Despite its patchiness, it's easy to see why this is a classic. Clint Eastwood is fantastic, the narrative is involved and engaging, the scale is sheer and impressive, the score has amazing depth beneath its instantly recognisable theme, and the conclusion is classy and satisfying. More Westerns!
Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty 50 years later, William Holden narrates his own fatal rise and fall to beautiful effect. Perfectly pitted against the faded silent era movie star Norma Desmond played by Gloria Swanson, watching the film so many years later make for an intriguing perspective on how long Hollywood has been rolling, and how many sea changes it has undergone. The screenplay is sublime - never missing an opportunity to be clever, but never showy - and Wilder is brilliant at picking out the 'director's moments' - when Norma springs up from the couch to be illuminated by the strobing projection light of her own movie, for example. To anyone who didn't know a thing about Hollywood this would seem like the height of surrealism but otherwise it's a just a brilliantly played tragedy, pure and simple.
As Kurosawa goes, I'm still a novice, but I did feel there were some shortcomings in this film. As a drama, it's nearly faultless; although some of the theatrics are of a time and place I can never hope to fully understand as a 21st Century Westerner, so much feels real and consequential, and there are timeless human dilemmas. But as an action film (which I have no doubt it is meant to be) it is hard to appreciate so fully. It is sometimes confused, clunky, and the latter third was paced in such a way that I found myself just waiting for it to end. Still, its status is understandable, but I feel that there will other Kurosawas I enjoy more.