimsy » 27 Jun 2009, 09:38

I only have as long as it takes angshu to shower.


Basically-- My first experience with the movie was something I rented when I was getting a lovefilm/netflix thing-- because as much as I used to rave on about All About Eve, I used to have people say "if you like that, you will LOVE Sunset Boulevard. It's SO much better."

And I have to admit, as much as it's not normally my habit to do so, from the very beginning my appreciation of it was very relative. It was made in the same year as All About Eve, and oddly shares a very similar theme of aging actress. I watched it alone, which-- I don't know if its the same for you out there, but for me it can sometimes mean a VERY different viewing experience for me. And, I didn't like it. The gimmicks, such as the voice over and such-- the strange writing of a film within a film-- the love stories that aren't that in the slightest-- seemed so over done. It is an astonishingly beautiful film. I couldn't deny that. But the melodrama! It didn't seem to add up, just to jar. As much as I had been anticipating a movie I could love as much as All About Eve, I was Very bitterly dissapointed.

Then I saw it again, this time with LOTS of people watching. And it clicked. I found the angle-- which was GLARINGLY obvious. The film within a film, made everything come together. The end wrapping up neatly with the beginning. In very particular, one of the scenes which had so irked me, was the one where he gets back to normal life, in his white tie. I found that "mad student party" scene--so dated. But on the second viewing I saw how it came together. How it was supposed to jar with the serene, calm and grotesque scenes in the house. I was left stunned by the sheer beauty of every shot--impressed with how it had come together--

But still-- it wasn't new.

I don't know why, but i always find Billy Wilder offensive. Not in any obvious way. (You may refer to the billy wilder thread that I contributed to when I first joined here-- me versus Sneelock.) But all his movies upset me, so no matter how good I find the movie, there's something in it, I hate. I find them an affront.

So watching it even the second time, I got defensive. Put against my two favourite movies-- The Philadelphia Story (almost 10 years before) and all about Eve-- together they had much more effectively used and explored all the themes in Sunset Boulevard, without clumsy deliberate manipulation. The Philadelphia story doing the film within a film much more gracefully. All About eve, most other things -- AND it was Bette Davis.

Gloria Swanson Can't with Bette Davis. Just can't.
I found no AMAZINGLY acted scene. it didn't fall apart at any point-- but in the most famous scene "I'm ready for my close up" etc--

it's not a performance that begs much comment or insight--little depth of character.
i don't know.

I suppose that's one of my major criticisms. It's so staged and shallow, there's little depth except in the scene-- which I guess is the whole point-- as it's not supposed to be an engaging real life drama-- but a scene, and a stage and it's all being put on for your benefit. In this way I suppose it's exactly the opposite of All About Eve-- which attempts to bring the life out of the stage-- not the other way round.

Still, though.

Anyway. Time's up. Until next time.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Owen » 27 Jun 2009, 13:21

Mimsy has sabotaged the thread for me as anything I was about to say has been sidetracked by my now comparing it to All about Eve which does it no favours (although I think they have different things to say), and by making me think about it in the context of Wilder when actually it is one of only a handful of his that doesn't wind me up.

Away from that comparison it's an excellent movie, there's something in the way it picks Holden to be the normal world's intruder on that hollywood set up, his own desperation and nastiness. A bit like Ace in the Hole and Double Indemnity really, with Wilder wanting to attack something wider but seemingly unable to resist making the protagonist so vile. You still are forced to identify with all three lead men but there's something about their inability to hide their horribleness that works; that is lost in Wilder's later work and makes it far truer.

Something about Stroheim as well, the cartoon germanness of it that was surely Wilder mocking the real life pretensions of his fellow austrian jewish emigre as much as it was about Hollywood as a whole. Yet he carries it off with dignity however absurd the situation.

