Thursday, 20 March 2014

''Sunset Blvd'' (1950 movie)- Review

 Directed by: Billy Wilder
Released: 1950
Country: United States

Genres: Drama, Film noir

Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stronheim, Nancy Olson

Rating: 5 out of 5


Watching ''Sunset Boulevard'' was a unique movie experience. The film has a strange melody: a dark, Gothic atmosphere, a sad tune, a drama, a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere.  Gorgeous cinematography, some unforgettable, excellent performances, a great story presented in an intense way- it is undoubtedly one of the best films I have ever seen.

The film starts showing us police cars running to Sunset Blvd, to a manor, where, in the pool, the dead body of the protagonist, Joe Gillis, is floating. Joe himself starts narrating the film. He tells the audience that in order to what is actually happening, they have to know the whole story, and for this, they have to know what six months ago, from where it had all started...

Joe is (I'm using the present tense, because almost the entire story is presented in a flashback) a screenwriter, but recently, he hasn't had any jobs, and has been suffering from financial crisis. He is threatened that if he is not able to pay some money in the due time, he will lose his car. He tries to earn the money, trying to sell his recent script and trying to borrow some money- but is unsuccessful in doing that. He is then chased by the repossession men, and he ends up in the garage of an old, creepy looking mansion. The mansion looks so deserted that it instantly reminds him of the residence of Mr Havisham of ''Great Expectations''. And then. A servant comes out of the house, and calls him in. Joe, surprised, goes in, and is met by a middle-aged woman. Joe instantly recognizes the woman as Norma Desmond, one of the most famous actresses during the silent era, whose career ended due to the advent of sound films (''talkies''). Norma called Joe in because she had mistakenly thought Joe to be the man who was arranging the burial of her dead pet chimp. As Joe starts leaving, she calls him back, asking him to have a look at something she wrote. She always dreams to return to film industry. She wants to act again, she wants to be the greatest star Norma Desmond again. And for that, she has written her own script, for a film where she has decided that she will play the major role. She asks Joe to edit the script, to polish it, and in return, offers him a huge amount of money. Joe thinks that the script is dreadful, but since he is in urgent need of the money, he admits to do so. Norma asks Joe to stay in the house during the time he will work on the script, and Joe has to agree, reluctantly.

Living in Norma's house, Joe becomes familiar with Norma's life. She still lives in the past, she still thinks that she is the great Norma Desmond, the most famous, the most popular movie star. The only other person in the house is Max, her faithful old servant, who cares a lot for her. She doesn't seem to accept that her time ended twenty years ago. She lives in, and wants to live in the past. Very often, she persuades Joe to watch a film with her--- and those films star herself. Joe becomes really uneasy and feel uncomfortable in Norma's house, and Norma soon becomes overly attached with him, and starts loving him. Joe is absolutely disgusted, thinking that Norma doesn't even think that he might have a life of his own. He quarrels with Norma, and leaves, but when comes to know that Norma attempted suicide, he comes back, and to ensure that she doesn't do any such thing again, he starts living in her house again, the house which he describes as a ''peculiar prison''. Ultimately, Norma's obsessions will have drastic consequences...

Obsession. Sympathy. Sincere love. These three feelings persist throughout the film, through the major characters. What Norma suffers from is obsession. An obsession with the past. An obsession with her past fame. A obsession with herself. An obsession with Joe. And what does Joe experience? Why does he live in Norma's house? At first, he does it because he is badly in need of some money. And then he does it out of pure sympathy for Norma. Does he ''love'' her? Certainly not. Norma is obsessed with the past and with Joe, and if she is brought out from the illusion that her days have ended, she will certainly do something drastic. Joe plays along, pretending to love her deeply, out of sympathy.

And there is Norma's servant and chauffeur, Max von Mayerling, played by Erich von Stroheim. We can understand from his actions and words that he deeply loves Norma, and at one point, his past and identity is revealed, quite like a bolt from the blue. Max sincerely cares for Norma, and doesn't want her to know that her days, her time, her popularity had ended long ago. Norma thinks that she still receives thousands of fan letter and autograph requests per week. This leads Joe to think that Norma is still quite popular, that she has not been entirely forgotten. When he tells this to Max, the latter reveals that there is actually no fan letter; all the letters that arrive are written by Max himself. He has persuaded Norma to believe that she is still loved by the people. His feelings for Norma is sincere and deep; without Norma, his life would be incomplete...

After watching this film, I was so impressed with it that I wanted to know to more about it's background and history. I read about it in several websites, including Wikipedia.  I came to know that this film is actually based on real incidences, real people. It's not directly based on real incidents, but the concept of this film comes from very genuine incidences, many real-life events. After the silent era ended, a lot of silent film actors naturally lost their job. But we will talk about the silent era, when the lives of the silent film actors were grand, extravagant. When the income of the actors increased, many of them started to live in grand, extravagant houses in Sunset Boulevard. Even after their careers of many of them ended due to the advent of ''talkies'', many of them still lived in those grand houses. A famous actress from the silent era, Norma Talmadge, is often said to have been the inspiration for Norma Desmond. However, the life of the actress who played Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson, is also, in many ways, similar to that of the character. Swanson, too, was a very popular star during the silent era, and when the silent era ended, her film career (well, temporarily) came to an end. She, however, accepted this, and moved on, acting in television and appearing in radio. She also lived in a grand house at Sunset Boulevard. When she was contacted to play Norma in ''Sunset Blvd'', she accepted the role, and made a comeback to the film industry, and gave one of the most powerful performances I have ever come across. Swanson was absolutely perfect, gave an extremely powerful, intense performance as Norma.

I am writing all these history and inspirations for the film because after I read these things in Wikipedia and in Roger Ebert's article, I was really fascinated. So many things are, somehow or other, based on real incidences. Even the character of Max von Mayerling is so similar with the actor who portrayed him, Erich von Stronheim. Several famous personalities from the silent era appear in this film, as themselves, including director Cecille B DeHolme playing a supporting role, and Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, Hedda Hopper, and several others, playing themselves. The film is about a long-forgotten silent film star, and the film stars two such actors, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stronheim, who had such great reputation during the silent era, in two major roles, and also has several silent film personalities playing themselves.

And overall I absolutely loved this film. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the cinematography, I loved the performances, I loved the screenplay, I loved the story. The way William Holden narrates the whole film is really, really impressive, and the way he describes the house during his first night there gives it a really Gothic, dark look. This is certainly not a Gothic film, but the atmospheric touches, cinematography, and the style of Joe's narration make it have quite a Gothic tone. Gloria Swanson's performance is unforgettable, and I think the final scene was really so intense, so powerful. And one word to describe this film? Sad? Emotional? Intense? Powerful? Unforgettable? It will definitely be a combination of all these words: Overwhelming.

5 out of 5

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