Sunset Boulevard ★★★★★

***One of the best 150 films I have ever seen.***

Billy Wilder had always been a very prolific director. From tense thrillers to romantic comedies, the main characteristic of his filmic style was that it gloriously portrayed, in a joyous way, the American lifestyle. Such elements would be irremediably exalted through plots regarding deception, malice, crime and the exquisite cinematic film-noir genre. With Sunset Blvd. he managed not only to create one of the best and most glorious American classic masterpieces with some of the most memorable, dramatic and stylish one-liners, but also to reveal what had been by then a possible myth of the obscurity of Hollywood. As scandalous and possibly offensive this timeless and dark masterpiece may have been for some people in particular, especially those belonging to Hollywood stardom and eternal egoism, Sunset Blvd. is arguably the best American film-noir ever made as well as an unforgettably compelling drama based on the typical behavior of the characters popularized by the media.

In the unparalleled tradition of Citizen Kane (1941) without equaling it, the film opens with a floating corpse in a pool with his eyes wide open, staring at the deepness of the water. Resorting to a voiceover narrative structure that relies on a predominant flashback as dark as the streets of Sunset Boulevard during the night, the main character, movie screenwriter Joseph C. Gillis, slowly and wisely narrates his romance with an exceedingly egomaniac and undeniably gigantic bitch silent-movie star named Norma Desmond, who asks him to write a screenplay for her new film under the incredibly blind conviction that life, unexpectedly, is about to reward her with a big screen-comeback. Being selected as one of the twenty-five landmark films of all time by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1989, as the 12th greatest film of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time by the American Film Institute in 1998 and as the 16th Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2007, the movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, which are Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, two for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing, Best Director and Best Picture. As beautiful and brilliant as the old classic Hollywood times may have been for cinema, it is clearly that a peaceful audience was not yet ready for this kind of dark meta-Hollywood film-noir, since the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences ended up mistakenly choosing All About Eve (1950) as the best motion picture of the year with Joseph L. Mankiewicz as the best director, and Judy Holliday as the better actress for her fairly decent performance in Born Yesterday (1950), directed by George Cukor. All of these awards, including the one for best cinematography, were obviously stolen from the film.

The screenplay elaborated by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr. demanded a great complexity and constant strokes of genius. Creating an obscure Hollywood story and merging it with reality may seem as a fun challenge and an entertaining game for the screenwriters to show their knowledge about cinema, but it is ultimately a difficult task. Counting with several outstanding cameos such as of the prolific composers of the film Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (Rear Window [1954]), The Godfather [1972]), actresses Anna Q. Nilson (Adam's Rib [1949], An American in Paris [1951]) and Hedda Hopper (Wings [1927], The Women [1939]), actor H.B. Warner (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939], It's a Wonderful Life [1946]), actor, director, screenwriter, producer and editor Buster Keaton (Sherlock Jr. [1924], The General [1926]), and director Cecil B. DeMille (King of Kings [1927], The Ten Commandments [1956]), who actually plays a rather relevant role within the film, Sunset Blvd. has daringly ventured into a desperate downward spiral of psychological doom and soul abomination through the famous world of Hollywood, creating a believable atmosphere. What the cinematography accomplished to create is a darker and more vertiginous atmosphere where arising emotions culminate in tragedy and total madness, thanks to its dusty giant scenarios and its perfectly captured frames.

I'll dedicate an exclusive paragraph for the acting. William Holden offered a brilliant personification of the typical American and romantic detective of predominant stylish, with one minor detail: he's not a detective, but a credited screenwriter. His perfect love complement is interpreted by Nancy Olson, another romantically confused screenwriter named Betty Schaefer, who would only be the drop that would overflow the glass and unleash chaos. Erich von Stroheim (Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages [1916], La Grande Illusion [1937]) portrays a rather macabre character that, at first glance, seems to be hiding an extraordinary amount of secrets, and a psychological disorder and a dependent weakness. The whole show is, naturally, stolen by Gloria Swanson, who ironically was also an acclaimed silent-film actress. She is the ultimate reincarnation of the (unfortunately) typical film star who has already faded into the empire of goods abundance, an increased feeling of ownership of the world as being the reason of the creation and existence of cinema, and the creation of a powerful and greedy empire by an irremediably lost-in-life upper class. Her exceeding sensation of false despotism can be deliciously contrasted with the artistically awesome mansion scenario with an organ that constantly plays thanks to light wind gusts, like a human's soul harmonically tossing desperate screams of impossible freedom, concluding with hundreds of photos of an army of Norma Desmonds and a big movie screen where she can contemplate her own films, showing the real-life feature film Queen Kelly (1929), starring the real Gloria Swanson and directed by the real Erich von Stroheim.

Is this Hollywood's most audacious classic? Perhaps it is, but it is undeniably the best and most ambitious and visionary masterwork of Billy Wilder. Poetically speaking, the film is absolutely grandiose, from the literarily inspired script to the hypnotic black-and-white photography and an unforgettable and unequaled female leading performance. Myths and truths behind the scenes revealed, Sunset Blvd. is an American masterpiece released at the exact time, a period where American films reached a beauty that rarely is accomplished nowadays, but that it is not supposed to be remade for any reasons, not even for financial ones, but to be worshiped and admired as a source of true cinema landmarks.


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