Such a weird poisonous mess of a film, which is perhaps why i like it when i dont really like the later wilder movies where he tries to hide that more.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Sneelock » 27 Jun 2009, 18:23

I can't remember seeing a 'sunset boulevard' that seemed a mess or that struck me as being shallow.

here's what I'm going to do. I'm taking my eyeballs out of my head and giving them a good scrub. I'm going to put them back in and truly try my best to watch it as though I've never seen it before. this is hard to do with one of your favorite movies but I'll try my best before I say anything about it in this thread.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Owen » 27 Jun 2009, 20:11

Mess in that it just seems like so many nasty threads thrown out there where two or three of them would have been 'enough' to get the film made and the story make sense, instead it just piles more and more grotesqueness and venom in front of you. Compare it to something like the Bad and the Beautiful rather than All about Eve, BatB stays within the boundaries you expect for that kind of insiders 'attack' on holywood, it hits it's targets but leaves you sure of who to root for and celebrates the whole idea of making movies at the same time, you want douglas to make his movies and can see a spark in him that just isn't there in holden. whereas SB is made by someone who wants to lash out at everyone and seems to feel he is cleverer than all of them. Mess might be the wrong word but there is just a lot more put in front of you to digest than you everstrictly need. and it's better for it.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby The Write Profile » 27 Jun 2009, 23:47

We've discussed this film before, so I'll just use something I've posted and add some extra comments to it.


What's so fascinating about Wilder is that even in his most crowdpleasing films, such as Some Like it Hot, there's still a fairly cynical streak of misanthropy cursing through it. Look at the way he sets up Munroe's character as a dumb broad free and willing to be manipulated by Curtis, or even the early gangland scenes, which aren't quite as farcical as their rep suggests (though obviously there's a lot of injokery going on there, as there is throughout the film). For such a breezy film, he manages to pack a lot of competing tones and moods into the picture.

But Sunset Blvd is something else entirely- more haggard and destitute than the Lost Weekend, but maybe even more bittersweet than the Apartment, what remains throughout the film is the fact that no one gets off lightly, not even sweet, seemingly uncorrupted Betty, as Joe literally rubs her face in his 'double life' near the close of the film, as if to ram home the point that not only has she not really seen what Hollywood truly offers, but she has no business in belonging here. Actually, there seems to be something oddly masochistic about many of the characters, Von Stronheim's Max von Mayerling dotes on Norma because of her (and his) past glories, but is constantly aware of the effect of this facade.

As for Norma Desmond, has there ever been a more pure archetype of a faded star? It's such an unhinged, ferverish performance that it's practically become a shorthand ever since--indeed, Swanson soon went back into retirement after this picture after complaining that many of the scripts she received were 'beyond the pale' imitations of this character, but it's easy to see why--for all the hysteria, I think she actually manages to touch upon something quite hauntingly real about her, the scenes where her and Joe are together have brief flashes of genuine companionship, even if it's always horribly compromised. But it's the little moments, like the famous Chaplin impression that suggest it could've been another film entirely...but Wilder would never have been the person to make that film.

I'd argue that in many ways, the film is practically a prism in itself- there's the neo-gothic stylings of the the Desmond scenes, the noirish undercurrent through the use of flashback and heavily sardonic voiceover, there's the insider-comedy (really, you could just have a field-day picking the references apart), and finally there's two doomed love stories going on at once, but I'm not sure which is more cynically handled- the one between Betty and Joe or Norma and Joe? At least with the latter, you're in no doubt as to Joe's true reasonings behind his actions.

Owen wrote:Mess in that it just seems like so many nasty threads thrown out there where two or three of them would have been 'enough' to get the film made and the story make sense, instead it just piles more and more grotesqueness and venom in front of you. Compare it to something like the Bad and the Beautiful rather than All about Eve, BatB stays within the boundaries you expect for that kind of insiders 'attack' on holywood, it hits it's targets but leaves you sure of who to root for and celebrates the whole idea of making movies at the same time, you want douglas to make his movies and can see a spark in him that just isn't there in holden. whereas SB is made by someone who wants to lash out at everyone and seems to feel he is cleverer than all of them. Mess might be the wrong word but there is just a lot more put in front of you to digest than you everstrictly need. and it's better for it.


