Sunset Boulevard ★★★★★

"She was the greatest of them all. You wouldn’t know, you’re too young. In one week she received 17,000 fan letters. Men bribed her hairdresser to get a lock of her hair. There was a maharajah who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings. Later, he strangled himself with it."

Seeing this in a movie theatre was a downright religious experience. I have no doubt that I would have fallen in love with Sunset Boulevard no matter under which circumstances I saw it -- great films, like stars, never lose their shine. Still, to witness this story of Hollywood and aging actors and wind through the pipe organ filling the empty house in the was awesome, to say the least.

Norma Desmond, the forgotten silent film star, lives a life with severe and crippling delusions of grandeur. She pulls up her oil painting to reveal a projection screen, which she only uses to screen her own pictures. She has a quiet funeral for the death of her monkey. She sends signed headshots to fans years after the mail has simply ceased arriving. Her butler works his hardest to maintain the illusion of success which she requires be maintained. Alone in the old, decrepit house, empty swimming pool, fading portraits, cobwebbed garage...they wait. In comes Joe Gillis, a failing screenwriter plagued by debt. He latches on to Norma, or Norma latches onto him. What happens next is film history. And rightly so.

Sunset Boulevard, while decidedly post-modern before that was even a term, is a film noir, for sure. It has the male semi-antihero, the beautiful black and white cinematography, the dark, hopeless story, the narration. I don't even think it's missing, as someone at my screening said, the femme fatale element: Norma Desmond is not a classic femme fatale, that's for sure, but she sees herself as one. She sees herself as the timeless, ageless, beautiful woman, irrestible and dangerous. She thinks she's pulling Gillis in towards her, while she actually does the opposite. She thinks she irresistible, while the world has simply forgotten her. She sees herself as a femme fatale, she fills that role. It's not a regular example of the trope, but that's what makes it interesting, isn't it?

Words cannot describe Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. The events of the film reflecting her own life (without the, you know, psychosis), but even if that wasn't true, she is absolutely perfect for the role. I began the movie seeing her as a precursor of Baby Jane. However, after watching this, I'll now see Baby Jane as an aftereffect of Norma Desmond. Her character is simultaneously tragic and terrifying, disturbing and disturbed. It could fall into mere melodrama, but she adds enough quiet tragedy to Norma that we almost begin to weep for her. And her ending performance, her trek down the stairs, back into the public eye, strutting towards the camera..."All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up..." Chills. A powerhouse of a performance. Everything about the film (screenplay, plot -- save for the semi-boring love interest, cinematography, direction, soundtrack) is top-notch, but Swanson's performance is what will be remembered, what will be carved into the back of my skull for years to come.

"So they were turning after all, those cameras. Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her."

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