Sunset Boulevard ★★★½

There are few films with more cliches and quotable lines than SUNSET BOULEVARD.  It is a harrowing tale of the Hollywood Film Factory that summarily disposed of “components” it no longer needed as if their talent and creativity had disappeared.  Of course, one of the most devastating changes came with the advent of sound.  Those who were accustomed to being in front of the camera suffered the most losses.
The screenplay took home a Best Writing Oscar ... and that has surprised me.  Three aspects never worked for me:
* Norma Desmond is dangerously psychotic.  This is not just an actress bemoaning the loss of her former glory.  Since she does have visitors, it seems unlikely that no one would suggest finding help. 
* Norma Desmond’s broad overacting when she wants to emote has helped to propagate the idea that silent film acting was always performed that way.  To be sure, there are many examples in which this was the case.  But, there was notable restraint in the greatest performers.  Some of the best performances I’ve seen have come from silent films.
* Joe Gillis is not a protagonist.  Perhaps he is an anti-hero, but I found it very difficult to identify with him or feel any empathy.  
On the plus side:
* Erich von Stroheim is brilliant.  His story of “talent that Hollywood left behind” is much more believable (since it did happen to him) than it is for Norma Desmond.  The inclusion of a scene from one of his movies (for Movie Night) is incredibly bittersweet ... and it gives lie to the perception that performers had to overact.  Gloria Swanson, who is in the clip, does not overact.
* The scene with Cecil B. DeMille is terrific.  It perfectly encapsulates the reality and sadness of Hollywood discarding those it doesn’t think it needs.
Hollywood certainly had a significant number of “has beens.”  Clara Bow comes to mind as someone who gave many winning and delightful performances (and made her studio a huge amount of money) who did not survive the transition to the sound medium.  SUNSET BOULEVARD would have been amazing if it had taken a more realistic approach.  As it is, it is entertaining and does have a number of exceptional moments.  For me, it’s a “classic” that has threadbare spots.

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