It's essentially ground zero for the next generation of film satire/horror- there's certainly a line, however wobbly, that you can trace from here to something like Mulholland Dr- the idea that the dream factory isn't just a nightmare, but a self-perpetuating one. In a way, the weirdest moment for me wasn't the notorious "waxworks" scene, but the bit involving Cecil B Demille. Maybe it's just the context, he was still a big name and a survivor at that stage (albeit one who directed bloated religious epics), but really he's lost to ether as anyone know. No one really talks of hos work favourably, do they?

I have this fun game I sometimes play in my head with great films which is to imagine how different the film may have been if it had focussed through the viewpoint of a different protagonist. With this film, it's Stronheim's character, as bitter as the depiction of him is (and as downright cruel it has to force him to watch clips of Queen Kelly), I could still imagine, this weird, sensitive little film which focuses on how Stronhiem came to the role he did in his life, and the moment he finally decided it was better off for Swanson not to know the outside world.

And then there's the other film, which is how awfully strange it would've been to have it filmed from Nancy Olsen's character point of view, in many ways, I wonder whether the effect would've been more masochistic. I'm not sure whether her character really deserves to be corrupted or defiled in the way, but the fact Wilder couldn't even give her an even break showed what he thought of people. It does seem like blaming the victim in her case though.

I can understand why Owen and indeed Mimsy find Wilder difficult but I think I love his films for many of the reasons they see as faults.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Sneelock » 28 Jun 2009, 02:46

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:I can understand why Owen and indeed Mimsy find Wilder difficult but I think I love his films for many of the reasons they see as faults.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Owen » 28 Jun 2009, 09:35

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:We've discussed this film before, so I'll just use something I've posted and add some extra comments to it.


What's so fascinating about Wilder is that even in his most crowdpleasing films, such as Some Like it Hot, there's still a fairly cynical streak of misanthropy cursing through it. Look at the way he sets up Munroe's character as a dumb broad free and willing to be manipulated by Curtis, or even the early gangland scenes, which aren't quite as farcical as their rep suggests (though obviously there's a lot of injokery going on there, as there is throughout the film). For such a breezy film, he manages to pack a lot of competing tones and moods into the picture.

I can understand why Owen and indeed Mimsy find Wilder difficult but I think I love his films for many of the reasons they see as faults.


When i say I dislike Wilder it's certianly not without exception, I've watched a lot of his stuff over the last 18 months or so, and there are films there I love 'Double Indemnity' 'Ace in the Hole' and this one plus a lot of the stuff he had a hand in writing earlier on.

It's stuff like 7 year itch, Sabrina, Stalag 17, the Fortune cookie, even the apartment to a certain extent (although there are performances, generally charismatic lead performances, to like in all of them). If you guys love for wilder extends to those movies then here might be some division between our views but i'd guess that as far as the 3 or 4 movies that really get put forward as his claims to greatness go I like them pretty much unreservedly. Including SB although double indemnity is probably my favourite.

As you say the later stuff remains misanthropic but I dont see them as containing competing tones and moods in the way you say, more that they contain misanthropy, presumably because Wilder does but that they feel like someone trying to do a lighthearted film and just letting his own nastiness show inadvertently. Not something intended to be a mixture, there is a lot of broad dated sitcommy stuff in his 60s and 70s stuff but no faith in the lightness at all, it feels contemptuous of the audience as if he's realised that's actually all you need to get by so why give more. If you look at the humour in Ball of Fire or Bluebeard's 8th wife, midnight or Ninotchka and then look at Wilder's directed comedies there's no real comparison.

Then again those early comedies, like sunset blvd, were co-written with Brackett, rather than looking at it as a decline or fault with wilder maybe it's just that he wasn't as good at maintaining a tone without him.

