Sunset Boulevard ★★★★

Hollywood’s dream factory as a soul-crushing nightmare, a film that looks back to a lost golden age while looking forward to Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Everyone in this poisoned world has sold their souls long ago (“Last one I wrote was about Okies in the Dust Bowl. You’d never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat”), so what better narrator for such a story than a corpse? Norma Desmond lives most obviously in thrall to her delusions, the glories of a past always preferable to a present that can never stay still. Her illusions may be grotesquely pathetic (“The Norma Desmond Follies!”), though maybe, Joe finds, they’re ultimately preferable to having none at all. “Don’t you sometimes hate yourself?” “Constantly!” Max von Mayerling’s learned this, continuing to direct the film of Norma’s dreamworld until the very end. And in one of the film’s most touching sequences, Cecil B. De Mille knows too how important delusions are to living a happy life; some just choose to call them dreams, others films. “You don’t yell at a sleepwalker, he may fall and break his neck.”

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