Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
(Quest to Conquer the BFI/AFI Greatest Films of All Time Lists)
Delusion turns into obsession as former Hollywood starlet looks to make her triumphant return to the silver screen.
"You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!... All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
Director Billy Wilder's film noir that presents a scathing critique about what it is like to be an aging female movie star, is a must see classic film that I put off watching for far too long. Sunset Boulevard is a true staple of everything I think about when it comes to the noir genre from the voice over narration, snappy dialogue, and crime mystery element. I think the film stands up really well despite the story dragging on a bit during the start of the third act.
"You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big ... I *am* big. It's the *pictures* that got small."
Sunset Boulevard recounts the 'real' story of what lead to the death of our narrator Joe Gillis played by William Holden. Joe is a lower tier screenwriter that is short on cash as he fails to attract studio interest in his latest script about baseball. While avoiding thugs looking to repo his car, he stumbles across the Hollywood mansion of Norma Desmond played by Gloria Swanson. Desmond insists on showering Joe with gifts and turning him into her boy toy, as she pushes him into working on her script that she wants to pitch to Paramount Studios, as her big return to acting. Desmond was a star during the silent era and is now seriously out of touch, with the new standard being talkie movies which she resents.
"I didn't know you were planning a comeback ... I hate that word. It's a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen."
Swanson's performance is absolutely fantastic as she uses all these eerie over expressive gestures, to act out her own life locked away in this shrine of a house that she has dedicated to her own nearly forgotten legacy.
Desmond's delusions have been fueled by her butler, who was also her former Husband and Director. He keeps sending her fan mail to keep her from feeling relevant, and to ward off her depression. But instead, it is causing her to drift further out of touch with her own reality. Desmond becomes super possessive over Joe, and tensions arise when he starts to develop a mutual romance with a young script reader that also wants Joe's help in developing her script.
You know your watching a classic when you see so many of the basic tropes that many movies rely on, play out one by one. But you have to respect that most of them were likely done for the first time in Sunset Boulevard. The best and the most surprising element for me was all the excellent writing, with almost every line being so quotable. In modern movies, it is astonishing how much filler dialogue is used. But just about every line in this film, from all these different characters was so engaging and poignant.
While I enjoyed the film and thought it was excellent, I would not say that I really loved it. I wonder with noirs feeling so old fashioned if there are any of these classics that I will absolutely love. I have a lot of them to catch up on, so here's hoping I do find some that truly have an impact on me, beyond the factor of them being classics that hold such a distinguished presence within the history of cinema.
Thanks for reading!
Happy movie watching .... Cheers!