But no i don't find wilder difficult as such, I just think he made a handful of great movies and a lot of lesser badly dated ones but that goes for most great holywood directors. i've sat watching a lot of wilder movies these last few years before I decided that and most of those lesser ones had something to make it worth watching.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby The Write Profile » 28 Jun 2009, 10:16

Owen wrote:As you say the later stuff remains misanthropic but I dont see them as containing competing tones and moods in the way you say, more that they contain misanthropy, presumably because Wilder does but that they feel like someone trying to do a lighthearted film and just letting his own nastiness show inadvertently. Not something intended to be a mixture, there is a lot of broad dated sitcommy stuff in his 60s and 70s stuff but no faith in the lightness at all, it feels contemptuous of the audience as if he's realised that's actually all you need to get by so why give more. If you look at the humour in Ball of Fire or Bluebeard's 8th wife, midnight or Ninotchka and then look at Wilder's directed comedies there's no real comparison.


There's a lot of truth to that, his work gets increasingly sour and broad as it went on (though apparently the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is an anomally in that it's surprising knowing and whimsical, I haven't seen it yet though), but it's more down to, as you say, a director losing control of his work. I'm not sure how much faith Wilder had in people, probably very little, but there's enough humanity in the Appartment and even something as relentlessly bleak as Sunset Blvd (although, as I've already said, it's represented through Olsen's character who is set up to be corrupted), to actually let the audience hold onto something. Ace in the Hole and Double Indemnity are different beasts entirely, in fact I wonder whether Double Indemnity plays as a better comedy than some of his later comedies precisely because it's so single-minded, and doesn't feel the need to sugar-coat it. The same goes for Ace in the Hole, too, I guess.

Bear in mind that all of his films from Some Like It Hot onwards were co-written with I AL Diamond, apparently the reason why so many of his later films feature characters squabbling relentlessly is because that's exactly what their relationship was like. According to Diamond's widow, anyway.

I wonder whether Wilder really needed the studio system, or something bigger to work within (and kick against). He doesn't seem to be a character suited to the confused, fragmented period leading up to the dissolution of old Hollywood. That said, not many directors were, maybe I'm wrong, but the 60s doesn't strike me as a particularly great era for cinematic comedy, with a few notable exceptions.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Owen » 28 Jun 2009, 12:42

No, the 60s aren't great for Holywood comedies, and you see a very similar pattern in Hawks works from the time, a previously witty verbal director increasingly relying on slapstick and sitcommy innuendo and gags about laybout youngsters or dumb blondes. Maybe it's just the outfits and the fact that are definitely being aimed at the adult side of a generation gap but they feel flabby and self satisfied in a way the earlier stuff doesn't. (Not neccesarily just a 60s thing either, the seven year itch is probably the worst offender and thats 55).

The studio system is probably part of it, to me the biggest issue (and this again is as true of Hawks) is that whereas in the 40s and early 50s you had big lead actors and actresses who could also do comedy, Cooper in the early films Wilder wrote for other directors or Holden and even Cagney in the directed films (although most ofthe non cagney bits of One, two, three are bog standard 60s sitcom) By the mid-late 50s you get comic actors mugging their way through the male lead roles because the studio system hasn't come up with genuine allround screen stars to replace those guys. A lot of the appeal or problem with later wilder comes down to your individual tolerance for Jack Lemmon mugging.

Which doesn't detract at all from sunset blvd of course, if anything as I said in my initial post I think Holden is the key to it, he can handle the different tones and suggest things about his own inner darkness without overplaying it.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Kenji » 28 Jun 2009, 15:15

I just watched it for first time. I thought it was OK but not great - "I want to see the modern heavy version of it!" was my feeling when it ended.
I liked the movie's opening titles and Max.
I also thought about Michael Jackson when I was watching - sorry I can't say a lot more just it was enjoyable...

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Matt Wilson » 28 Jun 2009, 19:03

Genius, perhaps the defining "Hollywood" film of the '50s. Holden was never better (the part was written with Monty Clift in mind, who passed because the relationship between the writer and the faded star was a bit too close to that of Clift and his older, female acting mentor at the time -- though I doubt it was sexual), and the writing couldn't be better. The current, remastered DVD contains the best print of the picture I've ever seen and I find it every bit as satisfying as All About Eve, which has a better screenplay, but loses points for being a tad too set-bound in a medium as visual as film. I'd rather watch Sunset Blvd, in other words.

No matter, both films are five-star classics and I'd hate to have to choose between them.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby straw mimsy » 29 Jun 2009, 00:25

I started watching it again, as I admit, I've only seen it a handful of times, and maybe it deserves more.

I Do think it is messy. In so much as it's not Entirely clean. There are a bunch of loose ends. Things don't all have their place. I'm willing to concede that it's more than likely that maybe I just haven't clicked to the one "AHHH" moment which puts everything in their right place. Maybe I require a much dumber movie which spells things out a little clearer.

Some points though. And forgive me if this is obvious. But while watching it this time I was thinking about 2 main themes-- fate and Norma Desmond as Salome.

Fate:
There's a line that says something like "I've seemed to turn into an interesting driveway"-- which obviously can be meant figuratively. Our first impression of Holden's character doesn't give us much except his current life situation. He's a failed writer, about to go back to Ohio. Back to his own beginning after not succeeding. Then his life turns into an interesting driveway. This new beginning starts with being mistaken for an undertaker. A monkey dies, and he comes to stay. (I'll pick up this train of thought on a little later) Later he tells of a dream he has where there is an Organ grinder and a monkey. The organ is still playing when he wakes up and he realises that he has been played. Norma Desmond asks his Zodiac sign, to see whether she can trust him. Then there is the fact that we know exactly what is going to happen even before it begins because we've seen the body in the pool. It's an interesting plot, and yet, it's made to seem entirely predictable. That this sort of psychotic madness is in fact common place. This obviously can be taken as a direct commentary of hollywood.

Norma Desmond as Salome:
I had never noticed before but they really do play it out as she describes the story-- "and the scene before she's about to kill him." At the new years party she throws down the veil, and I thought--" ha ha the dance of the seven veils.

...I will go on-- but I need to sleep now.

But yes, it's hard to take my criticisms seriously when there is a beautiful film which really does have more to see in it, everytime you look. And maybe it is this messy quality that helps.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby hookfinger » 29 Jun 2009, 02:24

Wow, you folk really do talk movies!! I have loved this movie since my late 20's when i first saw it. It feels like an emotionally charged but ineffectual punch to the gut. How many of us could sell ourselves out like that? Perhaps with the economy the way it is, this story could be more relevant than ever.
Wilder is is a great film maker even if not my favorite but this whole film is dialogue driven. Other than Streetcar I know of no movie that reeks of such desperation.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Matt Wilson » 29 Jun 2009, 03:44

I don't know what's not to like. Maybe it's because I know people like the Holden character, people who came here with pure ideals and realized ideals don't pay the bills and what they'd do for money isn't something to be proud of. There's some friends my wife and I do things with sometimes. I don't know the husband real well but I know him well enough. Anyway, he came here to Hollywood wanting to be an auteur director and produce/direct his own stuff. One of his shorts won some kind of award in some prestigeous festival, etc. Anyway, now he does reality TV and when we get together we commiserate about our kids. He's probably not where he wants to be at this point in his life but at least he never had to sleep with anybody to make a living. Of course, he probably would say that he's prostituting his talent as it is...

Anyway, only Double Indemnity looms as large in the Wilder canon as Sunset Blvd in my estimation. You could remake that film (SB) right now and it would be as relevant as ever.

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby The Write Profile » 29 Jun 2009, 05:27

Owen wrote:
The studio system is probably part of it, to me the biggest issue (and this again is as true of Hawks) is that whereas in the 40s and early 50s you had big lead actors and actresses who could also do comedy, Cooper in the early films Wilder wrote for other directors or Holden and even Cagney in the directed films (although most ofthe non cagney bits of One, two, three are bog standard 60s sitcom) By the mid-late 50s you get comic actors mugging their way through the male lead roles because the studio system hasn't come up with genuine allround screen stars to replace those guys. A lot of the appeal or problem with later wilder comes down to your individual tolerance for Jack Lemmon mugging.


There's a lot of truth to that, although I think you do a slight disservice to Jack Lemmon, and think the later failings were more down to the material than Lemmon per se. Certainly I can't imagine anyone better for the Apartment or Some Like It Hot those two films danced on the edges a lot, sure there was (a lot of) broad comedy, but it was dealt with such a sure, musical touch- think about the little things Lemmon throws in such as the rose in his teeth with his dance with Joe E Brown, or even the way he oggles Munroe or delivers that punchline in Some Like It Hot, to say nothing of the way he gets the pitifulness and desperation of his character in the Apartment. Apparently one of Wilder's favourite directorial cues was to tell actors to give "a little less".

Which in an odd way you can imagine him saying a lot in Sunset Blvd, sure Swanson's character is grotesque, but she pulls back enough to make it believable, or at least imagine how she got that far. Likewise, I love the way Holden plays his role as if he's under absolutely no illusions of the depths he (and people) will go to get what they want, and how much he seems aware that it's not going to end out well, either.

Regarding Matt Wilson's point, in its way elements of Sunset Blvd have been remade several times over the years- Mulholland Dr. gets the nightmarish aspects of it down, while something like Sweet Smell of Success gets the venality of it (although that's more about Broadway than Hollywood).
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby straw mimsy » 29 Jun 2009, 14:52

[youtube]jKfBCitChcg&feature=related[/youtube]

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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 29 Jun 2009, 16:06

I've been hesitant to weigh in. I saw it again about a year ago but have not revisited it for Film Club. I probably should, but I'm perhaps overfamiliar with it. Like The Beatles...sometimes you run the risk of exposing yourself to something too much, to the point where you get diminishing returns.

But beyond my familiarity with the film itself, I think this has become a tough film to take stock of because of its influence. So many of its innovations have been appropriated into moden cinema, they can now seem like cliches. The obvious one is the framing device of having the story narrated by a dead man. I'll never forget how indelible this felt the first time I viewed the movie. But decades of indie filmmaking has perhaps made us numb to its power. Similarly, cinema and tv have now given us dozens of Norma Desmonds. The faded star reliving past glories in her/his mind is now a stock character. Sunset Boulevard made it one.

If the film offers any surprises at all now, they are in the atmospherics. Norma Desmond's house is almost a character in the film. Certainly Sunset Boulevard is the most ornate noir made within the original wave of the genre. But its almost total absorption into our culture does not drain it of its blood. It still plays. The three people at its core still resonate: The aging star fixed in the past, the opportunistic young writer weakly pretending to be trapped, and the devoted husband turned butler and enabler. If they did not already exist, somebody would have to create them. They were inevitable.
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Re: FILM CLUB: Sunset Boulevard

Postby Owen » 29 Jun 2009, 20:21

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:There's a lot of truth to that, although I think you do a slight disservice to Jack Lemmon, and think the later failings were more down to the material than Lemmon per se. Certainly I can't imagine anyone better for the Apartment or Some Like It Hot .


No, and those are obviously the pick of the bunch, wilder made a lot of other films with him though and he (or Mattheu) doesn't really rescue them even if they are generally watchable. Some Like it hot is probably my favourite Lemmon performance, in the apartment he is closer to the late wilder movies but the pathos of Maclaine's character and the writing make it work for me.